Food & Drink

How To Order Wine And Not Sound Like A Wanker

By Catherine Blake
30th Oct 2015

wino n. A person who has cultivated a deep and knowledgeable appreciation of wine that makes them, on a night out, both an asset and a liability.

wanker n. An insufferable tool whose only redeeming feature is a selection of brazen neckties. 

‘You choose, I don’t know anything about wine’. That question strikes fear into every wino’s heart because, although we drink wine all the time, wine lists are a nowhere-to-hide exposé of how little we actually know.

Rather than keep settling for the second least expensive bottle on the list, we appealed to Sarah D’Ardenne of stellar online wine cellar Captain James Cork to help us navigate ominous wine compendiums and deliver us to the Promised Land of vino.

Impress your colleagues, win friends, and pimp your wine cellar with this handy guide to negotiating even the most perilous wine list for something truly spectacular.

#1 Find Your Bearings

First thing’s first, let’s order some dinner. It doesn’t matter what you’re having because I refuse to believe that there is a food worth eating that would not be made better by wine. Restaurants of a specific cuisine will usually supply a decent range of regional wines to go with their menu, but more contemporary restaurants might be a bit harder to negotiate.  

#2 Chart A Course

Once you’re down with what’s cooking, the next step is to get some idea of what it is you’re looking for so you can peruse the wine list with a bit of purpose. Dinner is no time for competition, and certain varietals may overpower or be overpowered by your meal.

Now, a wanker would try to memorise the viticulture of each varietal and brag about it incessantly, but winos-in-the-know need not stress over such things because D’Ardenne’s done all the legwork for you. Here’s a nifty cheat sheet of some ballpark pairings that won’t upturn your menu #winehacks:


Best complemented by sweeter whites like Riesling, tropical gewürztraminer, and the pear-like flavours in Pinot grigio. From Captain James Cork, D’Ardenne recommends the Hochkirch Riesling and the Quealy Fionula Pinot Grigio.


The best varietals for regional Italian cuisine tend to be Italian themselves. Go for something savoury and dry such as a Sangiovese, Barolo or Pinot grigio. D’Ardenne’s picks of the online cellar include the Candialle ‘La Misse’ Chianti Classico, the Massolino Langhe Nebbiolo, or the Pieropan Soave Classico for a classic Italian white blend.

Middle Eastern

Rosé, Grenache, and unoaked whites best suit Middle Eastern flavours. From Captain James Cork, try the Torbreck Saignee Rosé, the Greg McGill Red Letter Days Grenache, or the Ocean Eight Pinot Gris.


Besides beer, tequila and Margaritas, Mexican flavours really jam with something dry and delicate like a Rosé or a Sauvignon Blanc. Something like the Mengoba Brezo Rosado, or the Mateway Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc would be ideal.


As with Italian, French cuisine tastes its best when accompanied by French varietals. Unfortunately there is such an expansive range of both that the best choice for a French dinner cannot easily be siphoned down. That said it’s always good to cover your bases, and for your own stocks D’Ardenne has highlighted the Laherte Freres Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature Champagne for celebrations, the Mount Mcleod Pinot Noir as a standout red, and the Verget Vauclause Chardonnay as a versatile white.

#3 Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Directions

The sommelier is a font of knowledge just waiting to be tapped, so if you run into stormy weather, hail them over for some wine chat. This is where most wankers get caught out so use words like ‘terroir’ sparingly. Non-wanky discourses might begin with ‘Would you mind describing this one for me? ‘What would you recommend to go with the duck?’ and ‘Go ahead and surprise me, Dave’. 

Still can’t find what you’re looking for? Curate your own home wine-list and BYO. All the wines mentioned in this story are available for purchase from Captain James Cork.

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