|You’ve got a hot date. You’re dressed to kill and heading for a romantic dinner a deux. Everything’s perfect. Then the waiter approaches with the wine list. While attempting to maintain your carefully crafted suave persona, you break out in a cold sweat, and your hot date suddenly chills.
Relax. With a little background info, choosing a wine for dinner is easier than learning your ABCs (which stands for Anything But Chardonnay).
M is for Money
Price is often the top priority when choosing vino. Though restaurants charge wildly varying prices, most usually double or triple the wholesale price. For example, a retail store or restaurant buys a bottle of wine from the distributor for $10. Retail outlets generally raise the price about 50 percent, to about $15, while restaurants will mark it up to between $20 and $30.
The restaurant’s markup reflects a number of factors. Opulent décor, crystal glasses and a large inventory of wine most likely lead to high overhead and high wine markups. And true to the old adage of “keeping up with the Joneses,” perceived value plays a part in wine list pricing. No self-respecting wine drinker wants to look cheap by ordering a $12 bottle (especially on that hot date), so restaurants pump up the price on inexpensive bottles. Conversely, expensive bottles hover closer to retail prices because no one wants to pay more than their monthly mortgage for a little fermented grape juice.
Luckily, savvy restaurant wine buyers across the country have begun to realize the value of a reasonable wine pricing strategy. The majority of the 1,400 bottles on the 33-page wine list at Prima Restaurant in Walnut Creek, California, are priced $9 above retail. General Manager Paolo Barbieri remarks, “By offering a great price on the wine, our customers drink more and drink higher quality wines.” Way to go Paolo — the restaurant still makes money and wine lovers leave happy.
P is for Pairing
Forget red wine with red meat, white wine with fish. You can successfully pair pinot noir with salmon or pinot blanc with pork if you keep in mind several things.
First, consider the weight of the dish and the body of the wine. No, we’re not talking about a chicken with thunder thighs. We’re talking about the heaviness on your palate. A filet mignon needs a robust, full-bodied red, such as cabernet sauvignon. But that same full-bodied wine would overwhelm a delicate pork dish. You’re better off with a medium-bodied, elegant wine such, as pinot noir.
Second, look for a wine that complements the strongest flavors in the cuisine. With the explosion of Pacific Rim food, sales of Alsatian, German and California gewürztraminers and rieslings are on the rise. Though much-maligned as super sweet insipid whites, nothing could be further from the truth. If well-made, these whites are spicy, intense, high-acid wines that marry perfectly with piquant curry sauces and fiery kung poa chicken.
Wines from A to Z
When ordering a wine for dinner, forget chardonnay and cabernet. Instead, be adventurous and explore the world of wines, from alicante bouschet to zinfandel. Although these varieties are not as well known, they often complement food much better. Here’s some suggestions: