Order Wine Like a Pro
5 tips from the experts.
By Heather Hunter
As we dive into a new year with smart resolutions and bold inspiration to stretch ourselves, it’s also an ideal time to expand our knowledge of wine and feel more empowered in this often-intimidating arena. You won’t likely become an oenophile overnight, but we’ve tapped the insights of local wine experts to help you look like a pro the next time you order wine.
Ask for a Recommendation
Our pros agree that we can lean on the experts for guidance to find the right wine. “Restaurant employees at all levels want to make customers happy. They know what wines are popular,” says Myra Ghattas, owner of Albuquerque’s Slate Street Café and Sixty-Six Acres, who is a wine lover and leads a wine-tasting class. She adds, “We ask about the best dishes on the menu, why not ask about the wine?”
Know What You Like, But Be Open
Kristina Hayden Bustamante, wine director at The Compound in Santa Fe, wants every woman to learn to recognize and describe what you like to drink. She says, “Don’t worry about fussy terminology, unless you’re comfortable with that. But do know a few terms to guide your wine helpers like dry, full-bodied, earthy or brisk.”
Chris Paulk, general manager at Heritage Hotel’s Monte Sagrado and Palacio de Marquesa in Taos, studied wine in Italy, is a Level 1 Sommelier and has a 20-acre winery in Mendoza, Argentina. He agrees that everyone should drink what they like and is quick to remind us, “If you have fish, you can easily order a Pinot Noir.” He adds, “If you are going to order a bottle, be adventurous and try a varietal you’ve never had before. Torrontes from Argentina is a great option.”
Dan George, a sales representative for wine distributor Synergy Fine Wines, echoes the importance of alternative varieties. “There is a universe of wine beyond the standard Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay.
Italy, for example, has a staggering number of indigenous grape varieties from Nero d’Avola to Fiano di Avellino and Verdichhio.”
Ghattas concurs and says, “Don’t be afraid to try something unusual, such as, Voignier, Mouvedre or Verdejo. Unusual wines are often the most interesting.”
Don’t Base Your Decision on Price
“Don’t assume the most expensive wines are the best wines, and the least expensive wines are lesser quality. There are a lot of great tasting wines that are exceptionally well-priced,” Ghattas says.
However, Bustamante says, “Don’t be afraid to tell a sommelier the price-point you are comfortable with and don’t feel pressured to overspend — this can be a mood killer.”
Order Wine by the Glass
“Savvy restaurant wine directors are starting to offer higher quality wines by the glass,” George says. Wine by the glass can be a better value. It also provides us with new opportunities to expand our palate, but not commit to a full bottle.
If You’re Unsure, Start with Bubbles
Paulk encourages us to take our time ordering wine. “Food loves wine. If you don’t know what you will order to eat, don’t order the wine yet.” Instead, he suggests we order a glass of sparkling wine as our first drink.
If you tend to rely on your go-to wine, allow these tips from the experts to encourage you to get out of your comfort zone. Be bodacious and daring — the same way you live your life. And, when in doubt, start with bubbles.
5 Tips for Ordering Wine in a Tasting Room
With the state’s vastly expanding wine industry, we turned to Kerryn Johnson of La Chiripada Winery to talk about how to order wine in a tasting room. Established in 1977 and located 25 miles south of Taos, La Chiripada is a small, family-run winery focused on handcrafted boutique wine. Here are her tips:
• Relax and have fun because wine is made to be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of your experience.
• Try something new. There are so many varietals, you never know what you might discover.
• Really indulge in the sensory experience. Swirl the wine around in the glass, get your nose in there and take in the aromas. What are you smelling?
• When you sip the wine, swirl it around your whole mouth, including under your tongue because that is where the taste buds are.
• Look for the story. Every sip has a beginning, middle and end. What is the first thing you taste? What is the mouth feel? Are you left with a lingering note?
After you have tasted the wines, then you are primed and ready to purchase a few bottles to enjoy at home.