If you lack confidence when ordering wine from a restaurant’s wine list you are not alone. You should never be intimidated by wine because wine should be fun and an opportunity to learn. Keep it simple and don’t get caught up in what you don’t know but have an open mind to any interesting suggestions that are offered. While many people fall back on the same old selections or point to a bottle and hope for the best, you can do better with a little preparation. Here are a few tips I learned from a sommelier that will help them find you the best wine for your dining experience.
First and foremost, be honest and engaging when asked about your preferences. Tell them the body and style you like because a restaurant invests a lot of money to have a sommelier help you make the wine selection process more enjoyable so take advantage of their knowledge. Here’s a tip that will get the best wine available for the price you want to pay. Simply point to a bottle on the list with the price you are willing to pay and say “I have had (wine name) before but I would like to try something different”. This will let the somm know what you are willing to spend and they can guide you to a bottle in that price range. After you make your selection the somm will retrieve your bottle from the cellar and open it tableside. They will present the cork to you but this is purely ceremonial and there is no need for you to either touch or smell it. Next, they will pour a small sample for you to taste. This sample is for you to check for flaws not to see if you like the wine. If it is acceptable give them a small nod and they will begin serving your dining companions with you being served last. One last tip, during your initial exchange ask your sommelier if there are any wines they are excited about. This allows them to share hidden gems now that they know you share their love of wine.
Just off Exit 146 of the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the foot of the Allegheny mountains lays the little town of Bedford. Nothing along the quaint business district in the center of town would give you any clue that something extraordinary is happening at 107 E. Pitt Street. That is the address of the tasting room for Briar Valley Vineyard & Winery, one of the best wineries in Pennsylvania. You might think that’s only my opinion of their classic European-style vinifera wines but I have a second opinion from someone with creditability greater than my own, Mr. James Suckling! Yes, you heard right, that James Suckling the world-famous wine critic.
At a recent tasting of more than 800 non-West Coast wines Mr. Suckling gave Briar Valley Chardonnay 2016
Briar Valley Vineyard & Winery Chardonnay 2016
a score of 92 points calling it “Concentrated and fresh, this is an elegant cool-climate Chardonnay with bright lemon and herbal notes. Very long mineral finish.” Quite a coup for Tod & Jean Manspeaker owners/wine makers at B.V. Mr. Suckling went on to award B.V. Lemberger 2016 an 89 point score and B.V. Cabernet Franc 2016 87 points. These two Reds are among my favorite Pennsylvania wines. It is easy to see why Tod & Jean have recently expanded their winery with a new production facility because when you make wine this good you will need extra capacity.
You can find these wines and all the other quality wines that Briar Valley offers at their tasting room in Bedford, Pa, online at http://briarvalleywinery.com or at many fine dining restaurants around the state.
If you aren’t a Jimmy Buffett fan (A.K.A. Parrothead) you probably don’t know that Jimmy is a wine lover. During a recent trip to Pensacola, Florida my wife and I had the pleasure to stay at his Margaritaville Hotel on Pensacola Beach. When I say on Pensacola Beach I mean ON Pensacola Beach. A strong storm came through and the ocean flooded the 1st floor of the parking garage with 4 feet of salt water. Luckily we had parked on the second floor after returning from a Blue Wahoo game earlier that evening. You can enlarge the photo to see what wines Jimmy offers and their prices. The Frank and Lola Café has great fresh fish just ask your server what has just come in off the boats.