9 Ways to Fool a Wine Pro
Ever find yourself at a cocktail event, dinner party, or even just casual conversation with a wine aficionado or a sommelier? You probably have, and I’m going to guess you felt a bit, well, underprepared. Being around people that know a lot about alcohol can be intimidating if your experience is more about the buzz than the beverage.
I know that the average person can cite some facts about wine—Pinot Grigio is white; Robert Mondavi is famous in Napa Valley; and Andre has been poured at many a party—but that doesn’t necessarily equate to the level of knowledge of your audience in that moment. That’s why I’ve put together a list of nine ways you can fool a wine pro. Employe these techniques, and they’ll think you know a little something about wine. If you are outed, you’ll at least get bonus points for effort!
Hold the wine glass by the stem, not the bowl. This ain’t a martini, folks. Grasping your wine by the bowl will warm up your wine—your natural body heat will raise the temperature past the optimal drinking point. A novice might not notice a difference, but a sommelier would never do such a thing. It’s painfully obvious that you have less experience with wine. As for those Champagne coupes with the gold rims? I’ll admit they are gorgeous, but to a pro, they hide the flavors and aromas of your sparkling wine. They also tend to make the bubbles go flat. Save the coupes for cocktails, which is what I actually do.
Don’t ever mention White Zinfandel. Like it? Don’t admit it in the presence of a pro. I hate to say this, but all credibility will be lost. It’s true that often somms serve wines they don’t like to guests, but this is one style that is ubiquitously frowned upon. It’s also often full of added sugar, which none of us want for our waistlines either.
Get the basics down about wine regions, which is helpful for ordering at a restaurant or wine bar too. Know that Old World refers to France, Italy, Austria, Germany, Spain, and any other European countries (for the most part). New World incorporates California and the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, South America, South Africa, and beyond. It’s Wine 101.
Avoid choosing or talking about the most common varieties of grapes. For whites, that’s Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay. For reds, it is Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. It’s a given that the wine aficionados among us know, and love, some of those varieties. But it also points out your lack of effort to understand a fuller wine list, especially if you order before looking at the list. I often say that the number one way to showcase you are a novice is to stick to Pinot Grigio for cocktail hour and drink “a Cab” with your meal (even if it doesn’t pair). Do yourself a favor and at least pretend to peruse the list before landing on your go to.
Go for a “sommelier darling” wine variety. First off, this is a fantastic way to grow your knowledge! Pick a wine that you haven’t heard of before or never tried. If you’re at a bar or restaurant, kindly ask for a sip before committing to the glass. That works when at a dinner party too, so essentially, everywhere. For whites, think about an Austrian Riesling, an Italian wine like Soave, or Gruner Veltliner. In the summer, the crispness of Muscadet is fantastic. For reds, try Oregon Pinot Noir, an Italian Barolo, or a French Côtes du Rhône. It’ll give the appearance you’re a bit more affluent about the wine world. Plus, these wines taste mighty fine. Champagne, by the way, is always acceptable.
Know the differences between your bubbles. Do not refer to anything with effervescence as Champagne. It’s only Champagne if it comes from the demarcated Champagne region in France. Everything else falls under the sparkling wine category, or as I like to say, bubbles. So, please do not call Prosecco, Cava, California sparkling, or even Cremant, “Champagne.” We all know that means you know nothing about wine.
Skip the Rosé, unless you are in Provence (where it comes from). I’ll admit, we all enjoy a glass of rosé on a hot summer day, but rosé as a brand rather than a wine category has quickly demeaned the traditionally French style. Example A: White Girl Rosé. If you want to appear to be a basic bitch, go for it. A bro that believes real men drink pink? Have at it. But if you want to look like you are on your way to somm status, save the rose-hued wine for Hamptons pool parties. (Oh, and don’t ask a somm if they are attending the Pinknic.)
Gift Champagne to your wine-collecting hostess. Let’s say you are attending a dinner party with a wine-savvy friend, and you plan to bring wine. Do not pick a random bottle from the liquor store shelf. Instead, go directly to the Champagne section—actual Champagne, not Prosecco or Cava—and pick a bottle in your price point. It’s always a safe bet. If, and it’s a big if, you know the hostess loves a specific variety or producer, you can go with that. But be careful: If she (or he) loves that wine, they are likely very picky about it.
Read, or at least, skim, a recent article about wine. Why? So you can reference a trend, idea, or new hot bottle in conversation to appear up on what’s new in the wine world. Look at the wine writing from top news organizations such as The New York Times or Wall Street Journal, or even a wine publication like Wine Spectator. Tune into a podcast or blog. You can even follow wine influencers on Instagram, though I don’t find many that are actually good. With this technique, you’ll get the conversation going (bonus points!). Then you can sit back and listen to the wine snobs go at it. No one will ever know you don’t read wine articles all the time!
Then, let me know how the next cocktail party goes. Any other tips? Leave those in the comments!