You’re sitting across the table from her at a nice restaurant. Your palms are sweating. Your heart is racing. But you’re not saying “I love you” or trying to go in for that first kiss, you’re just trying to order something off the wine list without fu**ing it up. We’ve all been there. The good news? You don’t need to be a sommelier to make a good wine selection at a restaurant. With a little guidance and know-how, you’ll soon be ordering with confidence and impressing the heck out of your date.
Your Crash Course on Wines & Their Many Forms
When describing wines, people like to throw out words like “bold,” “dry” or “rich.” They like to talk about the different types of grapes and what would pair well with their fish or creamy pasta. If you find yourself in these conversations wondering what the hell they’re talking about, then this guide is for you.
Below, we’ve broken down the main types of wine, the dishes go well with each and the names of grapes/wines that you should be looking for when you order that dish. Cheers and you're welcome!
When you and your girl are craving something salty, go for a sparkling wine. From sushi and chicken to popcorn and French fries, you can’t go wrong with a little bubbly.
- Prosecco: The more affordable of the sparkling wines, Prosecco lends itself to fruitier, more flowery flavors like green apple, honeysuckle, pear and more. $10 – $20 per bottle.
- Champagne: Only produced in the Champagne region of France, this bubbly beverage typically offers flavors of citrus, white peach, cherry, almond and toast. $40 – $100+ per bottle.
Feel like being healthy? Pair a dry white wine with vegetable-heavy dishes to open up the flavors. Try one of the below wines with flaky fish or chicken dishes that include a large portion of salad, sautéed vegetables or roasted vegetables.
- Albariño: This light-bodied wine hails mainly from Spain and Portugal. It features high acidity, refreshing citrus flavors and subtle saltiness. $6 – $30 per bottle.
- Sauvignon Blanc: From zesty lime, to flowery peach flavors this wine has a wide range of possibilities. Other notes include green apple, passionfruit and white peach. $8 – $50 per bottle.
- Pinot Gris: Similar to Sauvignon Blanc in its lime notes, Pinot Gris offers less acidity. You’ll also notice hints of lemon, pear, white nectarine and apple. $15 – $100+ per bottle.
If you’re looking to add a little spice to your date night with Indian, Thai or Chinese cuisine, balance the kick with something sweet. Sweet white wines will pair perfectly with the oily fish and chicken found in spicier dishes.
- Riesling: Originating from the Rhine region in Germany, this aromatic grape gives off a flowery, perfume-like smell and boasts high acidity. $8 – $40 per bottle.
- Moscato: While also perfumed, Moscato aromas smell more of fruits such as oranges, pears and lemons. $10 – $30 per bottle.
Maybe it’s raining outside and your girl wants to order hearty, comfort food. For things like creamy soups and pastas, risotto, quiche or almost anything French, stick with a rich white wine. It will take those stomach-warming flavors to the next level.
- Chardonnay: Medium- to full-bodied, this moderately acidic wine gives off fruity notes of apple, lemon, papaya and pineapple. And depending on how it’s aged, it will taste of vanilla, too. $10 – $30 per bottle.
- Viognier: Tangerine, mango and honeysuckle make up the flavors of this wine. Like the Chardonnay, it can have vanilla aromas, but unlike the Chardonnay, it can also offer nutmeg and clove spices. $14 – $35 per bottle.
Believe it or not, this wine isn’t just for #basic you-know-whats. In fact, dry versions of the wine enhance what you taste in flavor-rich dishes. Pair one of the nice, dry rosés below with almost any meat found in Mediterranean, Moroccan or Indian dishes.
- White Zinfandel: Light and citrusy, the White Zinfandel will have flavors like orange, vanilla, strawberry, raspberry and cherry. $7 – $20 per bottle.
- Provence Rosé: Dry and refreshing, this pale yet brightly flavored wine offers crisp acidity with notes of tart berries and citrus. $15 – $25 per bottle.
If you like to keep things simple with a straightforward dish, pair it with a light red wine. Cheese, creamy soups and pastas, white pizza and most hors d’oeuvres all go well with the wines below.
- Pinot Noir: This wine is most commonly described as fruit-forward, exploding with flavors of strawberry, cherry, raspberry and blackberry. $11 – $40 per bottle.
