What’s the best wine for a dinner date?

Best wine for dinner date

Whether you’re headed to a restaurant for a big date or planning a romantic date night at home, choosing the right wine for dinner can make a big difference in how the evening goes. It might sound obvious, but the best wine is one that both you and your date actually like. You also want the wine to go with the food you’re having.

Before you splurge on a bottle of red that’s meant to impress, ask your date what they’re ordering and what they normally drink to be sure you’re choosing wisely. Instead of Cabernet, they might prefer a lighter-bodied red wine, like a Pinot Noir. Or maybe they usually drink dry, fruit-driven white wines from New Zealand and that pricey bottle of Prestige California Chardonnay won’t be their favorite. It’s also okay to just order wines by the glass, especially if you’re driving home later, eating light, or you and your date are having meals with completely different flavor profiles.

For established couples, date night presents an opportunity to have a little fun! Make the wine a part of your conversation and try something new, perhaps a bottle neither of you has had before, or a wine you love from a different country than you’re used to. If you usually get dry Rieslings from Germany or Alsace, try one from Australia which will be bright and crisp with excellent citrus flavors.

The best wine to order on a date is one both you and your partner like and that goes with your food
If you want a red wine that’s light to medium in body look for a Pinot Noir or Beaujolais

Sparkling wines to start the night off right

Start your dinner date with Champagne or sparkling wine. Because sparkling wines and Champagne are traditionally served at special occasions, popping the cork on some bubbly can set the tone for a romantic evening and make your date feel extra special too. But beyond the romantic atmosphere, there are a few other reasons why bubbles are a good idea. For one, Champagne is light and refreshing. Secondly, sparkling wine is extremely versatile and can be the perfect pairing for almost any appetizer. You can also guarantee the restaurant will have a quality bottle. If you’re worried about ordering too much alcohol, you can always have it by the glass or get a half-bottle, which is the equivalent of a glass and a half each. If you want to order your date something extra romantic, consider a glass of dry sparkling rosé!

White wines

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc is one of the best wines to order if you are having oysters. A wine from New Zealand will have more tropical fruit whereas French Sauvignon Blanc, like Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé or Reuilly will be more mineral and citrus driven. If you want to spend a bit more and impress your date, Sancerre is the perfect wine. It’s a classic Sauvignon Blanc that’s crisp and balanced with lemon and mineral notes. Note, your date may not realize this wine is 100% Sauvignon Blanc. You can explain that in France they mostly use the name of the region, not the grape varietal.

Chardonnay

Chardonnay comes in different styles. If you want a clean, fruit-driven Chardonnay, it’s best to go with an unoaked wine, like a Chablis or a Mâcon-Villages from France. If your date likes big, buttery malolactic Chardonnays which can be quite rich and have hints of vanilla and spice, try a California Chardonnay from Sonoma. This kind of Chardonnay makes the perfect pairing for lobster.

Riesling

Riesling is an up-and-coming white wine that can go with most foods. It can be on the sweet side unless you look for a dry Riesling which will still have a lot of up front fruit flavors like golden apple and citrus. Note, the fruit flavors can sometimes trick you into thinking the wine is sweet, so pay attention to the finish. If it’s a dry finish, you have a dry wine!

Pinot Grigio

If you’ve having Italian for dinner, be aware that there are a lot of producers releasing bulk Pinot Grigio these days –they’re not necessarily the best wines. Choose one with more flavor from the north of Italy, preferably something from the Veneto, Alto Adige or Friuli regions. It will have the same zestiness but more individual character, with herbal notes alongside the fruit.

Verdicchio is a dry white wine from Italy that’s a great alternative if your date likes Pinot Grigio and wants to try something else

If your partner normally drinks Pinot Grigio and you want to impress them by ordering something else they’ll love, go with a Verdicchio which has great citrus flavors and good minerality.

Top Tip: Another Italian wine worth trying is a Soave, a dry white with peach and stone fruit notes. Soave comes from just outside of Verona, the city of love and Romeo and Juliet’s hometown. What could be more romantic?

