Can't pronounce Muscadet? Don't know what it means? We didn't either. That's why we asked Mark Oldman, author of Oldman's Brave New World of Wine, for the basics on navigating any wine list.
Pick the Body You Like Best
Wines come in three body types: full, medium, or light. "A light-bodied wine feels like water in your mouth, medium-bodied is more like skim milk, and a full-bodied wine is comparable to cream," Oldman says.
Mix and Match
Instead of just pairing the color of your vino with the color of your entree, think flavors. If you can squeeze a lemon on your main course—salmon or chicken, for example—got for a light white. Heartier fare, like winter stews, demand full-bodied options. If you're stumped, go for a light red, such as a Chinon or Cru Beaujolais, both of which appeal to most wine fans.
Don't be afraid to hit up your server for a suggestion. "Guys hates to ask for advice, but it can cost you a great find," Oldman says. Three good starting questions: What's good value? Which wine has a unique personality? What does the chef drink when he's off duty?
Keep it Simple
Try to keep your order to one sentence. Include the body, color, price range, and any distinct traits you've enjoyed in the past—such as smoothness or earthiness.
Try something new from time to time. "Unfamiliar wines offer new tastes," says Oldman, "and they can be a better value."
If you find your red wine too bitter, ask your waiter to "shock," or chill, it for about 10 minutes. "Cold focuses the flavor and makes the wine taste more refreshing," Oldman says. Make your request in front of your hot date, and your wine won't be the only cool thing at the table.