I like sommeliers. And wine stewards. I especially like wine stewards because I don't have to worry that I'm mispronouncing sommelier. I also don't have to worry about why they're wearing a little metal cup around their necks, because wine stewards, unlike sommeliers, don't do that. But you know what? These guys, and gals, are my friends.
It took me a while to realize this. I never would have figured it out, except that at a high-stress dinner, I happened to be sitting next to my husband instead of across from him. He somehow got picked to order wine for the table. I was glad he was doing it, but I had no idea how he was going to pull this off. I didn't envy him.
Now, after watching him, I know how to do it. I don't know much about wine, really, but this I can do. By the time you get to the end of this short (!) piece, you will be able to do it too. With confidence. Don't tell me you don't know how to pronounce Gewürztraminer or even what it is. Doesn't matter.
I understand, for the novices among us, that, at a fancy dinner or even luncheon, you may want to fob the wine-ordering responsibility off on a colleague, an in-law, your boss, or even the couple at the next table. But I am telling you, it is so, so easy. Volunteer and be the hero! Here's all you need to know.
1. Ask the guests. Start by asking your guests what type of wine they want. This is super-obvious, right? If they all agree on something, you order it. If it's terrible, you're off the hook. More likely, they won't agree. That's okay. They may say "red," they may say "white," or they may say something that makes no sense to you. No problem.
2. Call in the expert. Summon the waiter and tell him or her that you have some questions about the wine list. The waiter will call in the wine steward, sommelier, or maybe even the owner. This person – the waiter, the wine steward, whoever – is your friend. They will bail you out. I cannot stress this enough. They are on your side. They don't want you to be embarrassed. They want you to return to the restaurant next week and order more wine.
3. Get them up to speed. Let this person (let's say it's the wine steward, since most restaurants don't have a sommelier) know, briefly, what everyone is ordering (mostly meat, mostly fish, etc.). You have to give the wine steward something to work with, after all. Then repeat what the other guests have said they prefer. "We'd like a Chardonnay without too much oak," or "My friend loves Malbec." Whatever. Just parrot what you've been told. Smile.
4. The beauty part. Hold the wine list in front of you. The wine steward will be peering over your shoulder. Say, "I was thinking something like this would be nice." As you say this, you can point to a particular bottle of wine if you want. More important, make sure to slide your finger to the next column and point to the price point that is suitable. If money is no object, well, lucky you. But still, drop a hint. Say, "We're in the mood for a treat," or "We'd like to try something special."
Some people might say this is tacky. I say wine stewards are clever, but they don't have ESP. Again: In this scenarios, you are not telling the wine steward exactly which wine you want. Picking the wine is going to be their job. You are communicating, subtly yet clearly, how much you are willing to pay.
Now the wine steward has all the information he or she needs to save the day — what you'll be eating, what your general preferences are, and how much you are willing to spend. The wine steward will then do his or her job and suggest a wine or two within those parameters. You will nod wisely and choose one. Tah-dah! All done.
Now, be honest: Wasn't that easy? —KW
Image courtesy flickr user jrodmanjr