Wine Selection Part 3

by AEA on February 23, 2010

Wine Selection Guide

Wine SelectionThis Wine Selection Guide provides a basic understanding of wine, where it comes from, the process of winemaking and how to select the right wine for the right occasion. The Wine Selection Guide is intended to get the less experienced wine drinker the knowledge to better navigate a wine list. Understanding the basics of wine will help make your wine selection easier and add new dimensions to your wine experience.

The Wine Selection Guide is divided into three parts; Wine Basics, The Grapes Of Wine and Wine Selection. To get the most out of the WSG, it is best to read all three parts. Wine Basics provides a foundation on winemaking. The Grapes Of Wine provides information on the varieties of grapes used in wine. The Wine Selection takes the knowledge from the first two parts and gives some helpful advice on wine selection.

Wine Selection

Wine Selection can be very difficult when choosing for large groups like wedding receptions, formal parties and business dinners. There are several factors to consider: price, occasion, preference and pairing.

Notice that at most restaurants, each table will have only one wine list which forces either only one person to take the wine ordering responsibility or you ask for more wine lists. If you are the one taking the responsibility, it is always good etiquette to ask other guests for suggestions. It’s also better to order the wine after everyone has chosen their entrée, which provides more information for wine pairing. One more thing, if you are not the host but are taking the wine selection responsibility, don’t order the most expensive wines.

Another suggestion would be to ask the Sommelier or wine manager to make recommendations. Since he or she is the one that put the wine list together, they will have some valuable advice.


Occasion – Wine can be served on most any occasion, especially around meals. Consider the guests attending (are they experienced wine drinkers or not), will the weather be hot or cold, the size of the event which greatly affects the price, and how formal is the event.

Preference – Your preferences might lean towards “safe” reds and whites. For people not accustomed to heavier-bodied, heartier wines, try a softer Merlot or Pinot Noir. For a white, try a Riesling , Gewurztraminer, or a Muscat dessert wine for something sweet. If you prefer a dry white wine then look for a Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc. As for reds, starting with a Pinot Noir, or Merlot. For something a little more complex go with a California Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or a Zinfandel.

Pairing – there are benefits to pairing your food with the wine. Will it be white or red meat? Will you be using fresh or dried herbs? Will the dish be spicy or fruit-filled? These questions can play a key role in deciding which wines will pair well with specific entrees. In general, white wines accent lighter flavored meals really well; while, red wines often compliment heavier meals.

Here are some tips for selecting wine for a large gathering.

  • Choose light to medium body wines. Many people do not like the heavy bodied wine. Also be careful of the wine being too sweet or too acidic or too tannic.
  • Match the weight of the food to the weight of the wine. It’s not that red wine can’t go with fish, what you want is a wine that complements the entrée and does not over power. A simple concept, lighter foods tend to pair well with lighter wines. A light fish dish, or a simple salad paired with a light crisp white such as Pinot Grigio works well. Conversely, full-bodied dishes such as veal stew or a New York Strip steak work well with richer wines such as Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Example pairings that work:
    • Fatty foods and high-acid and high alcohol wines
    • Salty foods and high-acid whites
    • Spices and sweet wine
    • Sweet foods and high-acid wines
    • Acidity with acidity
    • Tannin with steak and cheese
    • Sweet or smoky food with Oaky wines
  • Split the wine selection between red, white and rosé. The split will depend upon the menu and the number of experienced wine drinkers.

  • Typically assume 1 bottle of wine for every 3 guests. This can be adjusted if you know the guests well. Add a few extra bottles just in case.
  • Most wines are best when consumed young.
  • Always serve a glass of water with wine.
  • Drink what you like. Always a great place to start. If you are fond of full-bodied California Chardonnay or lighter wines, consider drinking it with any meal. Throw out the wine and food rulebook and drink what you like.
  • In some cases in may make sense to bring your own wine to a restaurant. However there are some conditions to this such as: always call ahead and ask, expect a corkage fee from $10 to $50 per bottle, bring something special that is probably not on their wine list and purchase some wine from the restaurant’s wine list anyway.
  • If using a caterer:
    • Avoid the popular brands if you do not want people to know how much you are paying.
    • Choose you own wine and don’t give the caterer the chance at the highest margined wine.
    • Negotiate a good deal and don’t return the extra wine, you will still pay something for the return.
    • Negotiate any corkage fees, it is easy for a caterer to group other costs here.

With wine, like many other topics, the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.    However you don’t have to be a wine expert to order and enjoy the many types of win2.

If you missed part 1:  Wine Basics

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