Being able to talk about wine like a pro is necessary for a lot of roles in the hospitality industry: from those on the floor, to the people manning the bar, to the manager in charge.
But for those who don’t have a big personal interest in wine, a lengthy wine list can be fairly daunting – not to mention, confusing! Sauv Blanc, Moscato, Riesling, oh my!
However, wine lists can all be broken down and simplified for those who aren’t particularly in the know, and there are only a few things to remember to ensure you can hold your own in a conversation with a wine expert.
We’ve put together some key tips to think about so that you’re talking like a pro in no time.
Know the Primary Styles
Wine isn’t just white or red – though, that is a great place to start! You’re probably familiar with a few of the big names on your venue’s wine list, whether you’ve had them before or simply recognize the name.
When it comes to whites, there is often a Chardonnay – a favorite alongside seafood – Riesling – which is usually quite crisp and clean with a fruity flavor – a Pinot, and a Sauvignon Blanc – one of the most versatile types of white wine.
When you’re chatting about red wine, there are a few standards to remember: Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon – which are both often paired with red meat – Pinot Noir, and Shiraz. If your establishment carries dessert or sweet wines, you’re likely to come across a rose, different types of fortified wine, and port.
Establish What Your Customer Likes
Your customers are ready to order, and they’re asking about the wine list. It can be a tricky situation if you’re new to wine, or aren’t used to talking about it in great detail.
An excellent way to get started in this situation is simply to ask them what they usually enjoy. Chat to them about the wine they regularly drink, if they have white or red in mind, if they’re wanting to pair it with their food, and if they are looking to try something new – or happy to go with an old faithful.
Asking those questions will not only allow you to recommend the most appropriate wines for your customer, but it will also show that you are taking an interest and are dedicated to your job – you aren’t just recommending any old wine off the list to get the order completed!
Dry, Sweet, Earthy?
Wine pros throw around a lot of terms when it comes to discussing the flavor and feel of the wine they are drinking.
When it comes to describing certain wines on your venue’s list, connoisseurs will often want to hear about the flavor and body before they make their decision.
Whites are often described as ‘dry,’ which is a good term to go for with most white wines, as long as they aren’t dessert wines or specifically sweet.
Sweet wines are a little easier to describe, as they’re more noticeable in their category: dessert wines, ports, and certain whites. You might also like to talk about the fruit flavoring that drinkers might experience with the wine, or if it is a particularly aged wine, discuss the ‘oak’ – the flavoring that the drink develops as it ages. ‘Earthy’ wines are those that remind you of farmlands and freshly cut grass.
The ‘body’ is another important way to discuss wine; basically, it’s the way the wine feels as you drink it: is it full-bodied like cream, or light like drinking water?
Know Your Regions
For many people, the region that their wine was created in matters. Some regions are known for their wine-making due to the area’s weather and particular techniques, so many wine-drinkers will prefer them. In Australia, for example, our wine comes from all over the country, but there are a few key areas to remember.
South Australia accounts for almost 50% of all our wine production, and the Clare Valley and Barossa Valley are big regions for production. In WA, Margaret River is a big wine region, and Tasmania is known for its winemaking throughout. We also drink a lot of wine from New Zealand, as their cooler temperatures allow for the perfect weather.
Read up on the regions and become familiar with what’s available on your venue’s wine list.
Food + Wine = Heaven
For many people, wine isn’t just a drink on the side – it’s a big part of their dining experience. Wine is incredibly versatile, and unlike many other alcoholic drinks, can be paired with certain foods to enhance not only the food itself – but the wine too.
When studying your wine list, look at your menu and think about what matches well so you can recommend pairings to customers. As we mentioned, Chardonnays are often matched with seafood, many reds go with red meat, Sauvignon Blanc is great with a big bowl of pasta, and dessert wines are a great sip alongside a big piece of mud cake.
See? Not that scary, right? You won’t learn the ins and outs of wine overnight, but as long as you do your research when it comes to the wine list you’re working with at your venue, you’ll be talking like a pro in no time.
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