Clearly, the easiest way to tell a server or Sommelier what type of wine you want is to point to the one that you have selected on the list. Frankly, if you can do that and be comfortable with all the wine styles, you might know more than your server. But that isn’t always so easy and the ability to give some useful guidance can yield you a better wine and dining experience.
There are a few basic approaches to communicating your preference
Wines You Like
If you have a little wine knowledge and have a few favorites, you are well on your way to clear communication. Let the Somm know what wines you enjoy, ideally more than one wine you enjoy. This allows them to interpret the style preferences you might like with your meal. The more information you can give, the better odds of ending up with a winner. An example might be, “I enjoy California Zinfandels because of the juicy fruits and the power, I also enjoy Argentinian Malbec for similar reasons.”
Regions You Like
A second approach would be to identify the regions that you like because each reason has a typical style and the Somm will use this to make a recommendation. One of the basic breakdowns would be Old World (mostly Europe) an New World (pretty much everywhere else). If you can give additional details, so much the better. An example would be, “We like Northern Rhone wines and have really liked some older Bordeaux as well” That would like lead a Somm to an old world recommendation, but they might try an Italian wine to give you a new experience.
Flavors You Like
When Somms taste wine, the first thing they look for is fruit. Good guidance might be the fruit profiles that you like in your wines. For white wines, that could be lemon, apple or tropical fruits. You could also mention if you prefer floral and aromatic wines or more neutral sytyle. For red wines it could be red fruits or dark fruits and a comment on some of the funky flavors like mushrooms and leather. If a guest told a Somm they liked red wines with red fruit and not a lot of funky flavors, they could easily make a recommendation.
Body Styles You Like
The second primary things Somms taste for in wine is the body. This includes acid level, alcohol, tannins, sweetness, body and texture. Acid is how fast the wine makes you salivate. Alcohol is measured by how far down your throat the wine burns. Tannin is the sensation of drying out your mouth, like strong tea, which has a lot of tannin. Sweetness is the amount of residual sugar left in the wine (which many people confuse with fruitiness). Body is either round or lean and texture is either lean or creamy. Each of these could be high or low when discussing with the Somm. A good example is, “ I like dry, higher alcohol wine with good acidity, plenty of tannins and a lean body”
What You Are Eating
Pairing wine with food is an expertise of a Somm. If you are flexible about the exact wine you drink, you can just let the Somm know what everyone is eating and they will suggest a wine or two for the table. You can use the tip about communicating the price you’d like to spend to the Somm using the wine list.
If you are an adventurer, you can just put yourself in the hands of the Somm and ask them to surprise you. Of course, they’ll want some guidance on the price, ether by asking you or through pointing to a price on the list.
Each of these approaches will help the Somm get you a wine you’ll enjoy!