One of the reasons that so many people choose to order beer or a mixed drink when they’re out in public is that these drinks seem so much less threatening to order than wine. Choosing which wine to order with which meal is daunting enough to cause first dates to sweat profusely just thinking about it.
Take a sip of that beer, and just relax. After you read this article, you’ll be a veritable virtuoso of wine-ordering; an expert in all things corked. Stick with us, kid, and you’ll never again have to wonder “Red or white wine – seriously, what do I order?”
Cracking the Color Code
A good place to start in your quest to become more comfortable ordering the right wine is learning the most basic of wine rules. Remember: Once you learn the rules, you can start breaking the rules. This most basic of rules that you can always fall back on if all else fails is that you can match the color of your meal to the color of your wine.
Obviously, we’re not talking something way out of hand here–don’t go imagining green and blue wines or anything. But put simply: red wine goes with red meats and red sauces, and white wine goes with white meats and white sauces. So, red wine goes with steak and Bolognese sauce, while white wine goes with chicken, flounder, and pasta Alfredo.
And yes, pink wines such as blush, rosé, or White Zinfandel do match pink meat (pork) and pink sauces (vodka) pretty well. Of course, we’d make an argument that White Zinfandel shouldn’t be ordered in public at all, not matter what you’re eating. Instead, this overly sweet wine belongs over ice on a hot summer day when you just can’t bear to drink plain water, but don’t want to drink anything too serious or too good.
It’s All in the Tone
Once you get that first rule under your belt, it’s time to move swiftly past it. There’s so much more in a wine and a meal than just its color. Is the wine sweet, bold, semi-dry, light, etc.? Is the food heavy, lemony, creamy, sharp, hearty? Would you say the wine is crisp and refreshing or full-bodied?
In general, people prefer bold, “full-bodied” red wines with substantial meals like beef stew and even meaty hamburgers. This is because these types of red wines (including Pinot Noirs and Cabernet Sauvignons) hold up against these dishes–they’re not diminished or overshadowed by the food. Likewise, more “delicate” meals like broiled tilapia and chicken piccata can be paired beautifully with lighter white wines like Pinot Grigio.
Do Your Homework
Obviously, it’s harder to figure out on the fly which wine will go with your meal if you don’t have a lot of experience drinking different kinds of wine. If you plan to get serious about your wine ordering–perhaps to impress a new girlfriend or boyfriend, or because you’re up for partner at the law office and the process includes many, many dinner meetings–then get serious about your wine drinking.
Take a weekend and get the assistance of the owner of your local liquor store. Grab some bottles of wines you don’t usually drink–Malbec, Riesling, Syrah, etc.–and take notes as you sample them. Look for body, flavor, acidity, and even the way it feels in your mouth as you enjoy it.
All of this will help you match your wines appropriately when the time comes. Some stores also feature free wine tastings, so you can “try before you buy.” Take advantage of these and, under the guidance of a wine guide, you’ll be a pro in no time!
In a pinch, head to the library and grab some back issues of Wine Spectator or other esteemed wine guides and spend some evenings reading through some recommendations of food and wine pairings.
In the End, It’s a Matter of Preference
At this point, you’ve sampled many different wines and learned which types of wine the wine “professionals” would pair with which types of food. There’s no doubt that you’re ready to at least order with ease, if not downright impress the heck out of your dinner companions. But what’s the sense of learning to order wine if you can’t order what you actually want to drink?
The best rule of thumb we can give you is to drink what you like to drink and let others take their opinions elsewhere. Throw caution to the wind and order that chicken dish with your favorite Chianti or indulge in that Grenache blend alongside the Pasta Primavera. If it’s pleasing to your palate, you’ve ordered the right wine. If it’s too jarring to your taste buds, make a mental note so that you don’t repeat the mistake in the future.
Just don’t take yourself, or the wine, too seriously. After all, a meal out with friends, family, or colleagues should be enjoyable, not stress-inducing. Let’s drink to that!