By Alicia Shelton
Owner, Gaslamp Restaurant
6251 E. PCH
It used to be that whenever I went out to dinner I loved reading through the wine list, but absolutely hated having to order from it. How would I know which wine would live up to all my expectations for the night? How would I know which one would impress my companion, sound right when I attempted to order it, perfectly complement a meal I hadn’t even decided on yet, and hopefully not leave me with purple teeth for the rest of the evening?
So, I would search through the names, looking for them to give me some sort of hint, and eventually decide on a vodka & tonic instead. Who wants all that pressure before the date even gets going?
Now, instead of agonizing, I either look for a couple of familiar qualities, ask for suggestions, or just opt for an impulsive risk with my wine. I used to think that price was a strict measure of how good a wine would taste, but more and more wineries are putting out great-tasting wines in an affordable price range. I’m a Pinot Noir fan myself, so even faced with a wine list of all unfamiliar wines, I know my odds of liking a moderately priced Pinot are pretty good. And, chances are it will work well with most meals, being the non-confrontational varietal that it is.
Don’t feel like you have to succumb to outdated rules of white with fish and red with meat. The heart of the idea is that you don’t want your wine to overpower the flavors of your food, or vice versa.
If we’re going along with the dating metaphor, you want them to have good conversation. If you don’t have a particular varietal that appeals to you, don’t hesitate to ask your server for suggestions. They should know which go best with a particular meal, are most popular, or could meet your preference of dry, fruity, buttery, spicy, earthy, or whatever other descriptions you have to throw at them. That’s what they’re there for, after all.
Or, if it all just seems like too many choices, close your eyes and pick. Someone has put time and effort into compiling a list of wines with the sole purpose of pleasing you. Even if this glass of wine isn’t a perfect match, at worst it’s a learning experience. Choosing wine when dining out is like a little date in itself.