Ever feel flustered when you're presented with the wine list in a restaurant? Are you doggedly sticking to the same old chardonnays and merlots instead of trying something new? Sommelier Margot Baloro from Forage restaurant sat down with Eater to talk about how to get the very best experience ordering wine in a restaurant.
What are the main mistakes we're making when we order wine in a restaurant
I think sometimes people come in with preconceived notions like 'I hate chardonnay' and you really just need an open mind. I always enjoy breaking down those prejudices and introducing them to new things.
It's easy to panic when you're asked to taste a wine; you feel like you have to swirl, sniff and say something smart - but what if you don't know what to say?
Don't worry! Sometimes reviewers come up with these unique ways to describe wine and I think people get nervous if they don't have those descriptions and don't know what those words mean. [Inhales an imaginary wine] 'Mmm, it's a gamey, badgery smell!' It's difficult to relate to that. Wine is about what it means to you when you're tasting it; a lot of time if I say there's a hint of, say, raspberry leaf or tobacco they'll swirl and get it. But the more you taste and your palate gets these standards the more you'll start to recognise them yourself.
So what's the starting point with picking wine?
Come in and decide what you want to eat and then find a wine that pairs with that. Don't get stuck on the region or varietal or price point. Any restaurant worth their salt will have wines that match with their food. Avoid focussing on price points or what you didn't like in the past; just come in and try something new.
So what about the rule of 'no red with white meat or fish?'
There are some pairings that do not work, but absolutely you can have red wines with chicken, especially here in B.C. because there are so many really great wines that have the right amount of acid. The focus on about food pairing is that it's not just the chicken it's what else is in the dish and how it is cooked.
How do I bring up budget?
We understand that people are on a budget and there's never anything wrong with saying, 'This is what I want to spend, this is my comfort zone.' We want to blow your mind regardless of the price point.
And is there any truth in the idea that the second cheapest bottle on the list is the best deal and the house wine's going to be terrible?
People have their tricks, right, but I don't think that's the case; typically the house wine is at the more accessible price point but what I see in this city is that there's not a real switch from house wine quality to different wines on the list. If you look at the wine list philosophy in the city it's all about supporting local wineries, having good quality wines at a price point that's consistent with value and that will be through the whole programme - you won't find the house wine being the slob!
And be honest - is the sommelier trying to sell the most expensive wine?
No, the most expensive wine isn't always the best bottle for your experience. Sure, finding a good wine at a lower price point is a little harder; wineries will price their best vines at a higher point, but again - it's just about finding the right wine for that experience.
What's the one piece of advice you want people to take from this?
Just ask; there are no stupid questions. I recommend that people try pairing a different glass with each course. Have your sommelier customise your meal for you and trust me; no one is sneering, 'well, that guest was just really interested in experiencing something fun and trying something new and that's terrible!'. Servers love that stuff - they want to walk you through it because they know the products and they know what pairs well.