In case you haven’t noticed, we like our wine at the TriWivesClub. It is definitely one of our pleasures and a way to cope with the triathlon lifestyle…at times…But, we’ve actually even started to get a bit more sophisticated about wine and learning what constitutes a good wine from a “why am I drinking this crap” wine. It has been an experience, however, albeit a fun one and we’ve probably come off looking quite uneducated and silly at times. But, that’s okay, our embarrassment tasting and buying wine is your gain.
HOW TO FEEL COMFORTABLE TASTING AND BUYING WINE
AT A RESTAURANT
Who Gets To Choose The Wine
If you’re with a group of people, there’s usually the issue of who gets to select the wine, along with who likes red, who likes white, who wants dry…Sometimes it’s just easier for everyone to order by the glass. But, if you decide to get bottles and someone steps up and grabs the wine list, then you need to decide if you’re comfortable letting them do this. We’ve had a friend who took the lead and ordered a $150 bottle of wine that we didn’t realize until the check came. It was an expensive lesson learned, but it makes for a great story AND gets our point across about price. If no one is really comfortable making the selection, then…
Don’t Be Embarrassed To Ask For Help From The Waiter or Sommelier
I think ordering wine in a restaurant is hard for pretty much everyone. You want to get a nice bottle, but don’t want to REALLY overpay, and don’t want to come off looking totally naive. Plus, most people are uncomfortable saying how much they want to spend for a bottle. But, please don’t. Tell them price range along with your preference – white/red, dry/sweet, French/California, etc. and let them make a recommendation. This is your chance to discover a new wine that you would probably have never tried.
I am very clear when they ask what I like. With a white, I may say crisp, light, easy to drink with a fruity taste, or with a red, solid, but not super strong, without a tangy taste. You don’t have to take their recommendation, but I’m not often steered wrong as it is their reputation and they do want you to be pleased.
If There Isn’t A Sommelier
Sometimes there won’t be a sommelier at a restaurant and it’s up to the waiter to make a recommendation. I have found mixed results with this option, but they should be trained in what’s on their wine list. When in doubt, I will pick either a label I’m familiar with or type of grape I want to drink in the mid-priced range. If I don’t know the labels, I do ask what’s dry as I’m very particular about not drinking a sweet wine. I do find unfamiliar wine lists quite often especially at say French restaurants and do need help.
What To Do When You’re The Taster At The Table
This moment can also be a bit stressful. Do you swirl, sniff, and taste and do you drink the whole amount poured or just a sip? I recommend taking a sniff and then taking a sip. I don’t swirl as I’m not sure it will make a difference in my taste and I’m not comfortable doing it. If you are and know what you’re doing, swirl away!
What To Do If You Don’t Like The Wine
I’ve rarely had this happen, but you can get a bad bottle and definitely should say something if it tastes bad/rancid. The som will generally take a sip and get you a different bottle. If you just don’t like the taste, say you were hoping for something dryer, again say something and they will generally ask about what you don’t like and recommend a different bottle.
Drink What You Like
If you like white, order white, even if you’re having meat, unless of course pairing wine with food is important to you. When you just can’t decide, a blend will often work.
AT A WINE TASTING
Decide If There Is Something You’d Like to Learn
Whether you’re attending a wine tasting at someone’s house or at a vineyard in Napa, this is your chance to start or expand your knowledge about wines. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Seriously, the person conducting the tasting would much rather have a lively conversation going than people just standing around drinking wine. Decide going in if there’s something specific you’d like to learn about wines and ask. I once asked about wine word terminology for how to describe the wine.
Enjoy the Experience and Take It All In
Wine tastings are both fun and educational. They are an opportunity to learn what you like and don’t like without having to buy. So, go ahead and swirl, sniff, and sip to your heart’s content and confidently say I smell grapefruit and oak! This is your opportunity to learn how to taste wine when you order at a restaurant next time.
Don’t Feel Obligated to Buy
Especially at wineries, you shouldn’t feel under any obligation to buy what you’re tasting. If you don’t like the wine or it’s just okay, then don’t take it home with you. At wine tastings at wineries or tasting rooms, you usually have a choice of which selection you would like to try and at many you even pay to taste. If you are in an adventurous mood, talk to the tasting room folks about what you usually drink and that you would like to expand your horizons. They will make a recommendation and talk you through the tasting; what you are tasting and why. But remember, tastings are just that, not happy hour.
Buy What You Will Drink
Along the same lines, don’t buy a wine you’re not going to drink at home. But, do buy what you would drink. If you only like Sauvignon Blanc, don’t buy Chardonnay. That said, keep in mind that often, what you try at a tasting, wine dinner, or winery is not available at your local liquor/wine store. Buying at an event like this or winery is also great for a party you may be hosting or as a special gift or hostess gift. Something different is always special.
One final piece of advice: Don’t let your wine sit at home and not enjoy it. We went to Napa and the Russian River Valley in California about 7 years and I still have some of the wonderful wine we bought. I haven’t wanted to drink it, because I knew I couldn’t buy it at home and it held special memories. But, a friend set me straight and we are now making our way through the bottles. Oh, there’s one that was expensive and will be held for a very special occasion, but the others have become fair game. There will always be more tastings and more delicious bottles, so I’m no longer saving them for the future…
Sherry is one of the TriWivesClub’s founders. She is also a contributor at TravelingMom & Challenge Family. She has been her triathlete husband’s biggest supporter and co-traveler for over 15 years. She is a former co-owner of the California Apparel News and had a career in the healthcare industry. Her passions include running, traveling, real food, and animal rescue/welfare. She lives a healthy lifestyle and has been a vegetarian since 1987. She and her husband are parents to two rescue pups and reside in Connecticut.