It happens more than you'd like to admit—you're trying to make a good impression when you're handed the wine list and the anxiety begins. What do I order? How do I say it? Can I pick something without looking like a total idiot? Thankfully Heather Rankin, sommelier and co-owner of Obladee, A Wine Bar, is here to help you navigate these tumultuous waters in three easy steps.
Start somewhere familiar
You don't need to recognize every wine on a list if you just know where to start. "All wine lists are organized in some way," says Rankin. "Sometimes by country, sometimes by style like ours is, sometimes by grape. So I would start with the high-level categories." If you know you like red, head there. If you got tipsy on an Italian wine on vacation, scan for that.
Ask for directions
Once you've zeroed on some kind of marker, ask for a little guidance. "It's helpful when the customer tells the server what they like," says Rankin. "Often the least helpful question is 'What do you recommend?' because it always comes down to preference. I always ask people to try and remember something about the last wine that they had that they really liked. 'I know it was red, and I know it was from South America.' I would say start there."
Test the limits
When served you're looking for three things—it's the right wine, vintage and free of faults. There's truth to the stereotypes. "Grasp the glass by the stem rather than the bowl and smell," says Rankin. A few swirls will inject the wine with oxygen to release the aromatics—releasing the good and the bad. You smell the wine "for signs of health," she says. "First and foremost to make sure it's not corked—a taint from a chemical trapped in the cork [that] destroys the fruit in the wine. It smells like musty old textbooks. You really can't mistake it." If it tastes good to you, congrats! You've successfully defused your socially awkward time bomb and are well on your way to being a wine-ordering pro.