How to Order Wine If You're Not an Expert

It's not about the heftiest price tags, or the biggest appellations


How to Order Wine If You're Not an Expert
Wine September 10th, 2018

Wine menus are akin to walking down a dark alley — it’s terrifying and you never know when you’re going to get robbed. Okay, that’s a bit much, but you get the picture. No one likes to feel like an idiot at the start of a meal, but it’s perfectly fine to admit that you’re no expert.

The solution’s pretty simple. Seek, and you will find. Ask, and you will be given. Speak to the sommelier, be honest about what you want and never, ever feel pressured into spending. A willingness to splurge may impress the other party but it won’t guarantee a good time. Here’s how you can get the most out of your wine when you dine.

Jordan Scornet, Sommelier and Wine Insider

Jordan comes from the beautiful French countryside of Auvergne, a remote region that’s more famous for its water and cheese than wine. The wine there is bad, according to him, and it wasn’t until he realised he was enjoying bad wine did his interest in the drink grow. In a mission to educate himself, he cut his teeth at wineries such as Maison de Ladoucette right after law and business school, and later earned himself a masters in wine and spirits management at the Kedge Business School.

I’m no expert. What’s the first step to ordering wine?

Seek the sommelier’s advice. But if there is no one to ask, first think about your budget. For most of the time, this would be the first constraint. If you have a limited budget, don’t act all big shot and go for the big names. Also, don’t just go for the big appellations, such as Burgundy or Bordeaux. Give the little-known regions a try instead, such as Spain, Southern France and Southern Italy. They are full of good value-for-money wines.

I’d recommend the Didier Dagueneau Jardins de Babylone 2012, a sweet wine from the southwest of France. Made from the very delicate variety that is the Petit Manseng, it’s one of the most lively and layered Jurançon that I’ve ever tried. The aromas boast of fresh pineapple and caramelised apple, and the mouthfeel shows a striking acidity, balanced with a delicate sweetness.

The Henri Giraud Hommage Grand Cru NV (left) is a pinot noir-based Champagne from the Aÿ grand cru vineyard; fermented and matured in small oak casks made from the Argonne forest. Savour it in a white wine glass. The Didier Dageuneau Jardins de Babylone 2012 (right) comes from the delicate variety of Petit Manseng, born in the southwest of France. Energetic, layered and full of pineapple and caramelised apples.

If you don’t have a budget constraint, think about the food. Don’t think about just some big wine. There’s no guarantee that what you drink will be worth the price. So, wait for your guests to pick their food and try to adapt. I’d recommend starting with a glass of Champagne, like an Henri Giraud Hommage Grand Cru NV. It is refreshing and will open up your tastebuds, so to begin a meal with it is perfect. It’s also an aperitif that can be extended into your first course, such as fish. Follow it with a good white, red and finally, a glass of Armagnac.

There’s no harm mixing your alcohol, as long as you don’t take five glasses of each. If you do get a hangover, start the next day with a glass of lemon juice and warm water. Works for me. 

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