When it comes to understanding regions, grapes and vintages, navigating a wine list can feel like a daunting task. But if a restaurant is equipped with a sommelier or wine director, this human is on the floor to direct diners to the right bottles. Below, sommelier Aaron Sherman of all-star St. Louis eateries Niche and Brasserie by Niche, among others, offers up advice on how to land a wine you'll love.
1) Use your own words.
Guests often try to use words that they think I want to hear, words like "dry," "tannic," and "tertiary aromatics." Not everyone knows what those words really mean. My job is to take the words you tell me and translate that into the glass. Use words that make sense to you. I'll figure out what they means. In order to eliminate confusing terminology, I try to avoid wine speak whenever possible. Rather, I talk to guests about wines in terms of experiences that they can relate to, usually cars (like a BMW: lot's of road feel and tight corners) and movies (are you looking for a summer blockbuster with explosions and car chases or an art film about the intricacies of cricket?). That way no one has to worry about using the "right" words. Clos du Mont Olivet Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee Unique (summer blockbuster) vs. Movia Veliko Bianco, Slovenia (art film).
2) Don't be afraid of inexpensive wines.
Sometimes wines are relatively cheap because they come from odd places, or are made from weird grapes, or are just a remarkable bargain ... they can outshine wines many times their price.
I built the whole list. I chose the inexpensive wines, too. Sometimes wines are relatively cheap because they come from odd places, or are made from weird grapes, or are just a remarkable bargain. And sometimes they offer so much value they can outshine wines many times their price. I'd rather have you rave about the $40 bottle of wine and come back next week than have you regret spending $400.
3) Use your smart phone.
If you love a bottle of wine, take a photo of it. The next time you can show the sommelier what you enjoyed (or what you didn't). A picture is worth a thousand words, and you won’t have to rack your brain trying to remember that amazing wine.
4) Try something new.
Dinner at home is the place to cook (and drink) your old favorites. Dining out should be a chance to explore something new. Sommeliers tastes dozens of wines every week. Often we find wines that you'd never search out. So, if you only drink Cabernet Sauvignon at home, let me find you something similar, but slightly different. Who knows? You might like it even better.
5) Ask the server what he/she thinks.
I spend much of my week training staff. We taste wines together regularly, so listen to which wines they are excited about. Their taste isn’t always the same as mine, and sometimes they know exactly what you’re looking for. Sometimes you really need the sommelier, but ask the waiter first. Besides, you can always get a second opinion.
6) Order a bottle.
Wines by the glass are great, but wines by the bottle — due to limited availability or more focused appeal —aren’t always available as glass pours. Even if the price is similar. The bottle list is full of wines with amazing stories. If you're going to have a couple glasses, or especially if there's two or three of you, opt for the bottle. One bottle only holds four glasses of wine. And the range of options by bottle is so much greater.