During my travels, I was overjoyed to often find myself in the wonderful predicament of having to choose the proper wines for pairing with the meals…and the people. I dealt with all kinds—from novices to millionaire wine cellar owners alike. My choices needed to reflect good taste (literally), but, equally important, they needed to demonstrate versatility.
So what to do when selecting wines that not only have gastronomical latitude but crowd approval as well? Here are a few ways to narrow down your options…
1. When in doubt, begin with bubbly. It’s light, fun, and mood elevating, not to mention it pairs well with a variety of hors d’oeuvres, especially if they are higher in fat. Plus, it buys you a little more time to peruse the list for your next choice(s). If you are with a fairly traditional group whom you know to really appreciate high-end wine, I wouldn’t hesitate to order Champagne. It will certainly offer the greatest complexity and depth than any other bubbly. Otherwise, there are a number of fantastic Cavas from Spain and Proseccos from Italy that will more than pique the interests of all who consume them.
2. The appetizers we enjoyed during the trip were typically light—lots of seafood, vegetables, cheese, and cold soups. This expectation gave me confidence to select an appropriate, flexible, white or dry rose—even if the majority were red wine connoisseurs. I suggest ordering something that isn’t overly aromatic—like a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier, even from the infamous region of Condrieu (tempted by its beauty, I made that mistake, and it failed to deliver with the pairings—still lovely but justice was not felt). Go with something a little subtler but still fairly accessible in the way of fruit (especially for a novice crowd). Perhaps a pale rose from Provence, a white Burgundy, an Alsacian Pinot Blanc, an Albarino, an Oregon Pinot Gris, a Soave, or a dry German Riesling (trocken).
3. For the main course, especially if everyone is ordering something different, try not to go too big unless you are confident that is what everyone at the table digs. If the people you are with are self-proclaimed die hard Napa Cab fans, go with the Far Niente, Caymus, Stag’s Leap, or Silver Oak…god speed. However, in the name of wine pairing possibilities, I suggest you try an aged Rioja from Haro or a classic Bordeaux. Or, take advantage of the elegance and acidity a Pinot from Oregon or Burgundy has to offer. Try any number of wines from Italy, particularly a Nebbiolo that has a good 6 or more years on her. All these choices should fare well with a variety of fare: cheese-based entrees, lamb, game, braised meats, pork tenderloins, and rich red sauces.
It’s not the viniferal holy grail by any means, but it’s a very simplistic crash course to ordering wine for the masses.