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Mastering the wine list.

Knowing which wines to order can make you the toast of lunch.

There you are, successful, sophisticated, secure and assured--that is until the waiter hands you the wine list. Suddenly, self-confidence slips under the table and out creeps intimidation. Do you choose a wine by price, vintage or country of origin? Should you select a red or white?

Oprah Winfrey once said, "Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity." A wise comment that with a few switches and interpretations can be applied to many situations, including choosing the right wine.

Instead of "luck," substitute "savvy." For "preparation," reread last month's column on the language of wine. For "opportunity," tell the waiter you'd like to see the wine list--before he asks you. Have a few ideas ready about how you'll deal with any problems and feel your self-confidence rise back to where it belongs.

It's Not Just Price

ShouId you choose wine by its price? Yes a nd no. Certainly you do not order the most expensive wines, especially at a business lunch. The gesture may be generous, but it may also boomerang--making the host or hostess seem to have more money than taste or knowledge by buying only according to price and well-known label. On the other hand, steer clear of the least expensive wines; you don't want to look as if cost is your only criterion.

Once You've eliminated both extremes, price becomes less important, and you can get on with other decisions, such as, should you buy wines by vintage? In fact, most restaurant wine lists will have each wine in only one vintage. If the wine is from a particularly exalted vintage in Bordeaux or Burgundy, it will be far more expensive. Likewise, an older, relatively good vintage from either region will also cost more. However, there are vintages that produce good, sound wines that are not meant to age for decades. Often referred to as "restaurant wines," they are usually a bit lighter and ready to drink at an earlier age. Try them; they are sound wines that usually offer good value.

The next question posed is whether you should choose a wine by its country of origin. Now, this is where a little wine smarts makes you daring, different and way ahead of the pack. While most people will stay with wines from France, Italy and California, you can intrigue your luncheon companion by ordering a wine from Chile, Australia or New Zealand. They are well-made, interesting and usually priced right. Also, they are all relatively new to America and, very likely, will be a new experience for your guest as well. From Australia, look for the wines of Tyrrells, McWilliams, Mount Pleasant Vineyards, The Rothbury Estate, Rosemount Estate, Peter Lehmann Wines and Petaluma. From Chile, check the wines of Consino Macul, Vina Los Vascos and Vina Errazuriz-Panquehue. And, New Zealand is sending us very nice white wines from Selaks, Babich and others.

As for whether you should order red or white wine, let your taste be your guide. There are no absolute rules; however, there are some general guidelines you can follow. Red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir or Syrah, or Chianti Classico or Rioja are usually suggested with beef and lamb dishes. White wines like Chardonnay or Semillon go well with delicate, white-meat dishes. But chicken and other fowl go equally well with both. Many full-flavored fish dishes such as salmon, tuna and swordfish can be enjoyed with a Merlot, Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay.

Should your guest order a beef dish while you order a delicate fillet of sole or trout, for example, ask the waiter which wines are served by the glass. If the restaurant does not offer wine by the glass, ask which wines are available by the half bottle. Two half bottles of different wines will again please you both.

But suppose the wine you've ordered looks cloudy, smells like old tires or a dark cellar and tastes like vinegar or stale beer? What do you do? Call the waiter and tell him quietly you've found a serious flaw in the wine. If he doubts it, suggest he smell and taste it. In a reputable restaurant, the wine will be removed and another bottle brought and opened at your table. You're not likely to experience this scenario often, though, because a truly spoiled bottle of wine is rare. For that matter so is the truly savvy wine drinker, one who chooses a wine for its interest and suitability to the moment.
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Author:Fried, Eunice
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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