- Gamay: Light-bodied and fruity, Gamay tastes of fruits like tart cherries, raspberries and the less-common banana. $15 – $50 per bottle.
Roasted foods like duck, lamb, pork, sausage and vegetables are excellent with a medium red wine. Pick out one of the reds below to go with your roasted Italian or Spanish dish.
- Sangiovese: Deliciously savory, the Sangiovese offers a wide range of flavors. From earthy to fruit-forward, it’s always a surprise; however, cherry and subtle tomato are mainstays in this flavor profile. $30 – $100+ per bottle.
- Merlot: With a flavor commonly described as boisterous black cherry, you know this wine has something special to offer. Each sip ends with a chocolatey finish and sometimes licorice, anise and mushroom flavors make a surprise appearance. $4 – $25 per bottle.
- Barbera: Dark in color and high in acidity, the easy-drinking Barbera gives off notes of cherry, strawberry, raspberry and blackberry. $20 – $60 per bottle.
If you’re into rich, smoked or barbecued meats, go with an equally bold red wine. Beef, pork, venison, sausage, cured meat, you name it, it all goes well with the bold reds listed below. You just better hope your date isn’t a vegetarian.
- Cabernet Sauvignon: One of the more popular reds, Cabernet Sauvignon tastes full and rich. It’s commonly described as having a woodsy, oaky flavor. $6 – $30 per bottle.
- Syrah: Tasting of smoke, bacon, herbs and dark fruits, this unique wine ends with an equally unique peppery finish. Like the Chardonnay, it will also taste of vanilla depending on how it’s aged. $8 – $40 per bottle.
Dinner is done, but you want the date to continue. When you go to order dessert, surprise her by ordering a sweet dessert wine to go with it. From cookies and cakes to soft cheeses and fruits, these wines will help finish out the meal strong.
- Sherry: Nutty yet fresh, the complex Sherry is said to have aromas resembling raisins or old furniture. $10 – $30 per bottle.
- Port: Raspberry and blackberry make up the fruit notes in this wine, while caramel, cinnamon, and chocolate sauce flavors turn it into a dessert. $30 – $50 per bottle.
If the Price Is Right, Don’t Bite
You don’t need to spend $100 on a bottle to be the man. You just need to know that there’s a difference between price and value. Finding that value pick on the wine menu is key.
One golden rule to live by when it comes to cost: Never choose the second cheapest bottle on the list.
With most things, it makes sense to go big or go home, but that’s not quite the case here. It’s human nature to not want to pick the cheapest bottle on the menu, but to get as close to it as possible. Restaurants know about this tendency and will mark up that second-priced tier much more than the bottles above and below it.
In our experience, wine directors take pride in the quality of their cheapest bottle, so that $35 one might not be a bad idea. However, moving up to the third or fourth tier on the menu is always a good option, too.
Bonus tip: Steer clear of a restaurant’s house wine unless you are in Napa, Florence or the like. These wines generally have the highest markup and the least intentionality in terms of quality and taste.
Where It’s From Makes a World of Difference
While price is a great tool to use when judging a bottle, it doesn’t always tell you the bottle’s true value. The geographic region where the wine was made, on the other hand, can tell you quite a lot about its quality and worth. Like many men, you probably know that Italy, France and California are the hot spots for winemaking, but restaurants know that you know that, and will price those bottles expecting popularity.
The tip here: Go for the lesser-known regions.
Next time you’re looking at a wine list, seek out these less-common regions:
While that can seem scary at first, rest assured that the bottles are on that carefully selected wine list for a reason. Plus, since those bottles won’t sell as quickly, restaurants won’t mark them up as much which means you get more bang for your buck.
It pays to be a little experimental in the wine department, especially when your date loves your adventurous decision.
When in Doubt, Stick With Safe Bets
If after all this, you’re still staring blankly at the wine menu like it’s written in a foreign language, then bring in your safety. There are a handful of wines that go well with just about everything and have a track record for being great. Try ordering any of our tried-and-true favorites below.
The thing about wine knowledge is that a little bit goes a long way. With these tips to help you navigate a wine menu, assess the value of a bottle and take risks that pay off, you’ll be ordering like a pro in no time. Plus, beyond impressing your date with your excellent wine-selecting abilities, you might just impress yourself.