First dates often come with their own sets of anxieties and preparation rituals. But perhaps more important than what shoes to wear and stimulating conversation starters is one’s choice in a bottle of wine. When sitting down for a first dinner date, wine selection — assuming, of course, both parties like and want to drink wine — can serve as an opportunity to show one’s personality and create conversation.
For the dos and don’ts of first-date wine selection, VinePair consulted sommelier and comedian Sam Mushman for expert advice. From the wine regions to stay away from, to how much to spend on a bottle, read on for everything you need to know about choosing wine on a first date.
First, it’s of course important to ask your date if they have any wine preferences — if they like red or white wine, or maybe something sparkling. With their tastes in mind, Mushman recommends staying away from tried-and-true regions, opting instead for wines from more obscure destinations. “I feel like you gotta show personality,” he says. “Everyone drinks California, especially in this country, and that tends to be a safe space for a lot of people.”
If the goal is to show your date that you have more wine knowledge than the average Joe, flipping to a more esoteric section on a wine list may be your best bet. Mushman recommends choosing wines from Spain, Piedmont, the Loire Valley, or Burgundy to impress your partner. In his words, “Is there anything sexier than a Burgundy on a first date?”
Once you select the desired region, Mushman suggests finding a solid, middle-tier wine. As a rule of thumb, he says, never order the cheapest or most expensive bottles. “The entry-level bottle says that you’re obviously just price shopping. You’re trying to just get the most inexpensive wine possible.”
As for the most expensive selection on the list? Mushman says ordering this bottle could also leave a bad taste in your date’s mouth. “What are you compensating for? What else is wrong in your personal life where you feel that you need to impress based on the fact that you ordered a $300 to $400 bottle on the first date? It’s completely unnecessary.” Instead, stick to mid-level bottles, which, according to Mushman, often range anywhere from $60 to $120, depending on the restaurant and city you’re in.
Apart from price and region, Mushman says another thing to look out for is a bottle that could stimulate dialogue. “Try to pick a bottle that is maybe from a single vineyard, from a specific place, because now you can open up the conversation,” he says, as these wines often have interesting stories behind them and are often made with more care than wines from high-production facilities. Just be sure not to give too lengthy of a wine lesson. A few interesting facts are always better than an hour-long explainer.
If choosing wine to pair with a variety of foods is of top concern — especially at a small-plates restaurant — a light red is your best bet. Mushman recommends a light Nebbiolo or Pinot Noir, which can pair with everything from cheese and steak, to chicken and fish.
Finally, Mushman says, dry wines are always the best bet when ordering for someone new. “If you like sweet wine, too bad,” he says. “The last thing you want to do is force your partner, who might have a unique palate, to drink sweet wine with you.” For such sweet-toothed wine lovers, waiting until dessert to order sweet wine by the glass is always a good option.