Red wines

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet is a big, full-bodied and tannic wine that will be one of your best options for dinner at a steakhouse. Napa and Sonoma make some of the best quality California Cabernets. Wine from Bordeaux is usually a blend of the Cabernet and Merlot grapes.

Malbec

Malbec is a red wine that’s perfect for dinner at a Brazilian or Argentinian steakhouse. Look for a wine from the Mendoza area of Argentina which will have red fruits with hints of leather and chocolate. Malbec is a deep, inky color and has lower acidity than a Cabernet.

Merlot

Merlot is another classic full-bodied red wine that goes well with steak. It’s a bit softer and easier to drink than some of the bigger Cabernets. You’ll taste blackberry, cassis, black cherry, raspberry and sometimes undertones of vanilla. If you always order Merlot and want to try something new, look for a wine made from the Nebbiolo grape. Barbaresco may be your best bet as it will have elegance and depth, making it a great Merlot alternative.

Syrah and Shiraz

Syrah and Shiraz are different names for wine made from the same type of grapes. Syrah originally comes from France but in Australia, they call it Shiraz. This wine is deep purple in color (a consideration if you’re worried about staining your teeth), but it’s delicious with food that has a lot of spice to it, think short ribs, a meaty stew or even an Indian curry. Syrah is known for its black pepper and believe it or not, notes of bacon fat and raspberry. Any wine from the northern Rhône region, like a Crozes-Hermitage or Saint Joseph will be Syrah. You can also find Syrah from Chile.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is a popular light to medium-bodied wine that’s fruit driven and goes well with most foods, from oilier fish, like tuna or salmon to veal or chicken dishes. Note, if you’ve ordered sushi and you don’t want a white wine, Pinot Noir is just the ticket. Pinot Noir from Burgundy tends to be terroir driven, wine from California has more fruit and Pinot Noir from Oregon will be a blend of the two styles.

Chianti

Chianti is a red wine from Italy made with Sangiovese grapes. It’s medium-bodied and goes best with pasta dishes, pizza and other classic Italian fare. For something special, try a Chianti Classico Riserva or a Riserva Gran Selezione where the wine will have been aged for longer in oak and be a bit bigger. If you normally order Chianti and you’d like to try something new for date night, go with a bottle of Valpolicella. It’s a medium-bodied red wine from the Veneto region of Italy with a distinct cherry flavor and hints of spice. Valpolicella Ripasso is a wine made in a fuller-bodied style by aging a regular Valpolicella on the grapes used to produce Amarone.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a red wine from France made with the Grenache grape that will impress your dinner date

4 Red wines that will impress your dinner date

There’s nothing wrong with wanting your date to love the wine and the dinner and in turn love you too! Here are some perfect wines for making your date feel extra special.

  1. Beaujolais Crus. These French wines have beautiful red fruits to them. They make the perfect pairing with a Coq au Vin or Steak-Frites if you’re out at a Continental bistro. They can also go well with a tuna steak or swordfish. Best of all, they won’t break your budget! Look for a Morgon Beaujolais Crus or Saint Amour Cru Beaujolais (its name means saint of love!).
  2. Rioja Reservas. Rioja from Spain is mainly made with the Tempranillo grape, which is lower in tannins with some softness and pluminess to it. While a Crianza level Rioja will be bright, fresh and have a tangy flavor, a Rioja Reserva will have more extensive oak aging and some strawberry flavors. Wine with strawberry notes, how romantic, right?!
  3. Châteauneuf-du-Papes. These are spicy, medium to full-bodied red wines that are typically on the higher end of a wine list’s price range. Southern Rhône wines are made predominantly from the Grenache grape but Châteauneuf-du-Papes can be a blend of up to 13 grape varieties (though mainly Grenache and Mourvèdre). They’ll go best with veal or pork dishes, grilled meats or Ossobuco. Note, for a less expensive wine that’s similar, look for a Gigondas or a Vacqueyras.
  4. Super Tuscans. Super Tuscans are made in a part of Italy where they tend to grow foreign grape varietals. They’re big, bold and tannic red wines that pair best with steak and richer food served with heavier sauces. They can also be quite expensive!

