How to choose the perfect wine for a perfect date night

By Matthew Stibbe
How to choose the perfect wine for a perfect date night

A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou.
—Omar Khayyam

For the perfect date, wine and romance go together. It warms the heart and loosens the tongue. If you’re going on a hot date, you need to choose a cool wine.

So how do you navigate the wine list and pick a wine that is going to give you the most, umm, bang for your buck?

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Top tips for a perfect date

  1. Start with bubbly. Don’t be rushed into choosing a bottle. Your first order should be for a glass each of bubbly as an aperitif. It’s the crisp acidity and bubbles that cleanse the palate and bring delight so don’t stress out about the choice. Just pick something that looks interesting. Look your date in the eyes and say something nice when you say ‘cheers’.
  2. Communicate. Ask what your partner likes. In whites, do they like a bit of oak or hate it? Do they like a full body or something more delicate? Aromatic or more mainstream? In red, do they prefer more robust or more delicate wines? The opportunities for flirty banter are limitless and you’ll flatter simply by asking. If they have strong preferences, simply relay them to the sommelier and you’re done (see point 7). If they ask you to choose, continue to the next step.
  3. Pick your food first. Everyone has heard the ‘rule’ about white wine and fish. Although some delicate reds go very well with fish, it’s a sensible guideline. Avoid very high levels of alcohol with spicy food as you’ll get more chilli burn that way. Instead choose more delicate floral wines like Rieslings. Rich meat dishes pair well with full-bodied reds like Cabernet Sauvignon. If you’re sharing a bottle, it may be easier for you to choose food to match your date’s choice and pick a bottle that works for both of you than try to match single glasses. Read our article about food and wine pairing for more tips.
  4. Buy the bottle. In nearly all cases, you’ll get a wider choice and better value buying a bottle than buying individual glasses of wine, unless you’re going to have one small glass each.
  5. Taste the wine but don’t stress out about it. Check the label to make sure it’s what you ordered. Swirl the glass a bit, take a good sniff and then a taste. All you’re looking for is obvious (and rare) faults. Does it smell like damp cardboard, yucky vinegar or rotten eggs? No? Good, you’re fine. Say ‘thank you, that’s fine.’ But remember that it’s okay to return a bottle if it’s faulty. Just say ‘I think this wine might be faulty, could we try another bottle?’
  6. Use our rule of thumb on price. Expect to pay at least 50% of the price of the food for the wine to go with it. Aim higher if it’s a special occasion and you want to impress. Just keep in mind that gorgeous wine can be winegasmic.
  7. Enlist the sommelier’s help. We study wine and sell it and we LOVE talking to sommeliers, so you shouldn’t be embarrassed to ask for their help. Tell them what your preferences are, what you’re eating, what your budget is and whether or not you’re interested in more adventurous choices. If you’re shy to give a price range out loud, you can point at some wines in your price range and say ‘I was thinking something in this sort of price range.’
  8. Don’t buy the second cheapest wine. Avoid the house wine or the cheapest wine on the menu. And definitely don’t buy the second cheapest. Restaurants know that people go there as a shortcut and they make big margins at the bottom end of the wine list. If you want to economise, it’s better to avoid traditional regions and fancy names.
  9. Don’t be afraid to play it safe. You’re not going to go wrong with a lightly or unoaked Chardonnay if you want a white wine. Or an elegant Malbec or Merlot if you’re after a red.
  10. Don’t be afraid to be adventurous. Indulge your wild side. Ask the somm to surprise you. If there are unusual wines on the list, it’s probably because the head sommelier loves them. Wines with hard-to-pronounce names are often overlooked, so pick one of them. Likewise, wines from non-traditional wine-making regions. We’ve had fabulous wine from Greece, Lebanon, Turkey and we’re huge fans of Romanian wine.

Here’s looking at you kid

“Wine enters through the mouth,
Love, the eyes.
I raise the glass to my mouth,
I look at you,
I sigh.”
― W.B. Yeats

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