It’s not all about pinot grigio, people.
Sweat gathers on your forehead. This is it. Your finger hovers over the second cheapest bottle that looks pronounceable. This one, please. When the server unburdens you of the wine list, your body goes slack with relief. Nobody laughed at you. You’ve done well.
Not really, though. That was a disaster. Wine is made to get you drunk. Deciding how to get drunk is supposed to be fun.
Usually, people compensate for a lack of wine-savvy in one of two ways. Either they hurriedly choose the least offensive option on the menu (recognizable grape, low price), or they pretend at vast wine knowledge, banking on the fact that most dining companions are just as clueless as they. Don’t be either of those people.
Learn Some Tricks
Just because you hear cabernet sauvignon ordered in movies doesn’t mean it’s the best red there is. Below are some wine synonyms that will help you explore the wonderful world of expired grape juice.
If you’ve ever had California chardonnay, chances are you’re among the moral majority who “hates chardonnay.” That’s like saying you “hate action movies” because you saw “Die Another Day” once. Cracking the chardonnay code often requires ordering white Burgundy, which is just a fancy way of saying “really good French chardonnay.” Burgundy is a wine region famous for producing chardonnay and pinot noir. Their whites are flavorful and full, but much more restrained than their American counterparts.
This is an Austrian grape that’s gained enormous popularity in the last few years. I like to think of it as a successor to sauvignon blanc. Light and crisp and utterly drinkable, without the tendency to be a grapefruit bomb. Many places will have this by the glass now, so ask for a taste. (Also works as a pinot grigio alternative, in case you want white wine but aren’t a forty-eight-year-old divorcee.)
Another up-and-comer, nebbiolo is a northern Italian grape that I like for its versatility. Though most often ordered by men wearing pinstriped suits, this is truly an all-things-to-all-people grape. It tends to be light- to medium-bodied, but feels bolder and bigger because of its rich flavor. It can hold up to red meat or be drunk on its own. (If you see wines called barbaresco or barolo, that’s nebbiolo. These tend to be pricier than their entry-level brethren, but it’s worth it if you’ve got the dough.) A good difference-splitter if one person wants pinot noir and another wants cabernet sauvignon.
Rosé and Orange Wine
Be careful with these. The douche is strong with them. Both are made using basically the same process: after the grapes are crushed to release their juices, the juice is left in contact with the skins to retain some of its color. In rosé’s case, the red skins are removed more quickly than in red-making, which gives the product a pink hue. For orange wine, the white grapes are left in contact with skins longer than in white-making, imparting a darker color than usual.
Rosé is strictly summer only. Great with lighter fare like fish or salad, or simply for sitting on a deck and crushing a bottle among friends.
Most places won’t have orange wine on their lists. If you want to try it, find a hipster wine bar and ask the guy wearing suspenders if they have anything Slovenian.
Poor man’s Champagne, but just as delicious if you find the right one. (Drier is typically better, here.) Enjoy from a flute when celebrating, or straight out of the bottle when pre-gaming.
Sherry is a whole nother animal—there are four…well, technically five…well, technically eight…different types that range wildly in flavor and style. But the main four are what you want to focus on. I recommend finding a bartender with a twirly moustache and tattoos to give you the sherry spiel. I know what you’re thinking: Sherry is for grandmothers with drinking problems. And you’re right. But so are vodka martinis, and you don’t have a problem with those.
Don’t Be A Fraidy-Cat
Like old people proudly announcing they “can’t use computers,” so too do many people relish the fact that they “know nothing about wine,” as if any knowledge of something so bourgeois would attaint them.
It’s OK to want to learn about wine.
And it’s also OK to ask for help until you do. It doesn’t make you look silly to say “I know very little about wine. Can you help?” In fact, it makes you look smart. People go to mechanics and doctors and accountants for help with auto repair and medicine and accounting. Why not trust a server to give you the same sort of advice (albeit more…epicurean)?