For any new wine buff...or someone who just wants to look like a wine buff...I've compiled some tips from the Ministry of Fine Spirits so you can order wine at a wine bar and not look like a complete newbie...
1. The great thing about wine bars is that they are now often serving "flights"--these are three to four glasses of wine, about 1/3-1/2 of a "regular pour" size and are to give you an idea of what you might like. That being said--if you are on a date--a flight can make you appear indecisive...or like a lush because you have three glasses in front of you instead of one. Flights are great, though, when you go out with friends and are just wanting to figure out what wine is what, without having to try to impress.
2a. Whites are usually lighter in flavour, easy to sip and served chilled; additionally, they are usually lower in alcohol. For whites, don't go the chardonnay route -- it's too easy! Everyone knows "chardonnay." Show some sophistication and order a pinot grigio (pee-no gree-ghzee-o) or a sauvignon blanc (so-vin-yon bl-ankh). And unless you are really a girl, do NOT order a reisling (rees-ling). While not all are sweet, most are and everyone around you will know that you aren't a "real" wine drinker. (I'm just saying.)
2b. Reds are usually stronger in flavour, are more for a leisurely sip and are served room temperature; these also often appear to have more of a "kick" in the alcohol level. For reds, go with a pinot noir (pee-no n-whar), a syrah (sir-ah) or a malbec (mall-beck). These are tasty and you aren't going to get something that's too strong.
3. Price-wise, look at about middle of the price range for the wine list. You don't look cheap (and cheap wines are usually harder to swallow) and you don't look snooty ("I must only drink those that cost the same as my Armani leather wallet" (which is totally what everyone would be thinking about you).
4. Trust the bartender...unless you've been there before and you know he/she is an ass. Bartenders are usually your friends--and they'll often give you a sip of something they are trying out. There's nothing wrong with saying, "I'd like a pinot noir from Napa, something not too oak-y, maybe a medium body - got any suggestions?" or "I usually like the whites from the Russian River Valley; do you have something similar?" NOTE: Believe it or not, this does NOT make you look like a newbie. It makes you look like someone willing to try something new and someone who trusts the expert to help you.
Now, if you want some conversation starters, here are a couple of wine tips:
And it never hurts to ask the person you are chatting up what they are drinking and what they like about it. If they know wine, they'll talk to you about the flavours and the under- and over-tones and the area the wine came from. If they are a newbie like you, it might be the perfect opening for both of you to admit that you're just starting your wine appreciation...and start that journey together.
Now get out there and have at it. Happy sipping!
Image: 480L.com. Seriously.