Selecting Wine in a Restaurant.


Imagine yourself in a restaurant with a hot date. Both of you order food. The server, gently, but in a well-timed manner asks what wine you would like upon handing you the wine list. What to do? You are overwhelmed. You don’t know Merlot from Adam, or for that matter Viognier.

Of course you can always order a glass of the “ house wine “, but these days many restaurants offer a multitude of house wines by the glass and who wants to order a non-descript wine with a fine meal?

Ordering wine requires some thought. First consider the food ordered. If you ordered a steak and your date a fillet of sole then one wine would complement either the fish or steak but not both, unless you order a rose. Such wines range from barely acceptable to very good, but most widely available rose wines are just acceptable. Besides many restaurants no longer carry rose wines, not that all rose wines happen to be mediocre, but fine ones are rare!

So what is available? Does the restaurant offer half bottles? If they do you might want to consider two half bottles, one white and one red.

You may consider your options. Does the list offer wine by grape variety i.e. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Viognier for whites; and Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah for reds just to name a few, or by country and by region.

Many wine producing countries emphasise regional differences of their wines. Truly red Bordeaux has little resemblance to a red Côtes du Rhône.

It pays to know your grapes and the famous wine producing regions of the world, if you are to make the correct selection. If worse comes to worse, you can ask your server, but these days most have no clue about the wine they serve and their affinity with the various dishes.

In the coming issues we will endeavour to shed light on food and wine compatibility, regions, grapes, and styles of vinification.

As for what wine you should order ask the server whether there is a dry Riesling and a Syrah from Cotes du Rhone in their wine-by-the-glass programme. If they do, you will fare well. If not, consider a glass of un-wooded Chardonnay for the lady and for yourself an abbey-brewed Belgian beer such as Chimay.


Bordeaux, located southwest of Paris is one of the most famous wine regions of France if not the world. It has been producing fine wines since Roman times. In fact, poet Ausonius had a vineyard in St Emilion a sub-region of Bordeaux as early as 56 B C .Today, this vineyard is called Chateau Ausone, famous for its red wines.

Bordeaux produces red, white and sparkling wines in its 29 sub-regions, each of which has distinct soil characteristics although the same grape varieties may be planted for appellation controlee wines. (Appellation controlee laws are a set of strictly enforced rules prescribing grape varieties, yields, chaptalization and a variety of others in an attempt to render wines as typical of the region as possible. )

In Bordeaux any appellation controlee red wine must be derived from the following grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Carmenere, and for whites, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle are permitted.

Wines may be blended in proportions the winemaker sees fit pending on the vintage, but varietal wines must contain 100 percent of the grape printed on the label. (In many other countries the limits vary from 51 –85 percent).

Bordeaux is most famous for its chateau wines, of which there are over 9000 in the region. While some enjoy worldwide acclaim, others are content to produce fine wine.

Chateau wines from Médoc, St Emilion, Pomerol, Graves and Sauternes enjoy world fame because most have been exporting to England for centuries, ever since Eleanor of Aquitane brought the region as part of her dowry. English have been great consumers and promoters particularly of Médoc wine because it was also relatively close to their home. Even today they refer to red Bordeaux wines as “ claret “, and enjoy it with lamb or beef.

Fine Bordeaux wines of good vintages have a capacity to age well over many years, even decades. Today, most red Bordeaux wines are made to be enjoyed within a few years. A few are widely available i.e. Mouton Cadet, La Cour Pavillon, St Emilion .

Dry white wines of Bordeaux generally come from the sub-regions called Entre-deux-Mers, and Graves. For the sweet ones, Sauternes and Barsac are the most famous.

Entre-deaux-Mers is huge sub-region famous for its dry white wines which best complement shellfish, fish, and poultry. They are light and dry, and meant to cleanse the palate after consuming well-sauced specialties.

Sauternes and Barsac are world-famous sweet wines of finesse, aroma, and delicate textures that have delighted generation of wine enthusiasts who could afford to acquire them. Bordeaux is a region worth visiting to enjoy its wide range of wines, culture, beauty, and gastronomic delights rarely available elsewhere.


These days the younger, better-educated generation enjoy wine more than any other alcoholic beverage. Yet most wine consumers know little or nothing about what to look for in a wine.

Clearly, the more you know about wine, the more you enjoy it!

Wine is as some pundits claim “ liquid geography “. The taste, texture, and density of colour of a wine depend on the following:

• Grape variety
• Soil
• Climate
• Wine maker

The first three are the most important and the French refer to soil and climate combined as “ terroir “. It contributes a great deal to the wine.

You cannot produce fine wine in a tropical region, even if the soil has all the desirable characteristics. Similarly, if the climate is just right but not the soil, the results will be disappointing.

There are several countries and regions that produce wine, but only few excel.

A fine white wine must first be limpid and of a pleasing colour, possess an aroma typical of the grape a fine texture, balance, and a pleasant, long lasting aftertaste.

There are variations: white wines can be off dry, sweet, extremely sweet, or completely dry. All have their place and time to enjoy and/ or complement food.

In most cases wine is meant to be used with food.

Red wines are generally more complex and require longer periods for production. After crushing, fermentation and pressing, many are aged in barrels for various lengths of time and in a variety of wood (i.e. Limousine, Nevers, Allier, Jupille, Troncais, all in France, Hungarian-, Slovenian-, Romanian- or American oak). The oak contributes to taste, texture, complexity and longevity of the wine.

A dry red wine (some are sweet) must show a limpid and pleasant red colour (young red wines tend to be more purple, and with age turn red, eventually brick-red and mahogany), possess a bouquet reminiscent of berries, sometimes tobacco, cigar box, also with a velvety, full or medium body, fine balance and a long distinct aftertaste.

Those that are astringent and rough may be considered of poor quality.

Most red wines contain tannins, compounds reputed to combat LDL (low density cholesterol) if consumed in moderate quantities daily.

Fine sparkling wines must smell fruity; have a pleasing colour and “ thousands “ of tiny bubbles that are persistent. Of course sparkling wines must be served in flute shaped glasses, red and white wines in appropriately shaped glasses to enjoy them to their fullest potential.