How To Order Wine At A Restaurant

A restaurant wine list can be overwhelming, sometimes looking more like a catalog. Even worse is the swanky restaurant that has a wine list delivered by a sommelier…intimidating to say the least. But take a breath.  If a restaurant has a sommelier, thank them! The sommelier is there to help you! That should make you happy not intimidated. Talk with them on whatever level you are, and they will gladly meet you there.

Whether working with a sommelier or not, extensive wine lists should not be overwhelming. If you find yourself weaving through the pages of a wine list, here are a few tips to give you the upper hand.  You can use just one of the tips or use them all to narrow down your decision:

Choose a grape variety – a helpful website to learn about grapes is It will teach you information like, Merlot is pronounced “mur-lo,” it is a medium bodied, ruby colored wine tasting like cherry, plum and chocolate and pairs with pasta, grilled meat and chicken.  No internet? Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine by Madeline Puckette is an excellent source (you should buy this book anyway, it’s a great reference).

Choose your style of wine – 

Sparkling (examples – Champagne, Cava, Prosecco)

Aromatic White (examples -Riesling, Gewurztraminer)

Light Bodied White (examples – unoaked Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio)

Full Bodied White (examples – oaked Chardonnay, Viognier, Roussanne)

Rosé (made with many varieties of grapes, think of style – fruity, dry)

Light Bodied Red (examples – Pinot Noir, Gamay)

Medium Bodied Red (Merlot, Grenache, Sangiovese)

Full Bodied Red (Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah)

Choose by pairing the wine with your food – this is personal but there are general rules, if you would like more information, I wrote a post about a year ago on the subject:

Choose by price point – if a sommelier or wait staff is involved, pointing to a general price on the menu is a tactful way to give the sommelier an idea of your price range.  This is especially helpful if you are on a first date or treating a group of people to wine and want to be incognito about how much you would like to spend.

Bottom line, it is your dining experience and your dollar, so take the time to make a decision that will make the occasion an enjoyable one.


Wine And Chocolate


Before moving from Hawaii to the Pacific Northwest a couple years ago, I spent a year as an “Oompa Loompa” at Manoa Chocolate Factory, a bean-to bar chocolate company located on the beautiful island of Oahu .  I was part time chocolate assistant/part time sommelier for Manoa’s wine and chocolate pairing events.

As you can deduce, the homework for the pairing events was pleasant.   The beginning phase of planning, I purchased the wines and did first round tastings. Preliminary tastings were important because just as wines change by vintages, chocolate changes by batches. Final tastings with the boss and a few co-workers ensured perfect pairings and consistently successful events.  There were two approaches with the pairings, either find a pairing where the wine flows seamlessly with the chocolate or contrasts to make for an unexpected yet pleasant sensory exercise. The tasting experience involved sipping the wine paying attention to the aromas and flavors in the glass, then tasting the chocolate paying attention to the aromas and flavors of the chocolate. A final sip of the wine paying attention to how the wine flows or contrasts with the chocolate finished up the tasting.

As we’re coming into the holiday season (marketed ridiculously early), a wine and chocolate pairing party is a great excuse to come together and celebrate.  As I mentioned, it is hard to make blanket statements on pairings but here are a few ideas to get you started:

70% Sea Salt chocolate – pair with a crisp white wine such as Chablis, Verdejo or Falanghina

60% Lavender chocolate – pair with a fruity red wine with notes of strawberries, raspberries, and cherries such as Beaujolais, a young Pinot Noir or even a youthful Rioja

60% Spicy Pepper chocolate – pair with a sparkling wine such as Prosecco or Cava or a crisp white wine such as Albarino or Grüner Veltliner

60% Coffee and/or Cacao Nib chocolate – pair with a powerful red wine such as Syrah, Shiraz, Petite Sirah or a Port

Purchase Manoa Chocolate bars here.


Pairing Wine And Food


A friend requested I write about pairing wine and food. I was somewhat hesitant because I felt the post would either become a dissertation or be so short it would barely clear a paragraph.

There are many avenues to take for pairing, from mandatory adherence to a strict set of rules to “Vinotyping” and taste bud count affecting how a person tastes (i.e. Why You Like The Wines You Like by Tim Hanni, MW).  I lean more towards the the later.  In my opinion, there is only one thing you need to know: drink what you like, like what you drink.  Choose a wine you enjoy and desire to drink with whatever it is you’re eating.  Conceding to pairing the alleged “appropriate” wine with food will not make the pairing better if it’s not speaking to you in the first place. It will however, make for an unpleasant dining experience.

Taste is personal but I believe there are parameters we generally share. Most people establish some level of tolerance for acidity and most people like sweet food. There are even a small percentage of people who cultivate a liking to bitterness. Accordingly, consider the following basic guidelines; use them as a starting off point then follow your own personal palate preferences:


Intensity: match intensity of wine and food (i.e. light wine-light food, heavy food-heavy wine)

Spicy food: pair spicy food with high acid, off dry, medium-sweet wine – try brut Rosé, Albarino, Riesling, or fight fire with fire and pair with a high alcohol spicy wine like Syrah or Zinfandel

Fatty food: pair fatty food with a high acid wine like an Vinho Verde, unoaked Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, or a tannic red like Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon or Tempranillo

Salty food: pair salty food with a high acid wine or wine with a bit of sweetness – try something sparkling like Champagne, a crisp Falanghina or a tawny port (think pretzels dipped in caramel)

Sweet food: pair sweet food with wine that has a high level of sweetness or fruitiness – try a late harvest wine, Ice wine, Moscato d’Asti, which has a slight effervescence, or for something fruity try a newer vintage Shiraz or Petite Sirah, these will probably be best for those dark chocolate pairings.

My ultimate advice is to acknowledge and embrace your individual tasting preferences. If you want Chardonnay with your steak and your friend prefers Cabernet Sauvignon…congratulations, you have both nailed your pairing!

~Drink what you like, like what you drink!~