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Ordering Wine In A Restaurant


One of life’s greatest pleasures is dining out in a fine restaurant. It’s a great way to relax and enjoy some fine wine and food with family and friends especially after a long hard day. I love dining out but ordering the wine for your table can be intimidating for anyone.   There are a lot of issues to consider, like:  How much should I spend?  What if I don’t know what to pick or don’t recognize many of the wines? And how about the etiquette of tasting the wine when the waiter brings it to the table?

Your wine list may be organized in different ways. If it’s an extensive wine list, it may be organized according the country the wine is from. Some wine lists are organized according to the grape varietal such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay etc. Some smaller wine lists might be organized by price. Almost all wine lists separate the red wines from the whites.

Once you’ve picked the category, and the waiter, or sommelier is there, point to a wine that is within the price range you desire and say, “What do you think of this wine?” A good starting point is to pick a wine that is about the price of an entrée or slightly higher.  There should be plenty of selections in that price range for you to pick from. Remember, there are great wines in every price range.  Don’t feel pressured to spend more than you want to. By pointing to the price, you’ve communicated to your server the range you are comfortable with without having to say it out loud in front your guests.  If your server wants to recommend an alternative he or she will know what price range to choose from.

Once your waiter has brought the bottle to your table and presented it to you, check the label to be sure it is the right wine and the right vintage.   The waiter will then open the bottle and place the cork down next to your plate.  It is not necessary to do anything with the cork.  Some people like to feel the cork to see if it is moist, meaning that the wine has been stored properly on its side. You can smell the cork, but mostly you will just smell cork, it won’t tell you anything about the condition of the wine.  The only way you can check the condition of the wine is by tasting it.  Remember, you are not tasting the wine to see if you like it, you are tasting it to check the condition of the wine.  A wine that is oxidized, or past  its prime, will have a slight brown tinge to it and may not taste fresh.  Sometimes a wine is “corked” which means the cork has been tainted by a bacteria that affects the taste of the wine. A corked wine is not dangerous to your health, but it will smell like a musty, and taste like wet cardboard.

When the waiter pours you an ounce of wine to taste, first check the color and clarity.  It should be clear, not cloudy, and should be a shade of red or a shade of yellow, not brown, unless you are having tawny port. Swirl the wine and sniff it to check the aromas. You should be smelling the fruit of the wine, nothing musty.  Sip the wine and let your waiter know if you think it is I good condition and whether the temperature is right. If you think the wine is not in good condition, let your waiter know and they will usually bring you another bottle.  You may want to ask for your wine to be placed in an ice bath if it is white wine, and sometimes even red will benefit form a few minutes in an ice bath.  It’s up to how you like your wine.

The waiter will serve the women at the table first, then the men and lastly, the host, or hostess.  A bottle of wine contains about five glasses.  If your party is larger you may need to order two bottles.  Otherwise, your waiter will ration the wine so that everyone has some. Enjoy!


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