Ordering Wine in a Restaurant…What is my Role?

Apr 22, 2017

It is not uncommon for me to approach a table to open a bottle of wine and the guest says, “I am really not sure what I am supposed to do here.” Well, why would you really?  Your parents teach you table manners, we’ve heard from Miss Manners that we should set the fork on the left side of the plate, our knife on the right, and put our napkins in our laps.  But, who really teaches one the etiquette for ordering and tasting wine in a restaurant?

This is your lucky day because I am going to spell that out for you right here to dispel the mystery, and make your next restaurant wine tasting experience more enjoyable.  It is really a very systematic operation, just as much as the servers’ role, in fact:

Select the Wine

Do not be afraid to ask the server or sommelier for a recommendation, and to tell them how much money you would like to spend.  No one will judge you negatively; in fact they will be happy you have helped them to narrow it down a bit.

Confirm the Wine

When the Sommelier/Server brings the wine to the table she will present it to you with the label facing toward you.  PLEASE confirm that she has brought the correct wine.  Sometimes we may have misunderstood you.

 Presentation of the Cork

The Sommelier/Server will open the wine and present the cork to you (the one who orders the wine will do the honors) to confirm that the cork is in good shape and it has been doing its job of protecting the wine while in bottle.

In the “olden days” there was apparently a time when people were refilling and re-corking expensive wines with plunk and selling it for way too much money.  Checking that the cork was branded with the Chateau or winery name was a way to confirm it was not counterfeit.

Some people like to smell the cork however, some professionals say it tells you nothing and just smells like cork. I find myself smelling the cork just in case it doesn’t smell like cork which may be an indication of a problem.

 The Taste

The Sommelier/Server will pour about an ounce of wine in your glass to smell and taste.  The main purpose of this is to asses the wine for flaws, mainly determining that the wine is not corked. Swirl the wine in the glass to release the aromas then stick your nose into the glass to smell itThis should bring a smile to your face.  Ensure the wine is not corked.

When the wine is corked, it is commonly described as wet, moldy cardboard.  I usually say, the moment when you remove a sweaty saddle from a horse that has been ridden hard.  No, I am not a horse person per se, but I have experienced this.  Once you smell a corked bottle, you never forget it.  If you get a chance to smell one do it, commit it to memory and feel wealthier to have that knowledge. If the wine is corked, tell the sommelier/server and they will bring you a new glass, a new bottle and begin the process over again.

Then, take a sip of the wine.  This is not really the time to decide whether you like the wine or not.  Once you order the wine, it is a commitment to those 750 milliliters of elixir to savor over the course of your meal.  This wine will reward you for your commitment by opening up and revealing her layers throughout the meal.  If you feel that the wine is a bit shy and “closed”, feel free to ask to have the wine decanted.

Decanting the wine is a process of moving wine from the original bottle to a bit larger vessel that will aerate the wine, and also allow the wine, once settled in its new home, the opportunity to breath.  Basically, I think of it in terms of Barbara Eden on I Dream of Jeannie; sometimes she would get locked up in her bottle for days on end, and when the Major would finally let her out, she was so happy and elated to be free again.  Or, in a slightly more technical sense, all the molecules have been cooped up in a 750 ml vessel for years without much movement at all.  When poured into a larger open top vessel these molecules can now mingle with all their friends once more, and well, party time begins.

While some say a wine will always benefit from decanting, there are some times when it is mandatory, including older wines that should be removed from the sediment and allowed to breath before consuming.

Let the Sommelier/Server know that you approve of the wine and that she may commence pouring it for you, and your guests.

The Service

Your Sommelier/Server will then serve your guests first, and end with you, then place the bottle within your reach.  Your role here is to simply sit back, relax and enjoy being taken care of.  It is time to congratulate yourself for making the wise decision of going out for dinner and enjoy time with your loved ones, friends, co-workers, frenemies, parole officer, ex-lovers, etc., etc.


By: Susan Marsh ~ Sommelier at Ladera Grill.