“Red wine with fish. Well, that should have told me something”. James Bond may have recognised Grant as a fraud when he ordered a Chianti but these days restaurant etiquette is no longer so stuck on following the rules. This is great news for oenophiles the UK over, but with so much choice, the less wine-savvy among us may become overwhelmed when faced with a wine list. As much as we’d like to embrace our adventurous side, sometimes it just seems easier to stick to that same old bottle of Sauvignon Blanc – not because we love it, but for fear of getting it wrong. So perhaps we’re still in need of a few guidelines.
6 steps to brave a wine list
1) Know what you’re reading.
Not every wine list is born the same. Sommeliers create their selection based on different features, such as all biodynamic, or wines from female producers. Whatever the theme, there will be a certain order to how their choices are arranged. Taking a minute to suss out the style will make your browsing a lot simpler.
2) Life rewards the curious.
It can be so easy to lean towards the familiar, but it’s generally not where you’ll find the best value. Lesser known appellations of France and Spain are producing fantastic wines for a fraction of what you’d buy from Bordeaux or Rioja. Central and Eastern European countries have also been flourishing in recent years offering wine lovers a healthy return on their interest – try Hungarian Furmint or Romanian Pinot Noir.
3) Go for the grapes you can’t pronounce!
Reading a wine list can sometimes feel like dealing with a foreign language (or several foreign languages!) Varieties like Falanghina, Assyrtiko and Aglianico may seem daunting but you’ll notice such lesser known indigenous grapes appearing more and more on your wine list. Italy alone has over 370 recognised indigenous grape varieties, which may promise a lot more bang for your buck than your usual glass of Pinot Grigio.
4) Think about what you’re eating
We can often find ourselves stressing about food pairings but there’s never just one wine that’s going to complement your meal. Choose what you’re going to eat first and then pick a wine you like to match – if you’re eating something rich and heavy , then a more full-bodied wine will stand up better (and vice versa). Another good trick is to try and match regional food with wines from the same place. There’s a reason why Muscadet matches Moules Marinière, and why Italian reds work perfectly with Bolognese.
5) By the glass
It may seem like better value to share a bottle, but if you and your dining partner have completely different tastes, this may be a false economy. Many restaurants are fleshing out their offering of wines by the glass and this can be a brilliant way to try new things. It also makes it a lot easier to indulge in that sparkling aperitif or glass of dessert wine to finish off the meal.
6) Don’t be afraid to ask for advice
Not all wines will necessarily be listed as you expect. For example, many European wines are only listed by the name of the region rather than the grape, and chatting to your waiter may be the easiest way to find what you like. It’s not just Michelin star restaurants that have brilliantly trained staff, and imparting their knowledge is all part of the service.