By Angela Aiello
We know you love wine. Seriously, what’s not to love about it! As the summer weather approaches —and life includes after-work patio celebrations, home entertaining, fabulous dining experiences, and romantic sunset date nights— wine becomes a crucial ingredient to enjoying the best months of the year. Below is a short wine handbook on how to optimize your wine experiences and grow your wine confidence.
How to Order Wine At a Restaurant
We all want to enjoy a great glass of wine when dining out, but sometimes, staring at a large wine list can be overwhelming. From ordering the name of the wine to figuring out what to pair with your food – what do you do first? This is exactly when we play it safe and order our favourite of something you can pronounce. Personally, I like to start with a glass of bubbly and then take my time to stare at the wine list; this way, I get out of my comfort zone and try something fun and new by the glass or the bottle! Below are some simple steps on how to look like a pro when ordering wine at a restaurant.
Step #1 – Find your style
Depending on your mood, the type of restaurant and food being served, think about what style of wine you want to sip on. Are you looking for light and fruity on a patio for lunch, big and bold to pair with red meat, or bubbly and fresh with the girlfriends? Is it a glass of white, red, or something in between? Try to put words to the style you are craving and get ready to explain it. With the summer weather here and patio season upon us, I suggest sipping Rose. It is refreshing, delicious, full of fruit, typically medium-bodied, and served chilled. If you like red wines but find them too heavy in the summer, feel free to ask your server to put your bottle of red wine on ice to chill it down. It will minimize the perception of alcohol and bring out the fruit. If you like light-bodied reds, sip on Gamay (Beaujolais) and Pinot Noir.
Step #2 – Ask for expert advice
Most restaurants now have a wine expert on staff. Save time perusing the wine list and talk to the Sommelier or a server, and ask for help to find what you’re looking for. They should know the wine list the best, and will be happy to make a recommendation based on the style and price range you are seeking. If you’re a group of three or four people and you’re all drinking wine, ordering a bottle can make more sense and will, most of the time, save a few bucks as well. The challenge will be agreeing on what wine to order, but that’s what the expert can help you with! Ask your guests what they typically drink and ask the Sommelier to recommend something that will fit everyone’s palate.
Step #3 – Swirl, Smell, Sip
Ok, so you’ve ordered the wine. After the Sommelier opens the bottle at your table, they will pour a small amount of wine into your glass (or the person’s glass who took charge at the table ordering). This is your opportunity to taste the wine and ensure it fits the style you are looking for. If you’ve ordered a bottle for your table, I like to ask the Sommelier to pour everyone a small taste, and/or pass the glass around for others to smell the wine. As you swirl, smell, and sip the wine (take your time and try a few sips), discuss amongst your friends and give the ok to the server that it passes the test. At this time, you have the server or Sommelier’s attention, so feel free to ask questions about the wine so you can be well-informed and more confident about the wine you’re sipping, and maybe even trying for the first time.
Step #4 – Give it a thumbs up or thumb down
After sipping the wine with your table and asking questions about it, your job is to figure out if you like it. If you don’t like it, speak up and the Sommelier will select a new option for you. If you like it, simply smile, cheers the table, and celebrate the moment!
Step #5 – Enjoy and learn
Be a wine adventurer this summer and embrace patio season, extensive wine lists, and help from the experts. The next time you’re out and looking to sip a great wine, order something new and travel the world without even having to leave your hometown. Odds are, with a good environment, great food, and good company, you’ll discover new wines and find some new favourites!
How to Cook with Wine
Working in the kitchen is simply incomplete without a glass of wine. Not only does a glass of wine enhance your experience, it can also be a key ingredient in everything from salads to soups to desserts! Have leftover wine? The remains of last night’s party can be tonight’s expert meal! My motto is to only cook with wine that you would choose to drink and serve – this will ensure you love the flavours in the dish you are creating, and your meal will taste great. And, as you’re cooking up your delicious meal, it is only right to enjoy a glass along the way – or share with your in-house sous chef! Now that’s a perfect pairing! Here are some of my favourite ways to cook with wine, whether you’re in your indoor kitchen or outside enjoying summer!
Idea #1 – Use wine on the grill or on the stove
Making salmon on the grill? Add some white wine to your tin-foil pocket to infuse great flavour with your veggies. Use wine in your house-made meat marinades, and also as a tasty glaze (add wine to your frying pan after you’ve grilled up your meat and simmer); it’s that easy! Choose young, full-bodied reds for red meat dishes. Use dry white wine for fish, shellfish, poultry, pork, veal, and cream sauces. The alcohol in wine begins to evaporate well short of the boiling point of water, so there’s no risk of getting ‘tipsy’ by using wine in your cooking. Great wines for the BBQ include Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux Blends, Baco Noir, and Gamay Noir. I do fun things like add a dash of red wine with my homemade beef burgers in making them from scratch, and even throw a cup of red wine in my crock-pot while cooking pulled pork or stews.
Idea #2 – Use wine in salad dressings
Need a healthy homemade dressing for your salads? Mix white or red wine with olive oil and spices to make your own unique salad dressings. It is sure to add sparkle to your green salads or pasta salads – and become your new secret ingredient.
Idea #3 – Use wine in soups
Whether you’re making a chilled gazpacho or cream of asparagus soup, add some wine to the production for an extra special taste. You don’t need to add a lot, you just need a small touch to add a small amount of flavour.
Idea #4 – Use wine in pasta sauces
Personally, every pasta dish I make has a splash of wine in it. When you’re creating your sauce, think about what it includes and add a dash of red or white wine to make your creation unique and flavourful. Think about the weight of the wine and the weight of the sauce you’re making. If you want something full and robust, use a full-bodied wine, whereas if you’re looking for lean and light, use a lighter-bodied wine. Remember to cook with the wine you want to pair with it at the table.
Idea #5 – Use wine in sweet cravings
Use sweet wine such as a late harvest, Icewine, or port to dazzle your desserts. Simply pour over ice cream or berries —or add a touch to your cake mix— for a special treat. If breakfast is your pleasure, you can even drizzle over pancakes and french toast!