Jess Commons | Deputy Editor | 1,306 day ago

How To Buy And Order Wine Without Looking Like A Knob When You Know Absolutely Nothing

The Debrief: Hands up if you always order Pinot Grigio...

We've all been there – the waiter's hovering, your friends have left it up to you, you've got a wine list in front of you, and you've got absolutely no idea what to go for. Is merlot a thing? Is shiraz tacky? Will the waiters think you're a dick if you order the house red? What about if you're on the white? Are people going to sneer at you if you get some soda water and ice to make a cheeky spritzer? Bloody hell, wine ordering's a social minefield that we're constantly failing spectacularly at navigating.

We got hold of wine blogger Miss Bouquet and asked her all the wine-related questions you wanted to know the answers to, but were too afraid to ask…We always go for the second cheapest wine on the menu on a fantastically misinformed perception that ordering the cheapest looks like you know nothing about wine. Is there any logic to our idiocy at all? Can you tell how good something is on the menu by the price?

The price of a wine should be a good indicator of the quality, but that's not always the case. The price may be related to how much of that wine has been produced, how popular the style of wine is or how much money the bar wants to make! The best way to tell the quality of a wine is to try it. It may sound impossible when you’re out and about, but any wine bar, pub or restaurant worth spending your money in will have a good selection of wines by the glass, which means the bottles are open anyway. So if you’re not sure which wine to go for, just pluck up the nerve to ask to try a couple you like the sound of and they’ll give you a little sample of each.

What do the different wines mean? We're vaguely aware that chardonnay comes from one grape and pinot grigio's from another, but that's about it. Can you give us a run down?

The style of wine that each grape produces will differ depending on where it comes from, but to give you an idea here’s your 10 second guide to each grape...

Chardonnay: Fresh and fruity, can be oaky but less so nowadays, really versatile for pairing with food, we’re seeing a change in the “Anything But Chardonnay” attitude as people are embracing the #AllAboutChardonnay trend

Pinot Grigio: The budget-friendly stuff from Italy is often very neutral tasting, try upgrading to a Pinot Gris which is the same grape but tends to be a bit more sophisticated and will have a bit more flavour

Sauvignon Blanc: Drink while it’s young, it is crisp, fresh, aromatic and great to drink on its own on a sunny day

Merlot: Good affordable versions are from Chile, crazy expensive ones come from Bordeaux, almost all other major wine producing countries produce something in between. It’s a reliable style of red wine and it’s difficult to find one that’s undrinkable. That’s a good thing!

Shiraz: Often denotes a big fruit bomb of a wine, but when labeled as Syrah (the same grape just different name) it can be more elegant

Cabernet Sauvignon: Arguably one of the best red wine grapes in the world – there are some great budget-friendly options available from South Australia, try a William Hardy Cabernet Sauvignon for a safe dinner party option

What's a great little-known wine you can show off by ordering or buying?

There are so many! I think Cremant de Bourgogne is a good one. It’s a sparkling wine from France and the white ones are produced using pretty much the same grapes and made in the same way as white Champagne, but it’s produced a couple of hundred miles south of Champagne in Burgundy. It always tastes great and is half the price of any decent Champagne.

So, we're in in the shop, with a tenner, just about to go to a friend's house for dinner and we're panicking in the wine aisle. Is there a safe bet that's always going to be a people pleaser?

If you’ve got a tenner, then you’re sure to pick up a decent bottle as the safest pricing area when buying wine in the UK is between £8 - £12. If you’re not after sparkling (see Cremant recommendation above), then Chardonnay is a great option to go for. It’s such a versatile wine, which makes it a good people pleaser, goes with pretty much any dish or can be enjoyed on its own. Australia, California and New Zealand are producing some great ones.
When a waiter pours you wine to test at a restaurant, what are you actually meant to be tasting for? We thought it was for corked wine but none of them seem to be corked anymore?

I know what you mean, I often feel a bit silly tasting a wine that’s just been opened  with a screwcap! The term 'corked' means that there is a cork taint in the wine, which is caused by the bacteria that can sometimes be present in the cork (as it’s a natural product). Wines sealed with a screwcap can’t actually be corked, but still might have a fault, so it’s still worth trying a sip to make sure that you like the wine! More often than not, trying the wine in a restaurant is just part of the ritual.

Is it EVER acceptable to spritz a wine with ice and soda? Even in the summer?

If you’re unlucky enough to be served a wine that will only be improved by adding ice and soda, then add as much as you need. But, then again, everyone has different preferences when it comes to wine and it’s important that you enjoy the experience.

Are there any specific countries you think are killing it in the wine stakes at the moment?

If you’ve still got that tenner in your pocket, then I’d definitely recommend going for the new world wines (Argentine, Chile, Australia or New Zealand). As I mentioned before, it’s important not to shy away from a grape variety or region because of what your friends are buying and to find something which suits you!

Australian wine in particular seems to be having a moment in the UK – Hardys wine is actually launching a pop-up Chardonnay bar in London on the 23rd-25th May, to celebrate International Chardonnay Day. I’ll be hosting fun chardonnay and canapé tasting sessions, so go along and say hi!

Follow Hardys on Facebook for all the latest updates and check out more wine-related musings on her blog.

 Follow Jess on Twitter @jess_commons

Tags: Food Glorious Food