Let's say you find yourself in a social wine situation and you are intimidated out of your mind. You believe yourself to have an "untrained" palate and unable to keep up with the self-proclaimed wine aficionados of the world. Well, fear no more. I want to give you a few tips to navigating several wine-related scenarios like a pro.
Enjoying wine out in a restaurant is always a good time. However, you happen to be with your wine-inclined friend. You don't want to look like an idiot, but you really don't know much about wine. There's only one thing worse than not being able to add much to the wine conversation. The worse evil would be trying too hard to add to the wine conversation without understanding what you are saying. Time after time servers and sommeliers hear wine drinkers go on endlessly about subjects regarding wine that are either myths, misunderstandings, or, commonly misused colloquialisms. Rather than trying to keep up with your friend or trying to impress your server, interject honest opinions about what YOU think of the wine. Never say what you believe people want to hear. This way, you will have a better understanding of your palate and sound confident in what you are adding on the subject of the wine.
Say you have another delicate situation. You are going out with someone who you really want to impress. You plan to blow him or her away with how wine-savvy you are. The best way to do that is to work with your server or sommelier to order something you both will actually enjoy. This requires more of dialogue, rather than an attempt to try to blindly impress your date. By asking questions and learning from your sommelier, you sound 100% times better than if trying to fake wine confidence. You and your date will end up with a better wine, more knowledge, and a sommelier who wants to genuinely help make your evening better. You won't get the anxiety of making the wrong wine choice, mispronouncing something, or the huge internal eye roll from your sommelier.
Another uncertain area of wine is the art of wine gifting. What bottle do you get a host of dinner party, a client, a boss, or someone important to you? By trying to buy the seemingly impressive bottle, you could break the bank. Instead of spending big money or gifting a noticeably cheap bottle out of necessity, go for a quality wine from a lesser known region.
Try this swap...
Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for $85
Meerlust Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon for $30
By making this exchange, you can open the recipient's eyes to a new wine region while saving a few bucks. Sometimes veering off the familiar path can lead to something pretty special. Wine presents opportunities for endless exploration and you have a chance to be the catalyst.
At the end of the day, socializing with wine shouldn't be intimidating. Opposed to a beer or a cocktail, a bottle of wine is a shared experience (usually). Wine provides an opportunity for people to discuss tastes, culture, science, and anything in between. As a wine professional, it's my job to open people's eyes to this wondrous wine world. A great failure of any wine professional would be to create an intimidating, exclusive world. That's never what wine should be about. So, I encourage you to go out into any wine situation armed with trust in your palate and a desire to share in the magic of wine.