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How to Order Wine Like a Pro

Have you ever been to a bar or restaurant, looked at the wine list, felt extremely overwhelmed, and ultimately ordered a vodka tonic because making a decision felt like it would take a decade? We totally get it. Wine is complex, it can come from regions across the world, and there are so many varietals, it’s often hard to keep track.

When asked what type of wine you’d like to drink, instead of saying “I’ll drink anything!” and ending up with a wine you hate, learn what to look for, and how to talk about wine like a pro so you can sip and savor the glass of your dreams.

Michael Scott Wine Tasting

(Photo Credit: Reddit)

Figure Out What You Like

We all have preferences when it comes to flavors. Some of us prefer sweet over salty. Some prefer fish over meat. The same thing can be applied to wine. The first step to ordering wine like a pro is figuring out what your likes and dislikes are. Start with the basics like sweet vs. dry, and light vs. full-bodied and figure out a go-to white or red you like to drink. If your palate leans towards sweet wines, a Riesling may be perfect for you on a hot summer day. If you want something light but prefer a dryer mouthfeel (not sweet), a Côtes de Provence Rosé may become your new best friend.

Do you like lighter or more full-bodied wines? If you aren’t even sure what that means, go to a wine tasting and pay attention to how the wines progress as you are walked through each pour. You’ll typically start with white or rosé depending on the region, and as you get further down the list you’ll get into light reds like a Nouveau or Pinot Noir, and eventually make your way to medium-bodied and full-bodied reds like Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel.

ONEHOPE California Rosé

Learn the Wine Terminology

Once you’ve figured out your preferences, you’ll need to learn some terminology so you can both order wine, and speak about it like a true wine connoisseur. Here is a breakdown of some common terms that you can use when talking about vino:

  • Tannins- A tannin is a textural element found in wine, as well as plants, bark, wood and leaves, that causes a dry taste adding bitterness and astringency as well as complexity
  • Aroma or bouquet– This refers to the smell of the wine. Swirl the wine in your glass and take a big inhale to help release the aroma
  • Crisp- A way to describe wine with refreshing acidity
  • Dry- A wine that is not sweet
  • Oaky- Wines that are aged in oak barrels can often take on oaky flavor notes (look for toasty or smoky flavors as you sip the wine). In white wine, oak can add flavors of vanilla and even coconut. In red wine, oak can create notes of spice, vanilla and herbs like dill
  • Buttery- A buttery wine comes from malolactic fermentation and is generally rich, creamy, and less acidic. When the wine hits your mouth, it has a texture almost like oil or butter and has a smooth finish
  • Acidity- Wines that are highly acidic taste zesty and tart on the palate. Think of lemon or lime juice as you taste the wine and you’ll discover similar characteristics as you sip it
  • Bright- Bright wines are typically higher in acidity and make your mouth water
  • Jammy- Think of a PB&J sandwich. Jammy wines are filled with big, juicy, ripe berries that exude sweet, syrupy goodness. Zinfandel, Grenache, and Cab Franc are often described as jammy
  • Legs- These are the streaks that fall down the side of the glass as you swirl your wine around. Legs are supposedly caused by alcohol, so it is believed that the more legs means the higher the alcohol content of your wine
  • Fruit-forward- If a wine is fruit-forward or fruit-driven, it means that the jammy fruit flavors are what prevail over all others as you sip it
  • Finish- The final taste of wine that stays on the palate after you have swallowed the wine. The length of the finish is said to be the last indicator of a wine’s quality

Be Inquisitive

You’ve figured out some basics of what you like, and you’ve learned a bit of the wine lingo, so now it’s time to try new wines. If you’re ordering wine at a restaurant, don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations and taste a few wines before you order. More likely than not, if the bar or restaurant offers the wine you’d like to try by the glass, it will be no problem for them to give you a small pour. Once you’ve tasted it, determine if you’d like to have a full glass, or if the wine just isn’t for you. If you don’t like it, try to determine why so your server can give you alternative recommendations. Was the wine too acidic? Was it too heavy for your taste? Would you prefer something more jammy and fruit-forward? Talk it out with your server (or sommelier if they have one) and see what they’d recommend for you to try next. Be patient, they are bound to have something you like!

Expensive Doesn’t Always Mean Better

If you see a $200 bottle on the menu, your first thought may be “wow that’s EXPENSIVE,” with your second thought being “I bet it’s INCREDIBLE.” While some $200 bottles are out of this world, it does not always mean it is better than a great $20 find at the grocery store. According to a study by Wine Folly, the correlation between price and overall rating is small and negative. They found that in a study with 6,000 individuals, those with wine training enjoyed more expensive wines over cheaper bottles, and those without as much wine knowledge preferred the less expensive options. At the end of the day, don’t judge a wine by it’s price. You may miss out on amazing wines by doing so.

ONEHOPE Champagne Cheers

Have Fun Discovering New Wines

If you take away anything from this blog, it should be that trying new wines is meant to be a fun and positive experience. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, sample where you can, and you’ll figure out what you love along the way. Every bottle of wine has a unique story to tell… and we can’t wait for you to discover them all.


The ONEHOPE Wine Team

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