I remember when I first began to appreciate wine. It was while on a date.
I was twenty, still in the gin and tonic phase. I knew nothing of wine. If you’d asked what colour riesling was, I’d have flipped a coin. Grand Cru? That’s a term for the winners of the Sydney to Hobart, right?
The girl I was newly dating was taking me out for my birthday, and my instructions were simple: “Look spunky and I’ll pick you up at seven.”
We drove to Café di Stasio in St. Kilda where she proceeded to engage with the sommelier and order the wine with the fluency of a native speaker.
And the wine was good. Of course it was. She knew what she was doing. The aura of sophistication flowed like honey that night.
Here was a new world. One that I wanted a part of. Here was a formative experience that I wanted again and again. I wanted to know everything there was about dining, food and, most importantly, wine.
Safe to say that if you live in Melbourne, you haven’t been on a first date, or even been out to eat in some time. For my part I hope to have more than a few dates lined up by the time I can visit a restaurant again. (I’m doomed if any of them stumble across this article but I can always say that’s there’s another Melbourne-based wine writer named Morgan Dunn if they ask).
There’s something inherently romantic about the shared experience of wine. So here are my tips for first date drinking. Feel free to use them in any dining situation, but for those who can’t wait to get out there and start wooing again, these are crafted to impress.
Be patient: If you’re the first to arrive, don’t order anything ending in ‘ini’, ‘oni’ or ‘osmopolitan’ while you wait. It’s tempting to relieve some of those jitters but sucking on an olive pip over an empty Nick and Nora when your date arrives is not a good look.
The exception to this rule is if both parties work in hospitality. In this case it is perfectly acceptable, nay encouraged, to be three gimlets deep when your date arrives. ‘Haha, looks like you’re playing catch-up!’
The pre-dinner drink sets the stage: Do order cocktails to start and do try the house signatures rather than a beer or a mixer. Decent venues will have their own unique, alchemical wonders on the list that serve simultaneously as liquid courage and conversation starter. Plus if your date asks to try yours it’s a pretty good indication there’s an initial spark.
Use the sommelier (whether you need them or not): The sommelier is your friend. Any restaurant worth its salt-shakers has one on board, and it is their job to guide you through the list. Sommeliers are cool, sommeliers have cred. Ask questions of your date and your somm in tandem – this will provide insight not only into the wine but also into your potential match.
Go by the glass: I read somewhere recently that drinking wines by the glass is a bad idea, the reasoning being that sommeliers use the section to offload unwanted product. This is a lie. If anything the BTG page is where the sommelier, and you, get to have the most fun. There’s some stimulating conversation to be had in trying out different varieties and styles.
Go by the bottle: Being open to sharing 750ml of wine is a good indication that that first spark is there. The decision-making process will also help foster those necessary communication skills that will be invaluable when you get a mortgage or decide on the names of your kids.
‘Mum, what was I named after?’
‘Well Gewürztraminer, when your father and I first met…’
Practice your swirl: The wine is flowing but the conservation has run dry. The usual small talk topics have been exhausted on your app of choice leading up to this meeting. So go kinetic. That deft little spin on the glass that wine professionals do before smelling is a tricky skill to master and there’s plenty of fun to be had working on your technique together. Consider it a team-building exercise.
Skip the post-dinner drink: Go somewhere else for a nightcap. Hopefully the city is open and yours to explore together.
Don’t take it too seriously: Drinking and dining is an enjoyable experience so have fun with it. Who knows, you may encourage someone to pursue a career in wine.
Morgan Dunn is a sommelier at coda Melbourne and wine writer for The Australian