Better Life

A Guide to Grapes

The Madness: A Guide to Grapes
You’ve just been seated at a restaurant, and you’re handed the wine list. What to choose? We asked our (fancy) pals Peter Bonventre and John Jannuzzi for their vino suggestions.

Peter Bonventre

As I start to write, I am sipping a wine that is my new best buy. It’s a beaut, and once you’ve tasted it for yourself, you’ll remember me in your last will and testament. So stick around.  I’ll get to it.

Lucky for us, we are living at a time when good wine at a modest price is plentiful, and you’re likely to find a restaurant in your own neighborhood that features affordable wines for $20 to $50 a bottle. That said, don’t be shy or nervous about asking for advice from the waiter or sommelier, but don’t take any crap. Drink for taste—yours, not the guy who’s trying to jack up the check. There’s no quantifiable relationship between a wine’s price and your own innate sense of, uh, deliciousness. Enjoy! If you want to drink red wine with that swordfish, go right ahead. Chardonnay with your lamb? Hey, the earth ain’t gonna spin off its axis.

Some other stuff to keep in mind: You may want to ask your date or table companions for their preference, in which case you could end up ordering by the glass or ordering, say, a bottle of Chianti and a bottle of Pinot Grigio.  Oh, and forget about the swirling and the smelling. Don’t be a bozo. When the waiter pours a small amount for your approval, simply take a sip and say something like, “That’s fine. Thank you.”

Here’s my No. 1 tip: Since a lot of us have a few favorite haunts, pick a go-to wine in each joint that suits your taste and won’t require you to take out a second mortgage. At L’Artusi, wine maven Joe Campanale’s Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village, for example, I usually order the 2010 Di Majo Norante Ramitello, a robust red that costs a hard-to-beat 42 bucks.

Ta-da! Time to reveal my current favorite wine that will secure me a tiny place in your heart if not your will. It’s called Meiomi, a lush and creamy Pinot Noir from California. Any vintage will do. And though it may cost up to $25 a bottle at your local wine store, you’ll find terrific bargains online. I’ve yet to spot Meiomi on the wine lists of the joints I frequent, but be warned: Pour one glass of this baby at home, and you may not want to leave.

John Jannuzzi

When it comes to wine, I’m ashamed to admit that I am completely clueless about the nuances. Sure, I love a great white with oysters and a strong red paired with a steak or a hearty bolognese. (I’m a human, after all.) But whenever the wine list finds its way to my lap, I find myself scared, frustrated and maybe a little embarrassed. The only thing I can understand are the prices… rarely a comfort. However, I’ve found there are a few ways to escape with dignity.

First of all, if the list is confusing, befriend the waiter or sommelier – they’re your faithful Sherpa on this treacherous, tannin-rich excursion. And with the proper instructions, they’ll get you the perfect bottle. Explain what you’re looking for and they will find it for you. Of course, they may steer you towards the expensive end of things, but you can rein them in. A simple: “how about something more in this range?” will do.

When dining with friends, know your company. Assuming you’re chummy with your comrades, you should know what people are willing to spend. Your friend the financier may be sleeping on a bed of money in Tribeca, but your creative pal who is making ends meet by working odd jobs may be in a different bracket. Consider the lowest common denominator here, and act accordingly – there is no social crime so egregious as spending somebody else’s money. To be safe, I recommend a bottle under 50 bucks. It does the job budget-wise and you’ll be satisfied with the taste. If not, it’s the restaurant’s fault. (A good restaurant chooses excellent wine at all price points.) When dining with colleagues, the boss chooses the wine – simple as that.

Of course, sometimes you’re ordering vino in the hopes you’ll get just drunk enough to remain in control, but also slip in the idea that you’re hoping to sleep with your dining partner. Some might call situations like this a date. So, spend more! (Why not?) Without being the guy that throws down for a magnum of rare Cab, consider celebrating a little – especially if you like the person. And asking your partner if they have a preference for reds, whites, or a specific grape before ordering isn’t a bad idea, either. Lastly, when the waiter or sommelier brings the bottle over for a taste, just sip the damn thing. Nobody likes a swirler.