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Impress Your Date
by Mike Supple
published: 10 Jul 2008 | Comments
The first date I went on with my now-fiancée was at a micro-brew pub. Turns out she doesn't drink beer. I flipped through their limited wine list as she asked me, "What would I like?" Knowing only that she didn't like big buttery Chardonnay (typical of California), I went with a glass of something French. Turning to the server, I said, "I'll have a Pilsner and she'll have a glass of the Fat Bastard Chard." Fortunately she had a sense of humor...and the wine was good enough that the evening continued.
Ordering wine in a restaurant can be a bit more challenging than picking one out in a store. You don't actually get to touch bottles and read labels, and you are usually on a time frame as the server stands there tapping a pencil and your date stares at you waiting. Either ask your date for some input or just continue to peruse; don't let the server rush you into a bad decision. It's your money (one or both of yours, I don't care who pays for your dates), so let the server wait!
Restaurants can be the best way to explore new wines because they tend to offer things by the glass. Personally, I would much rather take a $7 risk on a glass of wine I've never heard of than an $18 risk on the same bottle in a shop. Particularly when you are ordering wine for another person and you know nothing about what he or she likes, going the glass route is a safer use of your money. However, if you both plan on having more than a glass each it is generally more cost effective to get a bottle.
That's all well and good, but how do you actually choose a wine?
When ordering a glass of something before a meal you can almost never go wrong with bubbles. People equate sparkling wine with celebrations, so you will immediately bring the night up a level for your date. Beyond making your date feel extra special, sparkling wine has some real benefits for your dining experience. The higher acid levels in sparkling wine really get your taste buds going, so it will help improve your enjoyment of the food (as opposed to having a martini which deadens your taste buds). Champagne also tends to pair more easily with many types of food, so if your appetizers show up before you're done, you don't need to worry about clashing flavors. I should point out too that carbon dioxide allows your body to absorb alcohol faster, so you and your date will have a nice warm feeling as you settle in and begin your evening.
So you've had a glass of champagne and you're ready to move on. Now what? House wines are not a recommended way to go for quality or value. The restaurant likely gets their house wines for a couple dollars per jug (or 18 liter box), and by charging $4 a glass they make a killing. Don't succumb to this unless your date wants something sweet. The house white will likely be buttery and sweet, the house pink will just be plain sweet and the house red will be fruity up front but the flavors will disappear immediately. Many chain restaurants will pour you a sample of anything they have by the glass, so don't hesitate to ask if you can try something before deciding.
If the restaurant has a full wine list, then somebody has gone to enough effort selecting wines that they've probably trained their servers to know which types of wines will go best with their entrees. The key to making a great selection from a large list is asking your server or sommelier for help.
When phrased right, you can ask for suggestions and still make it look like you know what you're doing. Instead of saying, "What do you think we should get?" pick a wine on the list and lie about it: "I've had this Rosenblum Zinfandel before and really enjoyed it. However, I always like trying new things. Would you recommend something else to go with the salmon?" This is a win-win situation. Your date assumes you know what you're doing, your server may actually bring you something fantastic, and if your date doesn't like it you can blame the entire thing on the server's poor judgment.
If you still prefer to pick your own wine without assistance from the professionals, stick to these basic guidelines:
- Choose based on what your date is eating. You're looking to impress your date, so it's more important the wine goes with her food than with yours. If she orders fish or pork, get a white wine, a rosé or a Pinot Noir. If she orders red meat or something with tomato sauce, stick with fuller bodied reds like Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet or just about any red from Spain.
- Don't order the cheapest wine on the list. It may be ok, but it's only there because it's cheap; it won't impress anyone.
- Don't order the most expensive wine on the list. This is just way too obvious and your date will see right through you.
- Be confident in your choice. The wines weren't picked by throwing darts at a board, so the chances are good that most everything will be, at the very least, drinkable.
- The mind is a very powerful tool. If you assume you ordered crap then all you will taste is crap; if you act like you've made the best choice possible then the wine will taste great!