First Date: Wine and Appetizers to Spark Conversation

  • Rebecca Traynor

First dates are the stuff of legend. Everybody’s got a first date story. Whether it’s the start of a beautiful adventure or an absolute disaster, the night will very likely be something to remember. Fraught with the potential to go either way, choosing a fun, easy, ice-breaking activity is sure to get you off to a good start.

First date planning should err on the low-key side. An elaborate date may be appropriate for someone you've been dating a while, but when you’re getting to know someone it's best to keep it simple and relatively brief.

Meeting for a glass of wine or a cocktail and sharing an app or two is a great idea. A little liquid fortification is a great way to help you both relax – but how concerned should you be about choosing the “right” wine?

You want to make a good impression, but you don’t want to get it wrong. Wine is, after all, a complex subject. Beyond the knowledge that your date actually enjoys the occasional glass of wine, you don’t know how much they know, or if you should be boning up on your terminology.

If you’re a little afraid of being judged by the selections you choose, keep in mind that wine is one of the most pleasurable things that mother nature has bestowed upon us. It is meant to be enjoyed, not feared. So, go on, intrepid first-date warrior, you’ve got this.

And even if you don’t, we’ve put together some handy first-date wine and appetizer tips to get you started:

Location, location, location!

Choose a location that is relatively quiet so that you can hear each other talk. Wine always sparks conversation, so this is important.

By the glass or by the bottle?

While a bottle may seem like a lot, it actually works out to about 2 glasses each. If this sounds about right and you can agree on one wine, then go for it. However, if your date wants red and you want white (or vice versa), by the glass is probably better. Depending on what you choose, it may also be more economical and more interesting. Unless you are meeting at a location that has a wide variety of wines by the glass, the list wines might be more interesting.

How much should you spend?

Here’s where it gets tricky. You don’t want to cheap out, but you also don’t want to go too over the top. Keep it simple. Think about how much you would like to spend and see what they have in that range. Like a cab from Napa Valley? how about a merlot from Chile? The latter will be more value-priced, but the former has the potential to be expensive and “just okay”. When in doubt, ask to see the sommelier or consult with the waiter. Point to the amount you would like to spend and ask for a suggestion in that range. By pointing out the price rather than discussing it aloud, you can keep the business to a minimum and make the process seem effortless. After all, the attention should be on your date, right?

What apps go with what wines?

While there are few wrong answers in this department—largely because most wines are made in a “drink now” style—there are a few “classic” pairings that will both tickle your taste buds and impress your date. Here are some sommelier-approved wine and app pairing tips:

Calamari (fried with chili sauce or aioli on the side) pairs perfectly with Semillon, white Bordeaux, or sparkling wine. For any fried appetizer, err on the sweet side: a little sweetness in the wine balances the fattiness of the food.

Truffled frites (or any kind of fries, really) goes very well with a shiraz from Australia.

Chicken wings may be a favourite, but since they’re messy, it might not be a great first-date choice. However, if you must, choose either a pinot noir or an off-dry riesling from Germany or Ontario. Even if the wings are suicide-hot, a pinot noir will stand up like a champ. Don’t let its light colour fool you!

Goat cheese demands a tangy wine like sauvignon blanc. Sauv blanc also goes well with salads, tapenades, and olives just on their own. It’s also a perfect pairing with sushi or oysters if you lean that way.

Shrimp, crab, crab cakes, lobster, or other shellfish (besides oysters) demands a rich, buttery chardonnay. If you or your date doesn’t like oaky chardonnay, choose a Chablis — a chardonnay from France that is unoaked, but easily rich enough for shellfish.

Cheeses: while cheese is almost as broad a subject as wine in terms of flavour options, big red wines go well with harder cheeses like cheddar and pecorino. Soft, bloomy cheeses do well with champagne, sparkling wine, gamay and pinot noir. Stinky cheeses (such as blue cheese) are a bit trickier, but the general rule is the stinkier the cheese, the sweeter the wine should be. Port is a good choice here, or Sauternes.

Mixed bag: If your destination restaurant offers “flights” (meaning you get to try several wines offered in 2oz pours instead of one big glass of the same wine) you can have a little fun with it. Flights are great if you’re getting a cheese or charcuterie plate with several selections.

Celebrate your success at Traynor Family Vineyard

Once you’re firmly committed to a second, third or fourth date, why not take a drive out to wine country for the day? Traynor Family Vineyards in Prince Edward County is dedicated to making quality wines with grapes sourced from our estate vineyards. It’s the perfect launching pad to begin a wine country adventure and we’d love to see you here.