1. Let a professional do it
The best thing to do is to have the waiter/owner/maitre'd recommend a bottle after you tell him/her what food you'll be having. The people working there should know their own wine inventory and what wine goes best with what menu item. So expand your horizons and let yourself be surprised. You make the wine selection everytime in the grocery or liquor store -- in restaurant let someone else do the hard work.
2. Beware of the 2nd cheapest bottle
Restaurant owners know that nobody wants to look cheap on a date, and thus nobody will select the cheapest wine on the menu. Which is why they don't stock that one very heavily. The one that they do stock heavily, and which is the worst value, is the second-cheapest wine, since that'll be the default wine selection for anyone on a budget but still intent on ordering wine.
3. Honor geography and tradition
If you can't get help from the staff and you have to choose the wine, think about what wine is typical for the region that your food will come from. If you're heaving steak - who makes the best steaks? Americans and Argentinians, of course. So choose an American wine, like a Cab or Zinfandel, or pick an Argentinian Malbec. If you're having pasta, select an Italian wine like Chianti or Barolo. And if you're having Indian food, pick an Indian wine. Hmm. Can't think of one? That's because the food is probably not meant to be consumed with wine, otherwise the Indians would have found a way to make wine in India. Stick to an old-fashioned lager like Brahma or Kingfisher instead.
4. Be different
Anyone can pick a brand name out of a wine list and impress their date with a $100 bottle. But do you know how it's supposed to taste? If you don't, then you might as well pick a wine from one of the new and coming wine areas like South Africa, Lebanon, or Bulgaria. You won't know how those wines are supposed to taste either, but you're likely to pay a lot less and your date will admire your sophistication (and these wines wouldn't be on the menu if they weren't good, so you can't go wrong.
copyright 2005 - Hunter Braum