You have decided what to eat and the waiter is collecting the menus. Anything to drink? Selecting the right wine can be a daunting task, ifthe wine list is all Greek to you.
Tuija Heikkilä, restaurant manager and sommelier at Solo Sokos Hotel Torni Tampere has a few tips on how to make your choice without making a song and dance of it.
25 min – Learn to know what you like
When browsing through a wine list, remember it is not rocket science. Start with the basics.
"The most important thing to know about wine is to know what you like yourself," Heikkilä points out.
Many still have the impression that the rules for choosing the wine are very strict. It does not have to be so, and it is best to focus on enjoying the wine you know you like best.
If it is difficult to decide on your favourite wines, you can try learning about different grapes at home.
"By trying out different grape varieties one at a time in the peace and quiet of your own home, it will be easier to narrow down your own taste. The favourites will eventually stand out," Heikkilä says.
45 min – Learn the basic rules of food and wine pairing
Although there are no absolutes about which wine should go with certain foods, certain rules of thumb are useful to keep in mind– the five basic tastes and the country of origin.
"There are five basic tastes that the mouth is able to sense: sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, and umami, or glutamic acid, which gives the full flavour to, for example, meat dishes," Heikkilä says.
To find a good match, try acidic wines with sour and bitter foods and fruity and sweet wines with sweet foods. Salty dishes are likely to work with red wines with acidity and tannins – or be bold and try a combination of salty and sweet.
Rules are meant to be broken, so Heikkilä encourages everyone to try out new combinations.
"Fish is typically paired with white wine, but light-bodied reds may work brilliantly as well. Slightly chilled, a red will taste quite different – and highly suitable with fish," Heikkilä says.
Another great way to pair food and wine is to base the choice on the geographic origin of the cuisine and wine. For example, if you are having an Italian meal, it is a good idea to go for Italian wine as well.
"Culinary and wine cultures usually develop side by side, influencing each other over time," Heikkilä explains.
55 min – Don't be too shy to ask
Heikkilä points out that the restaurant staff with wine expertise are happy to help if you are unsure of which wine to choose.
"Staff are expected to be able to suggest the best option for a given dish and occasion," Heikkilä says.
Don't be afraid to ask for advice, the waiters are usually happy for an opportunity to share their knowledge.
"The wine is chosen together with the customer. Tell the waiter what type of wine you personally like. It is then the waiter's task to suggest suitable options.
Be brave and leave it to the waiter's expertise.
1h 5 min – Never go wrong with the co-op members' wine list
Another way to always make the right choice is to rely on the S Group co-op members' own wine list. These wines are selected through blind tasting sessions participated in by wine experts, catering professionals and wine enthusiasts. The tastings emphasise factors such as quality and good value for money.
If you prefer not to ask the waiter, by choosing the wine that most appeals to you from the co-op members' wine list, you will never go wrong. Updated in June, the wines on the special list cater for every taste.
"The co-op members' wines are a guaranteed choice, if selecting the wine from the full list seems too difficult," Heikkilä says.
The co-op members' wine list includes reds, white and sparkling wines – not forgetting champagne.
"The champagne is truly excellent value for money. Champagne is often associated with special occasions and celebration, but it also makes a lovely aperitif," Heikkilä says.
Finally – taste and enjoy
Following these few tips probably makes choosing the wine a little easier. Never forget that there are no fixed rules about wine – you are always free to choose what you feel, like and prefer. Everyone's tastes are different, so finding out what you like best is the quickest way to learn to know your wine.
Once the wine has been selected, it is time to move on to the important thing: enjoying it!