by Chris Mauch
When a group of us go out for dinner, I am the one always asked to pick a wine for the table that will satisfy everyone. This is almost impossible to do, not only because each person has their own preference for wine, but each will order his or her own dinner independent of the others, which will invariably result in a wide variety of foods and spices on the table. The problem then becomes how to satisfy as many people as possible with one wine selection. In my opinion, the waiter’s habit of asking what you’d like to drink before you’ve had a chance to review the menu should stop! They should let the diners figure out what they want first, then ask for the drink order. (Ok, stepping down from the soapbox.)
Depending on the number of people at the table, one way is to order both a white and a red wine. This is always my first choice when dining with four or more people. I like to select on these occasions light-bodied whites and medium-bodied reds. For white, I find Sauvignon Blanc or Pinto Grigio to be very versatile with almost all fish, vegetarian and chicken dishes. These wines typically have a crisp, refreshing feel and doesn’t dominate food flavors. People who say they will only drink white wines will pretty much always feel comfortable with them.
With the red wine selection for a group, there are two roads I can take, depending on the style of restaurant we’re in. If meat, game and other big, flavorful meals dominate the menu, I like to make the red choice a blended wine. This could be one of many different blends that are popular today, such as Cabernet Sauvignon combined with Merlot, Shiraz, Malbec, or Sangiovese. These wines combine richness of flavor with a smoothness that will appeal to many red wine drinkers. If, however, the menu is mostly middle-of-the-road style with pastas, chicken, light sauces and salads, I will usually select a Pinot Noir or young Chianti. These wines are probably the most versatile of all reds, and will usually appeal to both red and white wine lovers.
Play it safe. Go regional. Over the thousands of years that wine was made in a particular region, it was developed to complement the native food style. You’re already on the right track when you choose regionally. When in an Italian restaurant, choose a Tuscan wine. At a Spanish restaurant, choose a Tempranillo or a Monstrell. In a French restaurant, choose a wine from Province. You can ask for a red Burgundy but you will most likely get a Pinot Noir.
These suggestions will help your odds of pleasing the most people. In a quality restaurant, there is usually a wine expert on hand who can make suggestions, and you should take advantage of their knowledge of the menu and their wines that pair best with it.
For those of you counting carbs and calories, most dinner wines average 70-100 calories and 1.5 -3.5 carbs per glass. The dessert wines such as Eiswein, Port, Sherry and Madeira, can add 160-200 calories per glass and up to 8 carbs per glass. Champagne contains around 110 calories per glass, 5g for dry and up to 10g for the sweeter ones. A glass is 4 oz, not the ‘’ 22 oz big gulp’’ from the gas station.
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