Apr 10, 2014

Wine Tips for Dummies - How to Look Like You Know What You're Doing

Whether you're on a date, at a business dinner, or...

Whether you're on a date, at a business dinner, or celebrating a holiday with family, selecting and serving wine is bound to be a part of the meal.  There are few things more intimidating than having to choose a bottle and taste a wine when you're trying to impress someone and don't know what the hell you're doing.  This is where our handy wine tutorial comes in - you only need to know some basics in order to spare yourself embarrassment and look like a pro.  Oh, and PS: chicks think it's hot when a guy knows how to pick wine.

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Which wine goes with which food?  This can be a hard question, especially when you and your dining companion(s) are eating very different meals.  The old adage is that white wine goes with fish and red wine goes with meat and pasta, and that's a pretty good guideline, but it's not a rule.  Generally, seafood, if it's not in a tomato-based sauce, is complemented best by a cold, crisp white wine like a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio.  And most often, a full-bodied red like Cabernet or spicy red like Chianti pairs best with a steak, or a dish of spaghetti and meatballs.  What about chicken?  A roast chicken tastes great with red or white, and as in most cases, what really matters is personal preference.  If your date orders pad Thai, and you're not sure what wine suits the meal best, the smartest thing to do is to ask her what she prefers; red or white.  No one is going to scold you or look disgusted if you want a glass of Pinot Noir with your salmon.

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So the waiter brings a bottle to the table and presents it to you with a flourish.  Ok, yeah?  What most servers in decent establishments are trained to do is to confirm with you that they've brought the correct bottle - the one you picked - before they go about the work of opening it.  Because once they uncork it, it can't be resold.  So all you have to do is look at the bottle to make sure it's the one you asked for, and give the waiter a nod.  That's it.

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Then the server uncorks the wine (we'll teach you how to do this yourself, for occasions you're at home, in a moment).  He will typically put a glass in front of the person who ordered the wine, and pour you a small amount.  Why aren't you filling me up, you might wonder to yourself.  The answer is, you're supposed to taste the wine to make sure the bottle is good and to your liking, before the waiter pours it for the table.  People get nervous here and think they have to do pompous things like hold their glass to the light and swirl the wine wildly and swish it in their mouths, but you really don't.  Give the wine a gentle swirl in the glass to aerate it (this helps with flavor), and take a sip.  If it tastes good, nod at the waiter again, or give some other affirmative like, "that's good," and he will pour for your company and fill your glass more.  Then your only job is to drink, which is the best job there is.

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Okay, so you're at a party, or at home, and you need to open a bottle of wine.  Stop sweating, this is easy.  There are many types of fancy wine openers but the tried-and-true tool that will always serve you well is the classic double-hinged corkscrew.  Here's what you do:

  1. Hold the bottle of wine stationary.
  2. Cut across the front, back, and top of the foil that covers the cork. Keep your fingers clear of the blade and the foil.
  3. Set the screw just off center of the cork, but towards the middle not the edges, and insert, rotating straight into the cork.
  4. Continue to screw into the cork until only one curl remains.
  5. Lever on the first step, then the second, finally easing the cork out with your hand if you need to.

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And, if all else fails, ask someone at a wine shop to help you choose a decent wine with a screw top - more and more good wines are available without a cork, and won't make you look like a newbie.

Speaking of asking for help at a wine shop, it's a good way to get recommendations for wines, so that you can find some bottles you like and then have a "go-to" wine. Some general advice: don't buy a bottle of wine for under $10-12.  New Zealand makes great Sauvignon Blanc, Argentina makes good Malbec, California and Oregon make fantastic Pinot Noirs.  Stay away from cheap mass brands like Yellow Tail or Beringer. And drink what you like!  Always start with the best bottles and then drink the cheaper ones - your palate can't appreciate the good stuff after a couple glasses.

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