How many times have you stared at a wine list filled with Chablis and Cotes du Rhones and other provincial wine names that mean absolutely nothing to you? Some of us have cultivated our go-to faves, but unless we’re making frequent trips to Napa, many of us are still in the dark when it comes to picking the right grape.
We had the privilege of getting schooled on some wine etiquette with certified sommelier Naureen Zaim, who happens to be the wine director at the Hollywood farm-to-table hotspot Eveleigh. Here’s a list of some of her do’s and don’ts that’ll revolutionize your wine game and make you look like you actually know what you’re talking about.
DON’T ever ask for a “sweet” wine. One of the number one signs you don’t know what you’re talking about is when you ask for a “sweet” wine. Naureen says, “What most people mean when they’re saying ‘sweet’ is actually ‘fruity.’ 95 percent of wines will be dry. Only a few can accurately be described as sweet, such as a Riesling or a dessert wine.”
DO be as descriptive as possible. “As a sommelier, I like to ask someone what they like to drink, what flavors they tend to be attracted to. We’re here to help match a wine to that person’s palate, and I think people shouldn’t be afraid to communicate their likes.”
DON’T ask for a “moderately priced” wine. “The word ‘moderate’ means something different to everyone.” Be specific. Communicate what you’re comfortable spending and allow the sommelier to point you in the right direction.
DO opt for the whole bottle. The most common misconception is that bottles are pricier: “The truth is that the mark-up on a glass of wine is significantly higher than on a bottle. When you order a bottle, you’re actually getting a much higher quality at a lesser value. One bottle will pour out four glasses, and it’s a great starting point for two people.”
DON’T ask for ice. Unless the restaurant hasn’t done its job, wine is stored at optimal temperatures for consumption: “One of the most telling signs someone doesn’t know anything about wine is when they ask for ice in their glass. I would also not recommend placing a premium bottle on ice. A change in temperature can significantly dull the characteristics.”
DO describe wine by its viscosity. One of the fastest ways to look like a pro is to know the simple difference in the viscosity: Full-bodied, medium-bodied, or light. Naureen says a helpful way to think of it is in terms of milk: “Full-bodied has the texture of whole milk, medium-bodied is like 2 percent, and light would be closest to skim.”
DON’T talk about the “legs” of the wine. The “legs” in the wine world are the residual patterns left on a glass of wine after swirling it around. Naureen says that talking about this can make you look like you’re trying a bit too hard: “It’s a mute point, we know about the legs. If you’re going to describe it, talk about the characteristics of “the nose” (what you’re smelling) and “the palate” (what you’re tasting), and never ever sniff the cork.”
DO familiarize yourself with the basics. “There are thousands of different wines, so it’s impossible to know everything,” says Naureen. But most grapes do share certain characteristics that you can begin to familiarize yourself with. This helpful guide below will get you wine savvy in no time…
Tastes like: Plums and Chocolate.
Pairs well with: Burgers, stews, and light American fare. “It’s a great middle of the road wine; a safe bet when you’re feeling unsure of what to pair with your food,” explains Naureen.
Cabernet Sauvignon (Bordeaux)
Tastes like: Leather and dark fruits.
Pairs well with: Heavy meat dishes, steak, and Carne Asada.
Syrah (a.k.a. Shiraz, Rhone)
Tastes like: Bacon and blackberries.
Pairs well with: Meatballs, venison, and leg of lamb.
Pinot Noir (Burgundy)
Tastes like: Raspberry, cherry, cola, and tomato leaf.
Pairs well with: Lighter meat dishes, pork chops, and BBQ.
Tastes like: Tropical Fruit, melons, apples, and sometimes butter or oak.
Pairs well with: Richer meat dishes, creamy chicken Alfredo, and turkey pot pie.
Sauvignon Blanc (Sancerre)
Tastes like: Kiwi, jalapenos, or grass.
Pairs well with: Salads, fish tacos, ceviche, and salmon.
Tastes like: Apricots, peaches, limes, and petrol (Yes, petrol. The gasoline smell comes from the soil).
Pairs well with: Spicy foods, Thai, and Mexican; helps to calm the spice.
Tastes like: Fruit or minerals.
Pairs well with: Almost everything!