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Ordering the Proper Wine for Your Date: The Expert Weighs In

My single girlfriends who are big wine enthusiasts often ask, “What type of wine should I order to signal my ‘sophistication’ yet avoid ‘snobbery?’” on the first or second date? What if he’s not a big ‘wine guy’ and I know a lot more than he about wine – is it ok to show it?”

In short, my girlfriends are often interested in figure out how to “attract the buyer,” “reel in a potential customer,” and ensure getting asked out on date two.

Not surprisingly, and somewhat amusingly, my single guy friends never ask about dating tips for evenings one or two but often ask me, “What type of wine should I have around the house for when she comes over for dinner on date 2 or date 3? How many bottles should I expect us to go through?” In short, they want help closing the deal.

Ladies and gents, here are my answers to you. (Please note: if, upon reading this brief set of dating to-do’s, your date decides to game the system based upon the aforementioned advice, feel free to email for more “dating with wine” advice.)

For the Ladies:

Gals, as is almost universally the case, I am a big believer in that being yourself — and that means signaling you have no wine knowledge if that is the case and asking your date or the sommelier for advice on what to taste — or being honest that you have a fair amount of wine knowledge after spending two summers in France — is the way to go. Honest portraits of your personality are always the best bet for attracting the right “mate.” But this is a wine-and-dating tid-bit, so more to the point:

1) If you know a little about wine, and most importantly, know what you like, simply order it. Throw convention out the window; if you only drink red, order a glass of your favorite red varietal or from your favorite red-wine producing region to kick off the date. If the same holds true for white, go with it.

2) If you happen not to know all that much yet about wine, buy my book Bottlenotes Guide to Wine: Around the World in 80 Sips™ available on or join a Bottlenotes wine club and let us be your guide to your tastes and the world of wine. Advertisement aside, so long as you enjoy sparkling wine, I think ordering a glass of it on a first date is pure class. If you are feeling sensitive to the price of that first glass, the beauty of sparkling wine is that you can likely order a glass of Prosecco or Cava that won’t break the bank, or, if he orders an 18 year old Scotch, you can follow suit with a true French Champagne and be in great company. Sparkling wine “awakens” your palate, which means if the date morphs into dinner you’ll be perfectly poised to transition into white or red wine. It’s also a great wine to “doctor up” if you do NOT like what you’ve been served. If it’s too yeasty or tart, simply ask your server to add in a little Kir for a Kir Royale or O.J. for a Mimosa — and presto! Your sparkling vino will have been converted into something palatable. Best of all: you will have signaled both “class” and versatility in your first date — always attractive qualities!

For the Gents:

My closest guy friends and I have had many topics on this very subject. I think it is always safe when having a woman over to your place for dinner for the first time — e.g. you’ve been “dating” for a while but she’s definitely not your g.f. — to put on a little bit of “Ritz” without going over the top.

In that vein, I think it is always classy to start an evening with a glass of sparkling wine. It’s festive, fun, and if you go with Cava or Prosecco, as I stated above, it won’t break the bank; if you’re interested in something with unmistakable elegance, French Champagne is always the best (recommended brands are Taittinger, Moet & Chandon, or the new/delightful/affordable Ayala ($45/bottle).

If you can’t stand the sparkles and/or you know from a prior date she doesn’t like them either, than a Sauvignon Blanc or Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley) is always a perfect way to start an evening. If you plan to cook fish, you might transition into a California Chardonnay or White Burgundy (Chardonnay from Burgundy) with dinner; these are both “foolproof” white wine grape varietals meaning if your date likes white wine, she should at least really enjoy one of these whites if not both.

If you’re not sure if she’s a lover of “big & powerful” red wines, then a Merlot (from California or a right-bank Bordeaux) or a Pinot (from Oregon or Burgundy, France) are absolutely the safest choices for dinner. They’re highly versatile grapes that can work with a rich chicken dish or a meat-main course.

However, if, on a prior date, you know that she loved a big class of Cabernet, or ordered something particularly spicy or a rich prime rib, etc, perhaps you should throw caution to the wind, pick up a bottle of Cab, Shiraz, or Zinfandel, and see how it goes.

If you are both into wine, and if it’s a weekend, then it is always fun to have a dessert wine (port or Sauternes are the safest bets) available in case you are both feeling so inclined, with cheese or in lieu of dessert. But definitely don’t feel obliged; dessert wines are not known to all- and the higher percent alcohol can leave its mark if you don’t chase it with hefty amounts of H20.

Most importantly, I would NOT feel obliged to finish any full bottle; splits (half-bottles, providing 1.25 glasses each per person for a duo) are an awesome way to taste a bunch of wines throughout the night without feeling pressure to overindulge.

Then again, for those of us who occasionally like to overindulge, I think the safest bet is a glass each of sparkling wine to start the evening, then diving into the “dinner” bottle — with a back-up bottle in case you are just having too much fun learning about her fascinating trip to Antarctica and need to transition from the dinner table to the fireplace, wine glasses in tow.

*NOTE: If you have been on dates involving wine before with the guest in question, and you’ve noted explicitly what her favorite varietals or regions are, then ignore all of the aforementioned advice, be a super sensitive gent, and buy those. Trust me, we women love it when we know that you’ve been “listening.”