Wine Basics Part 3: Four Awkward Wine Situations & How to Handle Them
Building on what we learned in Wine Basics Part 1 and Part 2, we now dig deeper and address the dark side of being a little wine-o in a big ol' world. How about those awkward social situations that make even the most swanky connoisseur scratch her head and sweat over how to respond? Well, we've made just about every wine-related faux pas in the book and have first-hand intel on how to (not do as we did) and instead, handle these situations like a pro:
Awkward Sitch #1: You're really want something sweet and fruity, but are embarrassed to ask for it.
*(Getting on soapbox) THE most impressive wine to order is one that you actually enjoy, so when choosing what to order, first and foremost, defer to your own brilliant taste buds and personal style. Second, throw out any notions that sweet wine or pink wine, or inexpensive wine is somehow 'worse' and red wine or expensive wine is 'better'. True connoisseurs appreciate wine in all its colors and price points!
Smart Move: Wave the trusty 'tender or server over and say:
"I'm just getting into wine and am looking for a fruit forward and soft white (or red). Something easy drinking and mellow...what do you suggest?"
FYI Best Bets:
- White: Muscat, Moscato, Riesling (OK to specify a 'sweeter' one).
- Red: Gamay, Beaujolais, Lambrusco (slightly fizzy Italian wine), California Merlot.
- Rose (rose-aay): California roses tend to be sweeter and less 'tart'.
- Bubbles: Anything labeled ' Demi-sec' or 'Doux', Moscato or Asti Spumanti, Dry Proseco.
Awkward Sitch #2: You don't like the wine your ordered and you want something else instead.
This is totally OK! Everyone has different tastes and you're a paying customer. Just make the change ASAP and specify clearly what you DO want. This is NOT cool if you're halfway through your glass or if you wait until paying the bill.*
Smart Move: "You know, this really isn't what I was expecting at all. Can I try X instead please OR do you have something else more X (fruity, dry, rich, lighter, etc.)"
Awkward Sitch #3: Food Pairing. You're dining with a group and are ordering or bringing wine to share.
Smart Move: First, ask the host "What are you serving? Are there multiple courses" or when at a restaurant, take a quick tally of what each person at the table is ordering "What are you having tonight?" and then proceed:
FYI Best Bets: Keep it simple!
- Starting with sparkling wine is ALWAYS a good idea and it goes with pretty much anything...including that awkward dinner salad!
- NOT sweet: 'brut' or 'sparkling rose'.
- Sweet: 'demi-sec' or 'Asti Spumanti'.
- If the food is mainly red meat, heavy dishes, or winter meals: Look for a medium to heavy body red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Bordeaux, Cab based California blend). Or go crazy and try a white wine! A medium to heavy body Chardonnay is a good option (look for 100% Malo-lactic fermentation, from California, French Oak, and the words buttery, silky, oakey, or spicy on the label).
- If you're eating mainly white meat or fish, summer meals or vegetarian: Any white wine or light to medium body red will go great (Sonoma Chardonnay, Chablis (Chard from France), Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Grenache)
- *When in doubt: If your table or party is a total mixed bag of Ribeyes, shrimp scampis, salads and meats, then just go for a Pinot Noir from Willamette, Oregon, USA. They're typically light to medium body, a little darker and richer than their French and California counterparts, but they still offer up lots of lush fruit, bright acidity and a nice earthy backbone to compliment a wide variety of dishes.
Awkward Sitch #4: You taste a wine that you think may be 'off' or flawed.
This is probably the trickiest situation of the bunch because everyone has different experiences and taste buds. To you what may be a foul-smelling bottle of horse poop, may for someone else be a pleasant, nostalgic whiff of the Old Country. It's made even more complicated when the wine in question was brought or ordered by someone else. Here's what we do:
Before you do anything: Be as sure as you possibly can that the bottle is actually flawed (see FYI Best Bets below). No need to go down this path if you're unsure or just don't like the wine. But if you're dead certain it's bad then:
- If you ordered a glass or bottle and it's definitely 'off': Give it a bit and then reassess. Sometimes after a little swirling and breathing the 'funk' will blow off and it's actually a delightful wine. If this is not the case, then politely send it back. Wave the server over and quietly say:
"You know, I think this wine is off (corked, flawed), is it possible to open a fresh bottle" OR "can I get X instead?". Easy fix!
- If Someone else ordered or brought a wine that you think is 'off': First, how well do you know this person? Like a bother? Then spill your thoughts and proceed as above. If it's someone you do not know well or are trying to 'impress' then wait until the person who brought the wine has a glass, address him or her directly, and while swirling and smelling your glass, say to them:
"Oh wow, this definitely has an interesting nose (smell), is that characteristic of this wine?"
*Important note: If this person says the wine is fine or seems to love it, then my friend, we advise you to agree and choke it down. If on the other hand, they also notice something is 'off', then you've put the ball in their court, saved the whole table from drinking bad wine, and are officially no longer a basic B!
FYI Best Bests: SparkNotes version of how to tell if a wine is 'flawed'
- Corked: Smells like cork, wet dog, wet newspaper, muted fruit on nose and palate
- Cooked: Cork pushing out of unopened bottle, cork is leaking, smells like stewed tomatoes
- Volatile Acidity (VA): nail polish remover, acetone
- Bret: 'funky', musty or moldy, 'barnyard', manure, wet hay
These are just a few of the common situations we get asked but we know there are tons more. Do you have questions about a different 'awkward' wine situation? Got any 'secret' tips to share? Let us know! But for now stop, asking questions and go drink the damn stuff! ;)