The pressure is so not on. Don’t let that five pound, leather binder fool you; choosing a wine is as easy as choosing an appetizer (or three). In my opinion, ordering off of the wine list is more exciting than ordering off of the menu. To celebrate Toronto’s slow but steady return to indoor dining, I’ve put together some one-size-fits-all tips for wine lists that work for every restaurant on your radar.
Instead of looking for a fancy-sounding name or a well known winery, keep your eyes peeled for the grape and the region while making your way down that never ending list of options. The grape gives you an idea of the wine’s characteristics; if it’s sweet or dry, red or white, strong or soft. The region not only tells you where the grapes were grown but gives you some insight into how the wine was made. Depending on the region, the same kind of grape can taste drastically different. Pinot Noir from California, for example, is typically more full bodied than its French counterpart.
A great strategy is to choose two or three wine regions that interest you and brush up on some of their basic characteristics. This way, you’ll have a general idea of what to expect no matter what you’re in the mood for. While you can’t go wrong with any of the Big 3 (Spain, France, and Italy), I’ve recently been loving exploring South American wines!
If you're more concerned with choosing the perfect bottle with dinner, a good rule of thumb is to match the intensity of the dish to the intensity of the wine. A bolder plate, like a red meat or a heavy stew, will pair perfectly with a bold, flavour-forward red. Something lighter like a fish or green salad, though, will taste better with a crisp white. If you’re not sure, you can always ask your server for their personal pairing recommendations.
Personally, I love to ask the waiter or sommelier to recommend the most interesting bottle in their collection. Now, “interesting” doesn’t automatically translate to “expensive”. Answers to this question will usually involve a bottle produced by a winery with an incredible history or one with a unique take on the cultivation process. Requesting an “interesting” bottle is also a great way to expand your palate and step out of your comfort zone — you might just walk away with a new favourite!
One of the most important pieces of information to keep in mind when selecting a wine has to do with its price — it doesn’t matter. That’s right, I said it. Expensive doesn’t always mean better, especially when it comes to ordering wine at dinner. A wine’s price typically increases according to its maturity and collectability. If you’re looking for a more luxurious experience, go for it! Enjoying a perfectly aged wine is an experience like no other.
When the wine arrives at the table, be confident! Trying the wine is the fun part. Don't know what to do when the server pours your glass first? Watch this quick video from me, and you'll feel like a pro!
While many restaurants hold pretty impressive collections in their cellars, it’s much more quote, unquote, “impressive” to be able to appreciate a wine for more than its price tag. Being able to say something meaningful about the wine you’ve chosen; why you were drawn to it, what you love about the region, something that appeals to you about the grape, is a priceless experience in itself.
Now that you’ve mastered the wine list of any restaurant, all you’ve got to do is pick one!