Over the last two days I have proposed that couples stay in on Valentine’s Day and have a special evening at home, and if going out is a necessity, then postpone it for a day or so. Realistically, however, a lot of people are going to go out anyway, and here is some advice that can be used by them, or any time one goes to an unfamiliar place to eat.
When we look at a menu most of us can find something that we will like. We peruse the listing and say, “Hey, that’s fish! I think I like fish!” or, “Oh, that has capers in the sauce, I don’t think that I like capers, which is why I’ve never tried them.” Most of the time that is enough information to get something edible brought to the table. If only the wine menu was as simple.
Many wine lovers study information on varietals, regions, vintages, etc. Even novices have an idea of what they like based on the grape and makers whose wine they’ve tried. All of those things can be helpful in a lot of ways, but even the seasoned wino can be intimidated by an unfamiliar wine list. Hey, you have had a lot of Cabernet, but not THAT Cabernet. Was 2003 a good year for the Upper Loire? I forget…
The usual suggestion is to ask the sommelier or the waiter for suggestions based on what food you plan to eat. Great advice! You are sitting across from a person that you really want to impress, what you really want to do is make admitting your ignorance as the first in what could be a series of embarrassments. Sure, there are many great people in the industry who will discretely lead you to just the right bottle for your meal and your wallet. On the other hand, there are plenty who will be happy to point you to the priciest bottle on the list and then sneer as you try and navigate back to reality.
Even a good server is going to need a price range from you, and that can be awkward and embarrassing at times. When spending hard earned cash trying to create a special evening for the object of your affection, who needs to risk anything awkward or embarrassing unnecessarily? Save all that worry for unwanted bodily noises, uncomfortable conversational lulls, or whether that tickle in your nose is just an itch or is something about to fall onto your plate as your date gazes in horror. Those things will provide you with enough embarrassment, let choosing the wine be something you do with ease and confidence. It may even make up for that record setting gut rumble you both pretend not to hear later.
The solution is actual very simple. Call ahead. You have probably already done some reconnaissance to find out what sort of food is on the menu and how much the evening will set you back, etc. Do a little more. Call this swanky joint and ask to speak to the sommelier or the cellar master. If they don’t have one, explain why you are calling and ask if you can speak to the chef, head waiter, or someone knowledgeable. If the right person isn’t there, find out when to call. If no one can help you, find another place because this one is not going to be worth your time.
When you get someone to help, and it really should be easy to do, ask for their recommendations on a couple of wines in your price range. They will probably ask a few simple questions and be able to help you quite easily. Get at least one suggestion for a white and one for a red. Hedge your bets and ask for a good Pinot Noir, too. This eliminates looking cheap in front of your date, or dealing with some snooty waiter, or even just imagining you’ve made a mistake.
Armed with your new-found confidence that you can, and will, order the perfect bottle of wine, you can march into that restaurant with your date by your side knowing the evening will be perfect. Well, unless you sit on the table cloth and end up with a drink in you lap. But, I think we’ve already covered that…
Happy Valentine’s Day!