The art of navigating a wine list

“Drinking good wine with good food in good company is one of life’s most civilised pleasures.” Michael Broadbent


Legendary British wine critic and founder of Christie’s wine auctions, Michael Broadbent, was given a simple piece of advice when he first started in wine that, “whenever I tasted a wine, I should make a note.” We may not all be connoisseurs or Masters of Wine, like Michael, and we don’t need to be. But there’s something simple to take out of Michael Broadbent’s approach – making note (at least a mental note or in your smartphone) of what’s important, or enjoyable to you when you taste a wine. And that’s largely how you should approach choosing a wine.

But what if you’re on a nervous first date, or hosting a celebration, or become the designated chooser of wine at a casual gathering with friends. It can be overwhelming and a bit of pressure having to navigate often unfamiliar wine lists.

Here’s some quick tips to remember to start to navigate an unfamiliar wine list a pro.


Think about the occasion and what you will be eating

Is it steak night, a seafood special or pizza with friends? Cuisine will help guide what to look for – and if a more upmarket venue, ask your waiter or sommelier what they enjoy drinking with the meal you’ve chosen. Also look at how many people you are choosing for to see if you want something more crowd-pleasing like a classic Australian Cabernet Shiraz blend or if your group is open to trying something new such as a Chianti.


Look for varietals you know and enjoy

Not all wine has to be a perfect match – it’s about enjoyment. So, if you love Pinot Noir then look for the Pinot Noir section. Most restaurants list their wines by colour then palate weight. So, you should find Pinot Noir in the red section, towards the top as it’s a lighter style red. You may find other similar wines there that you enjoy, such as Pinot Meunier a close relation of Pinot Noir! But take note, if the list is spread out by region, it may be hidden in the Burgundy section! Which brings us to our next tip. 


Region is king

Once you’ve landed on a varietal, head to where that varietal flourishes. For example, for Cabernet, think Coonawarra or Margaret River as these regions have built their reputations on producing consistently premium Cabernet. Likewise, for Chardonnay think Yarra Valley or Adelaide Hills. And for Riesling, think Tasmania or the Clare or Eden Valleys.

Ask your waiter

We touched on this earlier, but if you’re still not sure or feeling adventurous, ask your waiter. They may even let you sample a few to help you land on the perfect drop for the occasion. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask to try a drop if it’s something served by the glass and to ask questions about something you’re not familiar with – wine is a great conversation piece, so get them to tell you all about that Fiano in the whites.

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