How to Win at Choosing Wine on a Date – A Sommelier’s Guide to Do’s and Don’ts
You’ve scrubbed your face, each fibre of your hair stands groomed to perfection, and after a flurry of online shopping in the office for the perfect outfit (the boss can wait a wee bit longer for that report due on Wednesday), you are eventually first date ready.
You do that nervous half walk/half run out your apartment door to the taxi, feeling like a million dollar Hollywood superstar, only no paparazzi to catch you in your highest expression of glamour. The first date is somewhat like a movie trailer – high octane, pulse flowing, a sneak peek leaving you wanting more, and it’s you who’ll play the leading co-star role alongside your new beau or belle.
You’ll also, like a first date, not know from the trailer what the ending will be, and if it will turn out to be a flop or a fairy-tale.
You never get a second chance at a first impression – and it begins as soon as you swagger with nervous confidence into that chic eatery you booked for the evening.
While you both may not be sharing each other’s dishes through the twilight, you will perhaps sip the same bottle of wine. Your opening compromise on your journey of love, the initial test of agreement between you both. Sounds scary, right? No need to fret because here are some tips to ease you along this deal breaker, in the event that the Maitre D’ decides to place the wine list on your side of the dinner table.
Red, White or Bubbly?
Asking your date what colour of wine they like or if they’d fancy bubbles in it or not can eliminate up to half or more of the wine list! Follow up by asking your date if there is any region or grape variety they like more in particular. Who knows, they may even pick your desired style of wine!
If the restaurant you’re supping in has a ‘tasting’ or ‘surprise’ menu, suggest the matching wine pairings to your date. If both of you aren’t talking, at least the sommelier or wine waiter will be! This may be the soundest way to subtly figure out what they like.It’ll also eliminate any possible sparks of silence with the array of unusual wines coming at you both over the course of the meal. Wine is so much more than a drink; it’s a conversation starter.
Most restaurants will also have a ‘by the glass’ list to choose from too if you want to go your separate ways. This could be the safe choice for you and your romantic prospect, the one you should probably dodge if your date has got off to a dreamy start! If you find yourself swaying towards this, at the very least, you’ll savour your glass, if not your dinner companion!
But what about the Price?
Let’s be frank, one bottle between you both is ample, especially on the first date. So, make it a good one. If you’re unsure on what Champagne or Chianti to choose from, set a price threshold on what you think is fitting. You can even let your restaurant server do the work. Discreetly point out a particular wine that you both might fancy on the list, then run your finger across from the wine to the price, and ask her/him to recommend a fantastic bottle in that level of price and style.
If you’re confident about wine, take a risk on a bottle outside of your comfort zone, your date might just admire that in you. Suppose you both decide on something bubbly for the evening, step away from the ‘household’ Champagne names that you can buy in most supermarkets, or that uninspiring Prosecco that your local pub serves by the glass down the road.
Instead, try an incredible ‘small grower’ Champagne like Champagne Geoffroy Expression Brut NV (under €100 in most restaurants in Dublin and beyond), or a decadent Cava from Spain, such as Carles Andreu Cava Brut, which will give you much of the pleasure most Champagnes would provide, for around half the price. If you feel like your date is going to go very well, a bubbly rosé may also be a good call.
Moreover, upgrading from a pretty basic Italian Pinot Grigio to a ‘Gavi’ (made with the Cortese grape, produced in North-East Italy) will undoubtedly impress your date and do wonders in securing that possible second rendezvous, while only spending a few euros more in most cases.
Or what if you fancy a change from Sauvignon Blanc? Home to Rueda in Spain – ‘Verdejo’, the grape with high acidity and bright fruit tones similar to most Sauvignons, is inclined to cost you less than €40 on most restaurant wine lists and is the perfect easy drinking dinner wine. Verdejo is assuredly a wine that if chosen, will give you those coveted brownie points before you even reach the dessert stage!
If you’re both after a big robust red, a safe bet is to go towards Argentina, where you’ll find sumptuous Malbecs, or for something lighter, try out a Gamay from Beaujolais in France. If you’re feeling more adventurous, venture towards a peppery Zinfandel from California, or a silky textured Barbera from Italy.
When the wine arrives at the table:
Okay, so this is the bread and butter part, you would think. What could go wrong? The sommelier or server will offer you a taste of the wine (if they’re very good at their job, they may even give you both a taste!).
A surprising faux pas when tasting wine is swirling it extravagantly. You may appear a little pretentious if you swirl your glass with animation, but more importantly, swirling may hide any flaws in the wine if it is off. Simply just smell and taste, confirm to the sommelier/server and tell them it’s good to pour.
No-one, especially your date, admires the show-off, the one who analyses the wine extravagantly with over the top swirls and comments while the server is standing awkwardly by the table.
Like the Hollywood movie star you are, take heed of the above pointers and you’ll surely be on your way to a box office hit. And who knows, you may even fall in love with your co-star, and have that happy ever after.
Originally from Celbridge, Kildare, Philip Dunne has worked in the Irish hospitality industry since he was 15. After experiences in fine and casual dinning, he started to work at Ashford Castle in 2015 and after working his way up, he became Ashford Castle’s Head Sommelier at the age of 25.
Philip’s passion for wine goes beyond the service at the luxurious five star as he also writes about the topic and he’s an enthusiastic and active presence in the Irish wine scene.