Here’s a place we’ve probably all been before: sitting at dinner with your date, perusing a wine list that’s a mile long. Most of the time, this is not so much an intellectual choice as it is an exercise in trying desperately not to embarrass yourself. As much as you’d like to splurge, you’re not going to get a second date if you end the night washing dishes out back. On the flip side, you can’t get the cheapest wine on the list if you want a second date. So what do you do to avoid maxing out your credit card or looking like a cheapskate? Most people order the second cheapest wine.
A few weeks ago, CollegeHumor released a video with that very title. The narrator announces in his smooth, baritone voice, “You don’t know much about wine, but you do know that you shouldn’t get the cheapest.” So you go for the second cheapest. I love this video for two reasons. One, I’m totally guilty of doing this. Two, after spending some time working in the wine and restaurant industry, I now know that the only party that benefits from making this choice is the bar. Yep, most bars and restaurants caught on to this thought process way before CollegeHumor did, and tend to reserve that retail space for something that’s profitable for them, even if it’s not that great.
So what can you do to guarantee that your wine is both wallet and palate friendly? When it comes to wine lists, a little education goes a long way. Here are a few helpful tips:
– Go off the beaten path: restaurants will charge a premium for popular varietals simply because they can. Forgo the Napa Cabs and Chardonnays – those are most likely overpriced – and try a varietal or region that is a little unfamiliar. Instead of a Chardonnay, opt for Viognier. Sub a Vermentino for Sauvignon Blanc. Or try a more mainstream varietal from an up and coming wine region, like a Tasmanian Pinot Noir.
– Ask for a recommendation: no one knows the ins and outs of a wine list like your sommelier. Chat about what type of food you’re planning to order and what your budget is, and ask for a couple suggestions. Most likely, you’ll end up with a great pairing that you would have otherwise overlooked.
– Order by the glass: though ordering by the bottle is generally a better deal if you know what you want to drink, experimenting with a couple different glasses is low-commitment way try new wines and see what works. Order something different from your date and have fun comparing.
Above anything else, don’t let the wine list be intimidating. Ask questions, take risks, and most importantly, have fun. Now you can stop obsessing about ordering that second cheapest wine and focus on getting that great second date.