Ordering Wine In A Restaurant


Dinner out with family and friends is a fun and relaxing experience, but the beginning of the evening can be somewhat nerve-wracking when it comes to ordering wine in a restaurant. Not only do you have to order a bottle of wine, but then there is the whole serving process; bottle presentations, cork inspection, tiny pours, and the whole time, everyone watching to see what you say. Fear not, weary drinker, WLD is here to get you through the presentation portion (which wine to choose is on you) like a wine boss.¬†Wine service can vary in formality, depending on what kind of restaurant you’re visiting. But regardless of dress code, the basics will be the same: presentation, validation, sampling, validation, pour, enjoy.


Once the wine arrives, the server will present the bottle to you for approval. This is the first step in the process, and it’s crucial. Glossing over the bottle can be a big mistake both from an enjoyment standpoint and financially. You must ensure the server brought you the right bottle. There are three main things you want to check: the producer, grape variety (or blend name) and vintage. If anything isn’t right, let the server know so he or she can fetch the proper bottle. Be forewarned, if you approve the wrong bottle you will be responsible for it financially. Yeah I know, that sucks, but you approved it, so make sure it’s right the first time!


Once you’ve approved the bottle, the server will uncork the wine (if it’s a screw-top this step will be skipped) and present you the cork, now what? Should you sniff the cork? Bite the cork? Play finger football with someone else at the table? All you really need to do is inspect the cork. There should be some printing on it that indicates the wine’s producer. Make sure it matches. You also want to check that the cork doesn’t have any wine staining running from end to end on the cork. This may be a sign that air seeped into the wine and that it may be oxidized.


Finally, you will be poured a taste of the wine to ensure it’s not faulted, it is not to ensure that you like the wine. Look at the wine. Is it cloudy, or brown around the edges (of a young wine)? If so, it could be another sign of oxidation. Now, smell the wine, and don’t be shy about it. Get in there and take a deep whiff. Does it smell “off?” Some off orders to be on the lookout for include a musty wet basement or wet cardboard smell. This could be a sign of “cork taint.” Is it dull or lifeless? It could be oxidized. How about burnt matches or rotten eggs? That’s probably too much sulfur. Now it’s time to taste the wine (’bout time!). Gently swirl it around in your mouth and swallow. Does it taste clean and vibrant? Vinegary, or flat and blah flavors could be signs of faults. If it all checks out, let your server know and he or she will pour the wine for everyone.

What to do if you think the wine is faulted?

If the wine seems off to you, let the server know that you think there is a problem. State exactly what seems off to you. The server should then remove the bottle to retrieve another one. Understand that the removed wine will likely be tasted by others once it gets behind closed doors to verify the fault. Someone may even come out to discuss what you found faulted in the wine (this is more to make sure you aren’t trying to return a bottle you just didn’t like).

The bottom line when ordering wine in a restaurant is that it shouldn’t be a worrisome ordeal. Ninety-eight percent of the time the wine will be fine, but if you do come across a faulted bottle the restaurant will happily replace it with another bottle. So be confident, have fun, and enjoy being the wine boss of the table.