1. Don’t ask, don’t get. Wine lists often look like history-class timelines—what with all those appellations, acronyms and dates. Skip the academics and simply ask the server if there is anything interesting you should know about. This is how you find a wine with a cool backstory, a high-end bottle that has been opened for staff to sample or a local favourite. All you have to do is nod when one sounds good.
2. Try before you buy. To please everyone, servers tend to recommend the most popular bottles. If you want something other than the house Malbec or Pinot Grigio, don’t be afraid to request a couple of samples. It’ll create the illusion of confidence, and you can cut the abstract conversation in favour of simply tasting your way to a good pick.
3. Go local. Look for a VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) label on wines from B.C., like one of its lush Cabernet Sauvignons or Syrahs, and Ontario, which makes killer Pinot Noirs and Rieslings. For a rare East Coast gem, keep your eye out for Tidal Bay, a crisp, food-friendly white blend from Nova Scotia.
4. Be a wine diva. If your pour smells like wet newspaper or a soggy dog, it’s probably corked (i.e., tainted, off, janky). If it tastes flat—or has a coppery, rusty odour—it’s likely oxidized. If you suspect either scenario, ask your server for a second opinion, and don’t be afraid to send it back.
5. Save the bubbly. Proseccos and champagnes are often served before the meal, but save them for after. They pair well with sweets and cheese, like salty cheddar, velvety crème brûlée and rich chocolate. They’re also a palate cleanser for any special after-dinner moments (read: make-outs).