When picking a bottle from any wine list, there’s usually a degree of ceremony involved. An evaluation of local climate, possible food pairings and each venue’s specialty offerings. That is, unless you’re like me and always choose the second-to-cheapest bottle of red, white or pink. This way I’m outlaying minimal cash while seemingly being entirely unconcerned by price.
If you’re with company to impress – say, a potential lover – there’s a variation on this textbook move. Simply express mild surprise as to how such a wine has landed itself in the lower price bracket, considering it’s actually a perfectly pleasant plonk. Throw around words such as “minimal intervention” and “sulphites” if you’re going for the hard sell, then relax into your reasonably priced evening. Right?
Well … a friend and I recently sat down at a sunny, streetside table belonging to some new (and vaguely) Italian wine bar. Thirsting for a summery white, I suggested the second-to-cheapest option: an inoffensive pinot grigio. My friend, who happens to be the sommelier at a popular inner-city Spanish joint, quite literally scoffed.
“You know that’s exactly how they get you?” she said, eyes wide. “We always put the worst shit second-to-last. Everyone buys that bottle because they think they look a little less cheap. No one thinks that you spending five extra bucks on a slightly better pinot grigio means you’re any fancier.” She paused to laugh heartily at my expense. “You’re better off just getting the cheapest bottle, if price is what you’re worried about. It’s almost definitely better wine.”
In that moment my entire worldview shattered. I’ve based my adult life on the confidence of being one step ahead of the game – the game being maximum drink for minimum spend.
I went bright red, denied having any knowledge of what my friend was talking about, and eagerly approved her suggestion of a $75 bottle of gewurztraminer. I cannot pronounce this variety of wine, let alone afford it. But I refused to have my bluff called. And after all, isn’t overbearing pride the greatest drop of all?
Take my faux pas as a cautionary tale: the tables have turned. The sommeliers are onto us. Best stick to BYO-ing cleanskins or just be done with dining altogether.