Business people are fond of the saying, "If you aren't the lead dog, the view never changes," and most of us don't spend a lot of time being the lead dog.
But when it's your turn to order wine in a restaurant , you're the leader ofthe pack, with the opportunity to impress your boss or charm a date- as long as you don't end up with a wine that tastes like yellow snow.
There's actually very little chance of getting a bad bottle of wine in a good restaurant. They did all the hard work when they chose their wine list. All you have to do is pick one that goes with your meal- and look good while doing it.
You also have to sound good, so before you do anything , brush up on your pronunciation. Cabernet Sauvignon is pronounced Cab-er-nay saw-vin-yohn, not cab-er-net sow-vig-non; merlot sounds like mer-low, not mer-lot and pinot noir is pee-Not (insert joke here). But don't overdo the accent. Moet is pronounced Mo-Et (it's Dutch). The term for a dry champagne is "brut," and the French do pronunce it "bruht" (rhymes with rut). But that sounds pretentious- though I know people in the wine business who saythat if you pronounce it "Broot," you're odering afterhave. (Hint: If it's less than $5 a bottle, you are anyway.)
Be prepared forthe sampling ritual -it's your job to make sure the wine is drinkable. But don't smell the cork. Trust me, it smells like a cork. Just make sure it's moist, because if it dries out it can shrink and let air into the bottle. The other problem with corks, since they're made from living material from trees, is that the cork could be infected and cause the wine to spoil (a "corked" bottle). But you'll find that out by smelling the wine, not the cork. Don't hesitate to send the wine back if it smells like sulfur or tastes like vinegar- but if it isn't spoiled, you can't send it back just because you don't like it.
So how do you pick the wine?
There's nothing wrong with the safe choices; white wine with white meats or fish, red wine with red meats, Sauvignon blanc is the most food-friendly white; chardonnay is good but can overwhelm delicate dishes. Merlot and pinot noir are the easiest-drinking reds. If you have to match both red meat and fish, a full bodied chardonnay or a light pinot noir is a good compromise, depending on which you like better. And usually, the second-least-expensive bottle on the wine list is the best value.
Or take the easy way out-ask the waiter, but do so in a way that makes you seem knowledgeable and makes him feel flattered. Such as, "I haven't had this particular cabernet before and I wondered if you thought the style went well with the salmon." The he can demonstrate his knowledge ofhis wine list instead of having to say, "You bonehead-order the chardonnay."
Just make sure you can count on your server. I once ordered a glass of Chianti in a small, neighborhood Italian restaurant and the waitress brought me a glass of white Wine.
When I questioned her, she insisted Chianti was a white wine, and besides, it said Chianti on the label.
She explained this as she hefted a three-liter bottle of Canei onto the bar.
Howard Riedel writes the wine up-date for the Premier Group and is local host for NPR's "Morning Edition" on WBFO-FM. His e-mail address is email@example.com.