By Adam Arlen
Club Sommelier, The Peninsula Club
Ever been handed a wine list that’s as thick as the NYC phone book? Maybe you casually glanced through, hoping that something familiar would pop off the page. I’m guessing you were looking for Jordan, Caymus, Cakebread, or Silver Oak, or what we call “Country Club Crack” because many people order the same familiar bottles over and over.
I have been working in fine dining for over 15 years and as a sommelier/wine director for more than half of those years, and I can tell you there’s a better way. You don’t have to keep ordering the one bottle you had at a dinner that someone else ordered.
Here’s how to pick a wine without breaking the budget and still look like you know more than you actually do.
- Check the website for the wine list or call the restaurant and ask if it can be emailed to you a few days before dinner so you can review it.
- Then when you arrive at the restaurant, ask to speak with the sommelier. Newsflash: I am not here to gouge you. I want to match you with the exact right bottle. Yes, I know I sound like a car salesman, but my list has 500+ options, and I’m sure that with a little information (price point, taste preferences, food choices, etc.), I can present you with the perfect pour. If you want a $30 bottle … cool. If you want to spend $500 on a bottle … awesome. I am only here to recommend the right bottle for you!
- Find a few bottles that you recognize in your price point and style; indicate those to the sommelier. For example, I’ve had diners point to the Silver Oak Cabernet and tell me they’d like something similar, either in taste or price point. If it’s price point, I might recommend Trione Block 21 Cabernet; if it’s taste, I might suggest Rodney Strong Rockaway Vineyard Cabernet. Either way, I’m going to present something that I’m excited about in the price point and style that was indicated. And I’m also likely to undercut the price that the diner wanted to be in. My goal is not to give wine connoisseurs something they’ve have had in the past but to expand their horizons.
If you dine with us at The Peninsula Club, please let me introduce you to the bottles you’ve been missing. What is the worst that happens? I recommend a bottle and you hate it? Great! I will drink it at the end of the shift, and I will get you something else.
What I am drinking
I had the pleasure of meeting Reid Bosward, owner of Kaesler Vineyards in Borossa Valley, Australia. His wines are finally back in the states and fantastic as always. These are not your typical Aussie “critter wines.” These are elegant and powerful yet still with finesse. The Stonehorse series is a great introduction to the line without dropping a ton of money on a bottle. Ask your favorite fine wine retailer to purchase a bottle for about $30.