From our first releases, Gusbourne has been passionately supporting our hospitality partners. After all, restaurants, bars and members’ clubs are where many of our customers first discovered Gusbourne. We’ve all been a bit out of practice ordering wine in a restaurant, so we thought it would be helpful to ask for some expert advice as diners get back into the rhythm of eating out. Here, Master Sommelier and Gusbourne Global Ambassador Laura Rhys shares her top tips for making great choices from a restaurant wine list.
Talk to your sommelier
They’ll have tasted many of the wines on that list, and will likely have personally chosen some of them, so they’re in a good position to give advice. And if you have a budget don’t hesitate to be clear about that – any good sommelier will respect that and it helps them to narrow down a few options.
Start with what you know
Love Old World reds? Jump straight to those pages and then start drilling down into your favourite grape varieties, then prices and vintages. Want to sip something while you’re perusing the food menu? A glass of sparkling or a light white or rosé is a lovely way to toast the evening and take you into your first course.
Keep turning the pages
If there’s a particular grape, style or region you know and love but you want to try something new, ask your sommelier to suggest something similar but different, perhaps from a lesser-known region. Until fairly recently, England was a lesser-known region! Or choose a region whose wines you’ve never tried but which produces your favourite grape variety – it’s fun to explore the world of wine like that. You can often find good value outside the main regions too.
You don’t need to be an expert
Sometimes the simplest description is all a sommelier needs to help you. If you really love Chablis but not oaky New World Chardonnay, then that’s enough to point you towards a leaner, fresher style. If you’re not used to describing the characteristics of wine, then tell the sommelier which countries or grape varieties you usually go for.
Do some pre-reading
Lots of restaurants publish their wine lists online, so have a look ahead of time and see if anything piques your interest. Do a bit of research and you might find a review by a well-known wine writer or critic that will arm you with some details or prompt some questions for the sommelier.
Know your basics…
The old rule of thumb is that red wine goes with most meats and white wine goes with most fish. And that’s generally true, but there’s much more to matching wine with food. Look for balance – one shouldn’t overpower the other. Consider which styles will complement hearty meat plates (full-bodied reds) or delicate seafood dishes (leaner whites with good minerality). And what might cut through a fiery curry (try a fruit-forward rosé).
…or make your own match
You might have a strong preference for white wine – and you want to order steak or lamb. In which case, go for something with oak and weight, like a Chardonnay or a mature white Rioja. Steak tartare is a great match with dry sparkling whites – look for ‘Brut’ in the description.
Try before you buy
If a bottle you’re considering but haven’t yet tried is available by the glass, do ask for a taster. Whether you decide to order it or not, your reaction will help the sommelier guide you to your ultimate choice.
Explore different formats
Say you’re having the venison and your guest is having the salmon – don’t just assume you can’t have the same wine. Both would match well with an elegant lighter-style red, like a Pinot Noir. But if you have different wine preferences, then explore a list’s collection of half-bottles, carafes, or wines by the glass. You don’t need to share the same wine to share a meal.
Throw out the rulebook
Bubbles are always a wonderful way to start a meal, and not just for special occasions. But we shouldn’t always think of sparkling wine as an aperitif and still wine as an accompaniment to food. A bottle of sparkling wine or champagne can work very well as an aperitif and throughout a meal, right through to the cheese course.
Going out for a meal is joyful, especially after we’ve all been away from restaurants for so long. Don’t worry if you don’t know everything there is to know about every wine. Most sommeliers these days are incredibly approachable. They love what they do and they love sharing the joys of discovering great wines. Their aim is the same as yours – to have a memorable, generous experience.
Laura Rhys is one of just 269 Master Sommeliers in the world. She’s been Gusbourne’s Global Ambassador since 2015.
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