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Be Bold with Your Wine Choices on Valentine's Day

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Not that you're nervous, but you're not sure if you applied deodorant, or brushed your teeth, twice -- perhaps it was both. You know Valentine's Day is all Hallmark trumped up, but you can't help yourself, and you're all caught up in the spirit that this has to be the most romantic evening of the year. Which just happens to be the same night 98% of the world is thinking the same thing, so you all descend on the same restaurants (hip, dark, happening, loud enough you need to talk close). Then it comes time to order wine, and panic sets in.

Luckily, I decided to help by turning to an expert, Branden Bidwell, Wine Director at Santa Barbara's famed Wine Cask (its Gold Room is romantic as all get-out, btw). Bidwell knows all about wine and knows how to make you feel comfortable, too -- he's no snob-melier, as it were -- so his advice is precious.

KCET: Is there a way to impress a date on VD when ordering and not be an ass about it?

Bidwell: Of course there is...include her. I'm witness to a lot of dates. A LOT. The best way I've seen it done, especially if you know nothing about wine, is to include her. Ask her what she's in the mood for. "Do you like red or white? Pinot Noir or Syrah?" [editor's note: If you are married or in a long-term relationship and don't know this, consider counseling. And imagine the "her" in the above could be any gender, of course.]

If you've been with her for a while, she knows you know little about wine. If it's a first date she may know more about wine than you, so pretending to be wise about the newest producers and what wine will pair well with her soba noodles may just make you look silly.


KCET: How should people order?

Bidwell: If you really know your wines, then you know that there is always something to learn. Every great restaurant has something new or amazing that I've never had before so if I go out with my wife and there is a sommelier available I want to talk to him/her. Let the server/sommelier know your likes and dislikes but make sure you are helpful. "I only like dry Cabernets" doesn't help. If you ask me, the best way to get exactly what you want is to tell me the producers you like or flavors you enjoy: "I really like lighter red wines that aren't jammy and I love Longoria Pinot Noir." Also, if you tell me your budget, or lack thereof, it helps to find the right wine for you at the right price for you. You can be discreet about it - point to a price and say, "Something in this range." And yes, the more expensive the wine is the better is tends to be. [editor's note: This fact about value increasing with price is almost uniformly true, he's not just saying it to get bigger tips.]

KCET: What should they order?

Bidwell: If you go to a place with a set tasting menu and wine parings, do it. We put a lot of effort into writing those menu items and finding the perfect wine to match to them. In my opinion that is always the best bet. Everything is included, so no matter where you are in your culinary prowess you can relax and know that the best people in that restaurant (typically the chef and sommelier) have got your back and you can just sit back and enjoy. If a tasting menu is not an option and you're looking to order some wine, ask for an opinion. The people that work there should guide you to the best wine for you. They've tasted everything on the menu so they can suggest wine to enhance your food and steer you from wines that would clash with it. [editor's note: He is not avoiding the answer here by failing to name a wine. Talk to folks - it will be fun, and make that date more fun, too.]

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