Admit it – there are few things more intimidating than the thought of a waiter dropping an encyclopedia of wine right in front of you at the dinner table. It’s no fun thumbing through hundreds of pages worth of while your unhelpful dinner companions continue their conversation expecting you to do all the hard work. Fear no longer, Sassy to the rescue with some tips to help maneuver a wine menu like a pro.
Your friend, the Sommelier
Most high-end restaurants in Singapore have a Sommelier (Somm), a professional who specialises in wine. It is their job to keep the restaurant’s wine cellar full, produce a wine menu and help you select a bottle to match your meal and pocketbook. Once seated, ask if the restaurant has a Sommelier and if they do, here’s how to put them to work for you:
1. The Somm will ask if you know what you want… and in our case, of course we don’t! Start by telling them the kind of wine you like to drink with a few descriptions like, smooth, full-bodied, spicy, dry, oaky. Don’t be intimidated it’s okay to use your own vocabulary words to describe your taste preferences.
2. At this point in the conversation you should express a price range you want to stick to and ask for a recommendation. I usually also ask them if there are any hidden gems on the menu, or for their favourites in my price point and flavour range. They will give you a selection of wines to choose from that match your requirements. More likely than not, any of those recommendations will be just fine for your dinner.
If you’re stuck in a kerfuffle without a knowlegable Somm to help you out, here’s what you should do:
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First, the basics – understand that most wine lists are divided by categories (red, white, rose, sparkling wine etc.), region (France, USA, Australia, etc.) or by varietal (type of grape-chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot, etc.). Typically the menu will subdivide the lists further into price or vintage. Regardless of how prettily it is laid out the wine list is a dizzying confusing encyclopaedia. Now to make your selection…
1. Decide if your dinner companions prefer red or white wine and if anyone is having wine by the glass or something besides wine (gasp!).
2. Settle on the price tag you are willing to step up to…and stick to it. In Singapore your value wines are generally going to be Australian. Wines from Chile, Italy and some Californian and Oregon wines can be mid-priced. French wines are generally the most expensive here.
Some people like to try new wines in restaurants, I prefer to do my experimenting at home where wine is much cheaper than in restaurants given their 200++% mark up! So I prefer to stick to what I know… and look for familiar wines I like within my price range. If you are aiming for the leastexpensive wines, stick to the two most recent vintages.
3. Remember that if the restaurant specialises in a particular food, choose a wine from that same nationality.
4. As a general rule, red wines age better than white wines, but red wine that is more than ten years old is always a risk in a restaurant due to potential storage issues, especially in the heat and humidity of Singapore.
5. Pick younger wines (wine year closest to the year you are in) when you’re in the market for Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier, and for Southern French, Italian, Spanish or Portuguese whites.
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6. Age is sometimes OK for white wine, for example, Rieslings from Germany, Austria, Alsace, New Zealand and Australia.
7. Do not buy old rosé. If it’s pink accept nothing less than the current year.
8. Choose countries that rarely disappoint. New Zealand and Australia are incredibly consistent and with their proximity to Singapore, both countries provide a wide variety of choices.
And don’t forget about house wine
The restaurant probably sells more of these than of any other wine, so the bottles move quickly ensuring proper storage and some popularity. Bad house wines will do nothing for the restaurant’s reputation.
One caution if you are not a Sauvignon Blanc drinker, it sometimes seems this is the country’s national wine. Be sure to enquire about the type of white wine that they are pouring as their house white.
Boost your confidence
Sometimes you can check out a restaurant’s wine list on line before you head there. Or you can bookmark this page, refer to it at the restaurant, make your selection and get back to the dinner party! Good luck and enjoy! Cheers!
To get a good bottle of wine or host your own private wine party contact: Shawn O’Hara, Consulting Sommelier, My Own Private Cellar, firstname.lastname@example.org