Colonial Wines & Spirits owner Clark Trim gives his insider tips for navigating the daunting world of wine etiquette to have you ordering like a pro.
How to order in a restaurant
The first question you are likely to hear at a restaurant is, “What would you like to drink?” Establish immediate credibility by responding with, “Please give us a few minutes to make our menu selections. Then we will select the appropriate wines to accompany them.” If there are no vintages listed on the wine card, be sure to ask. Whites on most wine lists should be young and fresh. Vintages that are three years old or older should be avoided, in most cases. Red wines, generally, can be three to five years old, no problem. Immediately upon presentation, make sure you receive the vintage you have ordered and are expecting.
Don’t be intimidated by the uncorking experience. Visual inspection of the cork and a quick pass under the nose is plenty. Once the tasting pour is made, tilt the glass and look through the wine for clarity and any “off colors.” Swirl the wine around in the glass.
Tip: If you are not experienced at this step, leave the glass on the tabletop and gently swirl in small circles. This will avoid wine sloshing out onto you, the waiter, or your guests. Nose the wine. Look for any off aromas. Taste the wine by taking a good sip, swirl it around to wet all areas of your mouth, and swallow. Now you are ready to give the go-ahead for the wine to be poured. Remember, refusing a wine should be based solely on a flaw.
Foolproof choices when hosting a party
My best advice? Too many choices is not a good choice. Limit the number of wines you serve. Generally one red and one white is choice enough. If you want to expand, I recommend adding a food-friendly style of Rosé in the style of Provence. When pleasing a crowd, choose wines that are moderate in style; not too over-oaked or tannic, not too sweet or dry. My first recommendation is Pinot Noir for red and Chardonnay from cool growing regions for white. A great second choice is Merlot and Pinot Gris (Grigio). Rosé has become a “year-round” wine and is perfect with so many foods, and great for hot summer sipping.
Don’t buy into the wine myths
The biggest misconception about wine is that you only pour red wine with red meat dishes, and white wine with light meat dishes. This is such an overused rule. There are many great wines that will pair nicely with hearty red meats, as well as lighter dishes such as grilled chicken breast or pork tenderloin. Consider sparkling wine, for example — it’s not just for New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day. Also, not all Rosé wines are created equal. Very undeservingly, White Zinfandel has given Rosé a bad rap. The world’s best chefs agree, Rosé is a food wine.
Which nationalities to look for
South American wines are hot right now. I think that’s for a few reasons. Upgraded, modern facilities and a new generation of winemakers are producing wines that meet the demands of a global market. Chile and Argentina are also producing delicious wines and doing so at very attractive price points. While French and Italian wines remain popular, California is still the king. Interestingly, Oregon is booming. Willamette Valley is perfect for growing many varietals of both red and white. My favorites are Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.
Current wine trend facts to impress your friends
• Consumers these days are drinking less wine than they used to, but much better quality.
• Whites are often consumed too cold and reds too warm.
• Due to changing consumer tastes, winemakers are manipulating their California Chardonnays to be less buttery and oaky, resulting in a much more Burgundian style.
• Rosé and sparkling wines — previously not taken seriously by wine buffs — are now enjoying great popularity and are coming from all wine regions of the globe.
• Expensive Napa Cabernet and French Bordeaux are not making a splash with millennials, who seem to prefer the good quality, well-produced wines of Chile at a reasonable price.
• A note about the sommelier. There is a growing feeling that they place too much weight on their knowledge and wine experience, and it is perfectly acceptable for wine lovers to drink what they like. Members of the wine trade are increasingly beginning sales meetings and other presentations with the following joke with a strong message: Do you know the difference between God and a sommelier? God doesn’t believe he’s a sommelier! Cheers.