How to Choose a Wine and Look Like You Know What You’re Doing

How to Choose a Wine and Look Like You Know What You’re Doing

Wine Feature

Red? White? Steak? Cream sauce? Don't get caught off guard when you have to choose the wine for the table. When a lager or stout are out of the question use these simple tips and let the vino do the talking.

By Phil Marr

Whether at a sporting event, in a social gathering, or lazing on the porch after work, beer is my drink of choice. Unfortunately, customs and social manners (read: “pseudo-bourgeoisie dates, work functions, and communion”) occasionally dictate that I pretend to appreciate an alternative beverage: wine.

If you count yourself a member of my barley-based camp, here's an easy to remember guide for choosing a wine if you're forced to order for the whole table.

Set Your Frame

Statistically speaking, the girl you picked up at the bus stop and/or your firm's managing partner, whoever is sitting across the table from you tonight, probably lacks the refined palette for distinguishing varietals that might otherwise render your decision intimidating. More likely, they think a buttery finish belongs on their breakfast toast and not in their Chardonnay. You are already as competent at navigating a wine menu as most of your fellow diners.

Ask for Favorites

Assuming you're splitting a bottle, ask the opinions of the others at the table. Some might carry strong preferences between reds or whites that will narrow or even define your decision.

Initially and generally, keep color in mind. The color of your meat and sauce will often (though not necessarily) indicate the color wine you will choose.


Aim for a wine that balances with your meal. Heavy meats, like beef, call for a full red wine such as a Cabernet or a Syrah. If your entrée has a lighter meat such as lamb or pork, or is a tomato-based pasta, then turn to a medium-bodied red, such as a Pinot Noir or a Merlot. White wines, such as Chardonnays or Sauvignon Blancs, match well with poultry, fish, and cream-based pastas. Chardonnays and Zinfandels will safely fill the gaps for most other vegetarian dishes that could land on your table.

If you're still uncomfortable making the call, go ahead and ask your waiter for a recommendation. Ask if there is something “the house recommends.”

Once you've tasted your decision, don't be afraid to have an opinion on whether or not you like it. Taste is by definition subjective and the true point of this is to find something that you and your company will enjoy.

Good luck!