The drinking of wine is a celebration of life, good food and special company. Learning about wine should also be a pleasure! Let’s talk about ordering wine in a restaurant. This need not be complicated or intimidating, even if you’re a beginner.
Whether seated at a grand, full-service restaurant or your favorite bistro, a wine list should be available. It may be on the table or offered before or with the menu. If not, ask the waiter for the wine list. Regardless of format, certain info should be available on any good wine list. First, the complete name of the wine, this includes the name of the wine, the winemaker and the vintage. If a wine is listed without the name of the producer or the vintage, ask the waiter.
Most American restaurants do not have sommeliers or wine stewards. In restaurants concerned about their wine selection, service and sales, waiters are often trained to be able to suggest wines. If a sommelier is available, it is usually worth taking advantage of his/her services. Often when the services of a sommelier are available, the only way to find out is to ask. The benefits of including an expert in your wine selection are:
He/she can orchestrate and enliven the entire meal.
He/she have tasted the wines on the list more recently than you.
He/she knows how the menu items you ordered are actually being prepared.
Of course, some sommeliers are more knowledgeable than others. Do take advantage of feedback, yet, the decision is truly yours!
Keep a number of points in mind when choosing a wine:
Allow yourself a few minutes to review the wine list before discussing your choices. If you want suggestions, give your waiter/sommelier something to work with. Do you have a region in mind? Thinking all day of a Napa Valley Chardonnay? Interested in tasting a Syrah from Australia?
Consider the style of wine you want. Do you and your guests want a light body, a smooth finish, soft tannins or a heavier, aggressive wine? There is nothing wrong with saying you want something under $30.00 or pointing to a price on the list and saying “along these lines.” If wines are suggested that aren’t on the list, the waiter/sommelier should tell you the price and vintage; if they don’t, ask.
When ordering more than 1 wine, discuss when they’ll be served. The best rule of thumb is to have them all brought-and even opened-as soon as you order. This way, you can see that the wines are what you ordered and you don’t have to wait, should the waiter get too busy, for your next pour!
The waiter now opens the wine by removing the cork. Prior to this, the capsule is removed and the cork wiped as dust or mold may have adhered to the cork while the wine was waiting in the winery, for the capsule to be placed. Once the cork is removed, the process moves towards tasting. The waiter should present the cork to the person who ordered the wine. Most people think they’re supposed to sniff the cork. This is not so! After all, a cork smells like cork! The point is to inspect the condition of the cork. Is it moist? This is a good sign. A dry cork could indicate a storage problem, that the bottle was upright and not stored on its side. If a cork is dried-out, air may have gotten in the bottle and oxidized the wine, thereby diminishing the quality of the wine.
Smelling and tasting are the next steps. The taster is looking for flaws that render the wine unacceptable. Taste once, then a second time, concentrating on the taste. There are several reasons to reject a bottle of wine. It may be “corky” and smell like mould: the result of a bad cork, not poor winemaking. A “maderized” wine has the distinct aroma of sweet Sherry or Madeira, hence the term. This is usually the result of poor storage or exposure to heat. A taster may also detect sulphur in the nose or the taste of a wine. Often, this dissipates with a bit of swirling; if it doesn’t, it may make the wine unpleasant and worthy of rejection. Some restaurants have policies on rejected wine, others handle each situation individually. It is very poor judgment for a restaurateur to put a customer on the spot and challenge his/her taste. If the wine is expensive, say about $50.00, the restaurateur may come to your table for a taste of the wine. It doesn’t take an experienced wine drinker to detect these flaws with bottled wine. If the cork is dry or the taste is compromised, tell your waiter.
We hope these tips on ordering wine in restaurants are helpful.
Follow these suggestions with confidence!
By Diana Shaban