Dealing with sommeliers, food pairing rules and other useful tips for your next night out
SINGAPORE: A wine list should not be a big scary volume of text to have to decipher over a dinner date. Yet, for the casual drinker, it can spell confusion and sometimes takes the fun out of a meal.
Yes, the world of wine is vast and complex – but that doesn’t mean ordering something to drink with dinner has to be. All you need is a little help from the experts.
Here are three common myths about ordering wine, debunked.
1: THE SOMMELIER WILL JUST BRING YOU THE MOST EXPENSIVE WINE
Not true. Just indicate a price range you’re comfortable with – and don’t be shy if you’re on a budget. Even in a posh place, there are many good wines that don’t have to cost an arm and a leg, so leave it to the professionals.
The sommelier’s job is to make your wining and dining experience as enjoyable as possible. All you have to do is ask.
“No question is too undeserving of a sommelier’s attention, especially a professionally trained one,” said Lim Hwee Peng, certified wine educator and founder of wine consultancy Winecraft Marketing & Services. “It is a sommelier’s primary mission to ensure you receive the best service at their outlet.”
Lim Hwee Peng, certified wine educator and founder of wine consultancy Winecraft Marketing & Services. (Photo: Lim Hwee Peng)
Wes Guild, Wine Director at The Drinkery and Group Manager at the Red Door Group, agrees. “There are never any questions too big or too small,” said the former General Manager of CUT and Spago Singapore. “I try to bring wine down to earth so everyone at the table feels comfortable.”
And don’t you worry about looking “stupid” in front of your date. Remember: Your sommelier has put in the hours. Wine discipline is a complex exercise in world history, chemistry, viticulture, wine-making, geology, geography, language, culture, tasting, nosing, service… If your date expects you to know all that just because, well, it might be a better idea to find someone else to enjoy the wine with.
2: EXPENSIVE WINE, GOOD. CHEAPER WINE, BAD
A selection of William Selyem wines. (Photo: The Drinkery)
Honestly, it depends.
There is the argument that high quality and pedigree go hand in hand. This explains why money is no object for collectors of, for example, the Bordeaux First Growths Lafite Rothschild, Margaux, Latour, Haut-Brion and Mouton Rothschild; or the ethereal burgundies of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, which can cost tens of thousands per bottle. Wines like these have been known to make grown men weep.
But this isn’t always the case, cautioned Lim. Those familiar with the industry will know of Rudy Kurniawan, the man behind the world’s largest wine fraud, counterfeiting more than US$30 million (S$40.4 million) worth of coveted wines and selling them to unsuspecting wealthy clients. He’s currently serving 10 years in prison.
“There are also unscrupulous producers who get creative with packaging, for example. Some use heavier bottles or fancy shapes to make their products appear more premium,” said Lim. “But in the end, the wine displays a lack of finesse.”
The process of making a wine may also affect its price. “There is cost tied to the manpower, effort and resources required to farm grape vines through the four seasons,” said Lim. “Because great attention is needed in the lengthy process, it is only logical that premium wines command a higher cost.”
Wes Guild, Wine Director at The Drinkery and Group Manager at the Red Door Group. (Photo: Wes Guild)
Guild, however, believes that there is a limit to this. “Prices increase over time due to supply and demand. Napa Valley wine prices have increased significantly over the past decade due to their distinct ‘Napa’ character and limited production,” he said. Bordeaux and Burgundy have also gotten more expensive in recent years.
“But the product didn’t get any better – it just became more desired,” said Guild. “So, the trick is to find wine that hasn’t caught the attention of folks willing to spend large sums of money, which in turn drives up the price.”
Essentially, a little research goes a long way.
3: RED WINE FOR MEAT, WHITE WINE FOR SEAFOOD
When it comes to wine-and-food pairing, it the choice between red and white really black and white? (Photo: AFP)
“This is, perhaps, one of the most misunderstood concepts,” said Lim. “Most professionals will agree that matching food and wine has almost nothing to do with the colour of wine or food.”
Food and wine pairing is not rocket science – a little instinct tends to work in most situations. In this case, an easy approach is to match hearty with hearty, and delicate with delicate.
For example, imagine a juicy slab of rich, full-flavoured steak. It is a robust meat that needs an equally robust partner in wine. A powerful Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot with good tannic structure strips away the fat and richness of the meat and refreshes the palate, so that you can have bite after bite without feeling “jelak”.
Similarly, if you have a bottle of young Shiraz with rough tannins that suck your cheeks dry, try it with beef hor fun. “There’s a high concentration of umami in red meat which softens the harsh tannins. It allows the fruit in the wine to come through as well,” said Lim.
But what if you simply prefer white wine over red? “In this case, should someone prefer to enjoy a white wine with such a bold dish, I would suggest a more full-bodied, higher alcohol white wine with some wood age to it,” said Guild. Alternatively, opt for rosé Champagne.
If you’re in the mood for Peking duck, roast pork or char siew, try an off-dry German Riesling (Kabinett or Spätlese) that balances sweetness and high acidity. Otherwise, an off-dry Alsatian Gewürztraminer is just as aromatic, not as acidic, but no less enjoyable.
Fish and seafood tend to have flesh that’s more delicate, so white is an easy decision. “But some lighter style reds from the European countryside would also pair well, especially when served a bit cooler,” said Guild. Go with a light Pinot Noir or crisp rosé, which have softer tannins. An atypical and refreshing style of Barossa Valley Syrah – Poolside by Tommy Ruff – is a surprisingly delicious choice.
Still confused? “When in doubt, stick with bubbly wines,” said Guild.
It all comes down to one simple rule: Don’t drink what you don’t like – you’re paying for it, after all.
“Explore the food that you prefer with the wines that you adore,” said Lim. “The best way to find that perfect match of flavours between food and wine is to be adventurous.”
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