Villa Maria’s wine expert Jess Bell explains all you need to know about ordering wine like a champion, from branching out and trying new things to decoding how to make the best picks, every time in our Real Girl’s Guide to Wine!
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How GOOD is being able to be back in a restaurant again – and right now we’re all about supporting our locals! But sometimes you’ll get to a restaurant and get thoroughly intimidated – or confused! – by a lengthy wine list.
One of the biggest things I’ve always found is that people’s only consideration is that they don’t want to be ‘that person’ who orders the cheapest bottle and yup, I totally get it!
You instinctively go for the middle option – or the second cheapest – no matter what the actual wine is, and sometimes the cheapest one is actually the best, it all depends what you want! In our latest real girl’s guide to wine, here’s how to order like a pro:
Stop worrying about looking cheap!
Look, you don’t look cheap if you order the cheapest bottle of wine – you’re in a restaurant ordering a bottle of wine, so you’re doing fine! There shouldn’t be any shame in that at all. Take a look at where the wines are from, if it’s New Zealand, you are generally gonna be on the right track!
Most restaurants have the same formula for a way a wine list looks – you have the champagne/sparkling, then your Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris/Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and ‘Other Reds’. They’ll no doubt be ordered within those categories by price, but see what other information you can get! Where are they from? Have you tried that wine producer before? Sometimes you can find your supermarket favourites, which is a huge sense of relief! No need to stress!
Use the ‘by the glass’ option to explore
If you’re keen to expand your horizons and elevate your restaurant game, a lot of places have great options by the glass instead of the bottle – and many will also let you have a little taster before you commit to a glass. It’s the perfect way to figure out your preferences, guided by a waiter who might have some good food-matching knowledge too.
Think about what you’re eating
A Sauvignon Blanc is gorgeous – but if you’re about to enjoy a delicious hunk of lamb, it might not be the best match for your kai. I always love to say ‘what grows together goes together’ – it’s an old-fashioned kind of thinking that what is from the same area works well, and it’s the simplest way to know what’s in front of you will be good together! Think seafood and New Zealand’s iconic Sauv, the Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc – dreamy if you ask me. To make life even easier, if there’s a food and wine match available, I reckon you should go for it. What have you got to lose?
New Zealanders especially have this absolute fear of looking stupid when it comes to things we don’t know, and asking about wine seems to be one of them! When you’re looking at a varietal you’re not too familiar with, don’t worry about looking stupid – you’ll look interested and engaged. Frame those questions in a way that people will be impressed with. Instead of asking ‘what do you think of this one’ ask things like, ‘which of these three is the driest’ or ‘which one these do you think would pair the best with what I’m ordering’? If this all still feels a little daunting, go for the fail-safe of a chilled Rosé that’s crisp and fruity, like the Villa Maria EarthGarden Rosé.
Most of all, you do you
At the end of the day though, wine should, simply, just be enjoyed. Don’t get caught up in matching or doing ‘what you’re supposed to do’ if it’s not your bag. If you don’t like Chardonnay, you’re still probably not going to like it, even if it goes perfectly with the chicken dish in front of you!
Sometimes that’s what frustrates me about the wine industry – the ‘should-ness’ of it. Who says you ‘should’ do anything? Sure, you ‘should’ pair duck with Pinot Noir, but who eats duck every day? Literally NO one! Experiment, sure – but whatever you think is the right wine, that’s the right wine for you.
I may be in my late 20’s but sometimes I wonder if I’m actually in my late 50’s because in my eyes, Chardonnay can do no wrong and I’ll happily drink it with whatever I’m eating. This Reserve Hawkes Bay Chardonnay is a bit of me.
The most important thing in this real girl’s guide to wine is that you should order what you feel like drinking. Life is too short!