Tuesday, May 5, 2009

How to order wine in a restaurant

Want tips on how to order wine in a restaurant? Read on:

We've all been in the situation before- you're at a restaurant on a big date or with important client when the wine list is dropped in front of you with a thud. Understandably, your reaction might be to hightail it out or order a beer and skip the daunting process all together. Some wine lists are as thick as the Twilight series. Wine lists are organized differently. And choices abound from every region, at every price. The combination of factors makes the process intimidating, especially if your dinner companion is a wine enthusiast, or worse yet, a connoisseur.

Since it's impossible to know every wine producer in the world, you need to pick your wine through a reliable process.

1) First, let your dinner companions figure out what they're eating. The old waiter’s habit of asking asked what you'd like to drink before you've had a chance to review the menu should stop!

2) Use your resources, i.e. the waitstaff or the sommelier. Sommeliers love giving suggestions and may even produce the “perfect bottle” that isn't on the list. Give the sommelier some direction to ensure you get something you’ll like. Know whether you want white or red. You also probably know whether you want a red that's big and bold or light and fruity or a white that's crisp and fresh or smooth and buttery. Alternatively, describe a great wine you had recently.

3) Know your budget and make it clear to the waiter, surreptitiously. Point to a bottle on the list in your price range and ask if the waitress can suggest something more appropriate for the group. A good waiter will pick up on your hint.

4) If you want to exercise more control on your wine choice, select your wine to complement the meal. One method is to think about what most of the diners will be eating and try to match wine by the weight of the food. Heavier dishes like steaks or heavily seasoned meats need a more full-bodied, hearty wine like a Malbec (my favorite is the Ben Marco Malbec) or Bordeaux (when I splurge, I pick the Chateau Palmer Alter Ego). Fish and lighter fare requires a light to medium-bodied wine, either red or white.

5) Go regional. When I’m in a Tuscan restaurant, I choose a Tuscan wine, in a Provencal French restaurant, I choose a wine from Provence. Over the thousands of years that wine was made in a particular region, it was developed to complement the native food style. You’re already on the right track when you choose regionally.

6) If all else fails, order a bottle of red and/or bottle of white that are universally food flattering. My "default" white wine choices are a dry Riesling from Alsace or a Gruner Veltliner from Austria. My red wine choices are a Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon or a red Burgundy from France. And if nothing else, I choose Champagne. It suits everything from spicy Indian cuisine to cream sauced pasta. Plus, it’s amazing how quickly rising bubbles bring smiles to your companions’ faces.

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How to Pick a Summer Wine: The Gentler, Lighter Side of Wine

Summer’s soaring temps beg you to step away from heavy Cabernets and check out the gentler, lighter side of wine. When choosing the perfect summer wine for your outdoor engagement party or wedding, think light, crisp, refreshing--and because people tend to drink more in the heat--lower in alcohol. Nothing more prettily suggests summer than a dry (i.e. not sweet) rose. Avoid the simple, syrupy versions and try French roses from the Mourvèdre grape or roses made using the Saignee method for more complexity. Pick wines from countries where you imagine the locals sipping leisurely at sidewalk cafés while basking in the sun, like Spain. A Spanish fave is Albarino from the Rias Baixas region. Made to drink young, Albarino is a crisp, white wine with intense fruit, lively acidity and generally a lower level of alcohol. It pairs perfectly with summer foods from seafood to grilled vegetables. But you don’t need to swear off red wine for summer. Look for light bodied wines like Pinot Noir from Oregon or a Valpolicella from Italy, both capable of standing up to barbequed foods. And don’t be afraid to put a slight chill on your red wine. It is summer after all!

Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain, “Exceptional with Everything” Oh Really?

There's nothing we love more than a challenge. It's in our makeup. We're two women, thirties. One Indian. One Filipina. The first, founder and CEO of a business in the arguably male-dominated wine world. The second, building experience to be a future proprietess of a wine store. Add to this: In New York City. So when presented with the opportunity to play wine and food critic for a night—to pair Rías Baixas Albariño wines, proclaimed to be "exceptional with everything" with Mercat’s offerings —it is impossible and simply against every ounce of who we are, to refuse.

Mercat means “market” in Catalan, the language of the northern Spanish region where owner, Jaime Reixach, is from and where the restaurant’s menu draws its inspiration. The albariños we’ll be drinking also originate from the northern region, and so we’re already anticipating more perfect wine pairings than tragic mismatches.

It’s a beautiful warm Thursday night—and we are tasting two Albariño wines: Alba Rosa from Martinez Serrantes and Pazo San Mauro, both 2006 vintages. We take our time with each wine—assessing them alone and then side by side. At the end, we agree that both are delightful: the Alba Rosa is sparkling with surprising depth while the Pazo San Mauro would bring life to our springtime picnic. Further, we imagine that if each wine were to be personified, they might just be these two ladies, described as such:

Alba Rosa Martinez Serantes Albariño | Scarlett Johansson: "Sparkling with surprising depth"

Alba Rosa Martinez Serantes Albariño | Scarlett Johansson: "Sparkling with surprising depth"
This golden blonde hued wine gives an almost effervescent quality that shoots racy brightness into your mouth. It has the usual grassiness and citrus qualities one expects from this wine. The reason why this wine fits Scarlett most is because it has the quality of lightness but comes with surprising depth of character and fullness in body. The comparison would be perfect were the wine to show great legs, but its light-bodied, lower alcohol nature doesn’t allow it.

Pazo San Mauro Albariño | Cameron Diaz: “Livens up your springtime picnic”

Pazo San Mauro Albariño | Cameron Diaz: “Livens up your springtime picnic”
Cameron would be a fun addition to any springtime outing. Her lightheartedness would make everyone smile and this wine does the same. The light yellow straw color gives way to granny smith apples, peaches, melon, and citrus scents that jump at your nose, smelling like springtime in a glass. This wine begs to be explored further. The crisp and pleasantly tart apple is balanced with pear and makes it the perfect brunch wine.
Now, we move on to the heart of our challenge: Exceptional with everything? Oh really? How do these two beauties handle themselves in company? After the three and a half hours of glorious sipping, chewing, and chatting, among ourselves and the restaurant staff, here are our findings:

No surprise, our lovely wines get along splendidly with their classic and traditional partners: we have raves for the nicely seasoned patatas bravas—not too spicy, not too garlicky—and the padrones/blistered shishito peppers, the char and oil offset by the tartness of the wines. One of us goes wild for the Canelons de Verdura/eggplant wrapped spring vegetables, manchego, and cranberry reduction. And then Chef Lowder sends over Trencat d’Ous/mushroom with salsa verde topped with a fried egg, which again, goes splendidly with our wines. Even the suckling pig/Cochinillo, which we think will surely clash, in fact becomes the surprise of the evening. Like the beauty and the beast, our wines and the pig make an unlikely but harmonious pair.

We ask ourselves for the last time: Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain: Exceptional with Everything?

If not for being the gluttonous bottomless pits that we are, we would certainly have answered YES with an exclamation point. But since we order those two desserts—Torrades Sta. Teresa/fried bread with lemon yogurt and Pa Amb Oli Xocolata/bread, olive oil, and chocolate, our answer must be: Almost. These two desserts with our two Albariños — are disastrous.

Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain: Exceptional with almost Everything.

--Anu Karwa and Marie Estrada

Visit http://www.riasbaixaswines.com for more info on Rías Baixas Albariños from Spain

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