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How to order wine on a date without looking like a twit

Earlier this week, a friend from my undergrad sent me the following quote: “He talked with more claret than clarity”.

I’m still trying to figure out if it was a jibe at my writing or an observation about my drinking. Maybe it was both. Nevertheless, I have decided to adopt it ironically as the tagline of my blog, obviously switching out the masculine pronoun for the feminine one.

That got me thinking about gender stereotypes as far as wine is concerned, and the roles that men and women are generally expected to assume. Most notably, choosing the wine at dinner.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the last three men that I have had drinks or dinner with have all had the same reaction at the appearance of the wine list: a sheepish shrug and bashful half-smile, followed by an honest admission of wine ignorance, concluding with a swift bestowing of the menu on yours truly.

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And just like that, before I have a chance to object, the onus of choosing a suitable wine now falls squarely on my shoulders. Moving past the mild awkwardness of my companion’s unsubtle relinquishment of control, I find myself in a circumstance that I both abhor and adore in equal measure. The tiny control freak in me loves immersing myself in a quality wine list, but another part of me truly dislikes the responsibility of making a decision that the other person may not enjoy.

Fast forward a few minutes (depending on the length of the menu!), the decision is made and both parties feel far more relaxed holding a glass of alcoholic grape juice. At that point, the conversation typically gravitates to how I arrived at my decision.

Selecting a Wine

Trying hard to avoid boring my date to death with a soliloquy (yes, even I know that there’s nothing worse than someone snobbishly droning on about wine), I describe my process of decision-making – which is essentially a haphazard combination of gut feeling, price, past experience, and occasional input from the sommelier.

Although it infuriates me when waiters automatically assume that the man will make the choice and thus deliver the wine list directly to him, society seems to see the wine choice as a test of manhood. Since MBA students absolutely love well-documented frameworks, and with Valentine’s Day being today, I felt it prudent to share my top five tips on choosing the wine on a date without looking like an utter buffoon.

(1) Ask the other person whether they have any general preferences.
Generally speaking, people tend to have an inclination towards either red or white. Asking your date which one they feel like drinking will eliminate approximately half of the choices on the menu. More crucially, you remove the risk of looking like a uncaring twit by ordering a red when all your date wants is a chilled white.

(2) Avoid the second cheapest wine on the list.
A little known secret is that the second cheapest wine on the list is also the one with the largest markup. I’m not convinced that this is 100% true in absolute terms (a £15 wine is unlikely to have a higher profit margin than a £60 wine!) but it’s true that you are unlikely to find good value in the second cheapest option.

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(3) Don’t pretend you know more than you do.
As far as I’m concerned, this is the biggest social sin you could possibly commit. Do not, under any circumstance, spout nuggets about wine if you aren’t certain that they represent the truth. A few examples of some of the heinous offenses I have had the misfortune of hearing: “rosé is made by mixing red and white wine together“, “the older a wine the better it is”, and “Cava and Prosecco are just cheap Champagne knock-offs“. Utter those words at your own peril.

The Other Wine Connoisseurs Were Beginning to Question Pete's Credentials.

(4) Ask for advice.
There is a tendency for people to shy away from asking the sommelier for help. In reality, the ability to put aside your pride and enter a knowledge transfer with a subject matter expert demonstrates humility and curiosity, both of which are highly desirable qualities. Tell the sommelier what you like, what you don’t like, and an approximate price ballpark, and you’ll probably end up with a better choice than you would have made alone. This also applies to those that know a lot about wine – no matter how much knowledge you have on the topic, the sommelier can trump you because he or she probably constructed the wine list and knows the ins and outs of it.

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(5) Know how to handle the tasting process.
When the bottle is presented to you by the waiter and a small tasting is poured for you to try, be aware of the fact that this is not a test of whether you like the wine or not. This is a test of whether the wine is healthy – i.e. it has not been damaged.


Coming back to my new blog tagline “She talked with more claret than clarity”, I hope this post has helped shed some light on the undeniably stressful process of choosing wine on a date.

In any case, I haven’t had any claret today so there’s a reasonable chance of some clarity in this post. Somewhere.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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