How to Wine

8 April 2014

Sometimes (read: most times) I think of wine as a close friend. It saves me after a s**t day at work, it resurrects my hideously awkward dating situations and it brings me close to the people I love, and some I don’t like all that much.

So I would say I am definitely a wino. However, I don’t know the first thing about wine, except how to consume it. I certainly know how to do that. But I don’t know one year from another or one grape from its vineyard companions.

There are millions of different kinds of wines out there grown in pretty much every single region of the world, all with vastly different things to recommend them. This makes things *slightly* confusing when you are trying to be a bona fide wine expert in front of friends, dates or just the Waitrose man. It’s also potentially embarrassing should you come across somebody who seriously knows their stuff when it comes to wine. You know... THIS kind of person:

When dealing with the wine connoisseurs of the world, just remember these simple tips and you’ll soon convince anyone you know your Chateauneuf-du-Pape from your Chenin Blanc.

1. An educated look

Take your time perusing the wine list while enjoying conversation, don’t let the stress of ordering ruin your flow. Equally, don’t worry about what you might eat because matching your wine to your food in a set way is something of a misunderstanding and should not determine what you drink.

2. Lost in the List? Follow the French

The way I see it the French are masters of snobbery and also responsible for a great deal of very impressive wine and champagne. So the more French-sounding the name is, the better. Cabernet Sauvignon? Parfait. Pinot Gris? Mais Oui.  

Lifesaving Rule 1: Opt for the Pinot. For some reason most wine snobs tend to prefer Pinot Noir above all else. Or at least, they don't hate it. It’s a win-win: plays it safe with the people who understand wine and scores some huge knowledge points with those who don’t.   

Lifesaving Rule 2: Avoid the ol’ Chardonnay, ol’ chap. Generally speaking, wine lovers tend to be Merlot & Chardonnay haters. Not sure why but these two grapes seem to incite a great deal of random malicious feeling. Perhaps not posh enough? Depending on your company, you could be wise bashing the Merlot in passing conversation. You know... a snarky bitch comment or two. Your connoisseur will appreciate it.

3. Can you pronounce it?

#theawkwardmoment when you say Pi-knott Noire and mean Pee-No Nwahr. It is crucial you pick a brand name you can pronounce. You don't want to lose all credibility stumbling over your words when ordering. If the waiter/barman lacks social skills they will call you up on it.

Top Tip: Play it safe and shorten it – e.g. Pee No or point at the menu and say the Vinyard name, which is usually easier to pronounce and makes you seem like you’ve been there.

4. Don’t be afraid to go House

Whilst many would argue that it is the wine novice alone who orders the house, I beg to differ. It is a wino secure in their own knowledge who willingly orders the house wine over other options. However, it all depends on the establishment of course. If you are in a cheapo-chain then obviously avoid the house drop unless you are looking to repaint your oesophagus. But expensive restaurants take a great deal of time and care when selecting their wine offering, particularly the house as it is a bastion on the sommeliers tastes. Don’t be afraid to confidently peruse the list before loudly selecting the house wine. After all, the confidence is everything in these situations.

Top tip: If you’re on a budget but want a nice wine, Sauvignon Blanc is the safest bet from a taste and price perspective.

5. Swirl sniff and sip

It’s now testing time, the moment you are supposed to prove that you’re not an uncultured nitwit. No expert? Me neither. So here’s what I do… Make sure you handle the glass only by its stem. ALWAYS HANDLE THE GLASS BY ITS STEM! Swirl the wine around before you first sniff the aroma – twice – and then sip it. But don’t overdo it - no spilling or shot gunning allowed.

Then you get your “tasting face” on. Think Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina. Smile and nod in approval or shake your head disapprovingly should the wine be corked (then accompany head shake with frown). Do not speak. But if you feel you *must* do not use the basic words like ‘good’, ‘bad’ or ‘ok’.

Wine word bank: Dry, Fruity, Light, Smokey, Complex, Deep, Full, Smooth, Rich, Tangy, Soft, Bold, Robust, Acidic, Citrusy , Flowery, Oakey, Full-bodied, Crisp. The wine experts always get a bit carried away and mention an undertone of babies nappy or smoked pheasant but this might have to wait for another list.

6. NOW. Now, you're allowed to...

Ellen Modin

Ellen Modin