Wine Basics: Ordering a bottle of wine at a restaurant

Ordering wine in a restaurant can be a bit intimidating but it does not need to be as frightening if you follow these simple rules.

  1. Talk to the sommelier, wine steward or wait staff. They are there to help ensure that you have a positive experience. The more information you give them the better they can assist you with picking an appropriate wine. Tell them some of your favorite wines, what you are planning to have for dinner and what you are willing to spend on a bottle. A well-constructed restaurant wine list will have wines at different price points.
  2. Once you have selected a wine, the sommelier will bring the wine over for you to inspect. There is a bit of ceremony involved in this but it is there to double check everything.
  3. The server or sommelier will show you the bottle to make sure it is the wine you ordered. Be sure to check the label carefully. Pay special attention to the vintage, producer, wine region and any special designation such as Reserve or and vineyard specifics. If the bottle is the one you ordered, let them know that it is the correct bottle.
  4. The sommelier will remove the cork, place it in front of you. At this point Inspect the cork and sniff it to make sure it’s in good condition. You want to do this in case a wine has become “corked”. The cork itself will give an unpleasant odor that resembles wet newspaper or a moldy smell. Physically, the cork might be either wet and shriveled or dry and crumbly; either one suggests that air has gotten into the wine and spoiled it.
  5. If the cork raises your suspicions, wait to smell and taste the wine itself before deciding if you should reject the bottle.
  6. Next the sommelier or server will pour a small amount of wine into your glass and waits for you to assess the wine. You will want to swirl the wine in the glass, take a sniff, taste the wine and then indicate whether you find the wine acceptable. If the wine is fine, let the sommelier or server know. If something is wrong with the wine, now is the time to return it — not after you’ve finished half the bottle.If you think that the bottle is tainted let the server know by describing what you think is wrong with the wine. The sommelier or wine specialist will remove the bottle and will either bring you another bottle of the same wine or he may bring you the wine list so you can select a different wine. In either case, the wine ritual will begin again. If you accept the wine, the server pours the wine into your guests’ glasses and then finally into your glass.
  7. Enjoy your wine, dinner and company.
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