Why rosé makes the best date night wine

A dry rosé is the perfect wine for a date night in the summer, but can you drink rosé all year long? Of course! A lot of couples love Asian food and rosé goes perfectly if you’re having Thai for dinner, Szechuan food or even a Vietnamese noodle night. That’s because rosé can stand up to the bolder flavors in the food. Rosé has more body than a regular white wine, but it’s still light and crisp, with the acidity of a white. It’s also pink which gives it a romantic feel. Note, rosé and White Zinfandel are different and you should steer clear of the latter unless your date prefers pink wines that are more sweet.

Are French wines more romantic?

For any special dinner with your significant other, wine helps to set the mood and it’s definitely the case that we associate French wines with romantic evenings.

Recreate a romantic French bistro at home for date night with Muscadet wine

Maybe it’s because Paris is the city of love and France has a longstanding history of producing excellent wines? Either way, there’s no reason why you can’t recreate the romantic Parisian bistro feel at home. Set a table for two, light a candle, and open a bottle of Muscadet to keep the romantic vibes flowing all night long.

End the night with dessert, and wine!

What’s a romantic night out without dessert? If you find yourself at an Italian restaurant, you could order a Vinsanto from Tuscany. It means “wine of health” and is a sweet, aged wine that goes best with biscotti. You can also pair it with sweet and nutty desserts, or a bread pudding with dried fruit. If you’re splitting a rich slice of chocolate fudge cake, a Vintage Style Port or the house Port make the perfect pairing. The latter will be rich in flavor and quite sweet. If you want to splurge and are ordering a dessert with vanilla, cream or honey notes, try a half-bottle of Sauternes. Far Niente also makes Dolce, a sweet late-harvest wine from California. If you don’t love sweet wines and are looking for a healthier option, you can always end the night with some fresh fruit, think strawberries, cherries and raspberries, and a glass of bubbly! Consider a Moscato d’Asti which is lower in alcohol, effervescent and always delicious.

More on wine food pairings

Food wine pairings are important to pay attention to on a dinner date

When food and wine complement each other, the flavors in both are enhanced and you can really elevate a meal with the right pairing.

If you’re starting your date night with a shrimp cocktail, try a Gavi di Gavi or another crisp, dry white. For a light entrée like a fish or chicken dish, you probably also want a white wine. For something heavier, like a lamb shank in a rich sauce or a ribeye steak, choose a fuller-bodied red wine to go with it like a Cabernet, Merlot, or a Brunello. For spicier meals like Thai food, Indian food or Mexican, try a Rioja from Spain or a wine that’s Grenache based.

Other things to think about

  • What if you and your date are having different kinds of meals? Order by the glass. It may not be the most romantic practice but it’s the perfect solution to make sure your food wine pairings come off just right. Ordering by the glass also gives you an opportunity to explore more of the wine list.
  • What’s in your budget? Never feel you have to go with the most expensive wine on the list. Look at the range of prices, and choose something from the middle instead. You can also ask the sommelier or your waiter if they can recommend a bottle in your price range. Alternatively, order wine by the glass.
  • What alcohol percentage is the wine? Don’t forget to keep drinking water throughout the night and be aware of which wines are higher in alcohol. Syrah and Shiraz, Malbec, reds from Bordeaux, Gigondas and other wines made with the Grenache grape, will usually be higher in alcohol, compared to a Pinot Noir or Beaujolais.
  • Wine roundup
author

Meredith is a freelance writer who writes about wine and food pairings in her free time. She spent many years working in the restaurant industry and even sold Côtes du Rhônes in the South of France a very long time ago.

Brian Keeping
Reviewer

Brian Keeping

Brian is an avid wine enthusiast and wine educator who has spent 45+ years in the fine wine industry. From 1975 to 1994 he was part owner and sales director of Silenus Wines and from 1994 to 2021 served as Fine Wine Director at Carolina Wines & Spirits.

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