Now, if you are a serious wine drinker, skip this blog and enjoy a nice glass of your favourite Claret instead. Now, if you don't know what a Claret is, feel free to read on.
Every once in a while I am in a bar or restaurant and my company pushes the wine list over to me: 'You run a restaurant so you know about wine, pick one for dinner'. These days I have obviously confidence in picking wines, but I still follow a very simple three step process:
Question 1: Red or white?
The answer to question 1 will cut your choices by half. Having food: meat dishes, go red; poultry (other than turkey), sea food or salads, go white.
Drinking only: what is the temperature outside: below 10 Celsius, go red. Anything warmer: go white. This may seem odd, but red works well either on a winter day or late night while white works clearly in summer. In spring and autumn it is difficult: windy or late at night are red wine times while a balmy Indian Summer afternoon is the last vestige of white. Hence my 10 Celsius rule of thumb.
Question 2: How much do you want to spend?
Seriously, look at your budget. At least decide if you are in the 10s, 20s, 30s or even 40s (you lucky bugger) of the menu. Are you on a night to impress or a budget dinner. Both are valid reasons to go to a restaurant so don't feel ashamed about sticking to a budget.
By now you will be down to a choice of probably 3 to 10 wines, even on a very substantial wine list.
Question 3: How easy drinking do you want it to be?
This is where it becomes a little bit complicated but let's try and make it easy. Wines come on a scale from very fruity to mouth-achingly difficult to drink.
With red wine the one end isknown as 'fruity' and the most extreme wines are almost like Ribena. At the other end are what are known as 'full-bodied' red wines. They contain what is technically known as 'tannins'. For white wines the fruity end is 'sweet' or 'semi-dry' while the more acidic wines are known as 'dry'. If you want a wine to drink on its own you want to be at the fruitier end of the wines you can choose from, while full-bodied reds and dry whites work better with food. So how do you pick once you have your colour and price based short list? This is where experience and knowledge matter the most. But don't panick, with these pointers in mind you can choose confidently:
- French, Spanish and South American wines tend to be at the full-bodied / dry end of the scale
- American, New Zealand and Australian wines tend to be at the fruitier end of the scale
- Italian wines tend to be good all-rounders
- Stay away from Rieslings and Geeuerztraminers. Unless you want to come across as a slightly eccentric expert. In which case you ask 'How dry is this Riesling'. Avoid if the answer isn't 'very dry' and it hasn't at least 12% alcohol but if it hits these criteria you may have a sleeper at your hands that will make your judgement be memorable (hopefully for the right reasons) to your guests
Let's go through an example from Counter's wine list. In the £30-40 range we have amongst others as reds Catena Malbec from Argentina, and Peirano Estate Merlot from California. As whites we have the Jacques Guindon Muscadet from France and the A-Z Pinot Gris from Oregon. And here are four situations for ordering wine: you are ordering some nice seafood; you are having a drink with friends on a cold winter evening; you are having steak; and you are out for a refreshing drink on a warm summer day.
Follow the steps above and you should be able to match them up according to my three step process.
Seafood: you want a dry white. French Muscadet or Oregon Pinot Gris? France generally beats USA for dryness so the Muscadet
Winter evening: cold, so you want red. Drinking only, so you want fruity. Here California beats the Argentinian option, so the Merlot
Summer day: war, so you want fruity white: Oregon bests France, so go for the A-Z Pinot Gris
Steak: you want a full-bodied red. Here Argentina beats California and you should have the Malbec
I hope this has shown you how with even a little knowledge you can confidently pick a suitable wine to enjoy.
Oh, and if you wondered: a Claret is a red wine from the Bordeaux region in France. The term 'claret' is mainly used in the UK and the USA. And to confuse matters, they are often well balanced between being fruity and having body to be good both on their own and with food. But always a decent choice with a good piece of beef.