Now that we’ve finished our series on the Six Men’s Clothing Essentials, we thought we’d share a few of the non-clothing-related skills that we consider essential for guys to know. First up: how to order wine.
We recently visited with Shawn Patrick Harris, who works as wine steward at Nellcôte, the much talked-about restaurant on bustling West Randolph Street in Chicago. (As you can see from the photos below, Shawn’s work environment isn’t too shabby.) During our conversation, Shawn taught us the basics of ordering wine, confirmed our suspicions about gargling at the dinner table, and shared some sure-to-impress tips (e.g. bring orange wine to your next dinner party).
What are the basic things that a guy should know about ordering wine?
There are a couple of rules that wine stewards follow. One, if it grows together, it goes together. If you’re eating French food, I would stick with French wine. Another would be flavor profiles, so if you’re eating a heavy steak, go with a heavy wine. There’s also juxtaposition, so you can do something sweet with something really savory. And I always say you can never go wrong with bubbles. Especially if you don’t want to look through a 500-page wine list, if you know that you like champagne, I would just do that.
It sounds like these guidelines would be particularly helpful if a guy is cooking dinner for someone.
Exactly. Guys who are cooking at home, that’s the perfect opportunity to try some of these basic things. You don’t always have to go out. Figure out what you’re cooking and go talk to somebody at the wine store. Even somebody like me, I go (to wine stores) and have my mind blown by some of the people working there, so I use them as like, “What’s new? What’s out there?”
What if you’re bringing wine to dinner at someone else’s house?
I personally think going to somebody’s house, you always want to kind of be a little more impressive. Bringing an orange wine, or something your friends might not have heard of, is a great move because then you’re teaching everyone about it.
Why orange wine in particular?
Right now, there’s a huge push in orange wine, and it’s something I’m passionate about. Orange wine goes with everything because it’s got a little bit of that red characteristic, a little bit of the white characteristic. When I want to impress somebody, I order an orange wine because it looks orange, but it tastes so different from what most people are used to.
Wine has all these different motions connected to it, whether it’s swirling or smelling. How important is all that?
A lot of people say that wine is 80 percent smell and 20 percent taste. Especially corked wine will smell, and that’s your biggest indicator, so it’s always good to smell. That’s the whole reason your server is offering you a taste of wine before you drink it, so you can smell it. Swirling is just to get some oxygen into the wine, and it opens up the flavor. Wine is a breathing thing; it has oxygen in it and yeast, so it is kind of important to know those things as a basic tool. Even bubbles you can swirl.
Where does gargling enter the picture?
That’s a classic thing where you see these guys slurping on their wine. It just adds more oxygen into the wine except they feel like they’re tasting it better or getting it on the roof of their mouths to test the acidity level—all things that are a little advanced and sometimes pretentious in some people’s minds. There’s a time and a place for it.
So, if a guy wants to impress his date, gargling at the table probably isn’t the best option.
Gargling, maybe not. Decanting your wine? Yes. It’s very impressive to have a beautiful decanter brought over and poured into your date’s glass instead of just the bottle. Asking for your wine to be decanted is taking it to that next level, saying, “Hey, I appreciate this, and I also appreciate you.”
At Nellcôte, Shawn recommends the Alaskan halibut, which he prefers with a glass of Albariño.
Now that we’ve covered how to order wine, what other skills do you think guys should know? Leave us a comment with the topic you’d like us to tackle here on our blog.