Wine Etiquette in a Restaurant
Before you place your order, there are several issues that must be resolved. You must determine how much you would like to spend, what wine will pair well with the meal you have ordered, and what to do when the wine is brought to the table.
The wine list may or may not offer useful guidance for selecting your wine. The detail on the lists can range from descriptive language that gives you a general idea about the taste of the wine, to basic classifications that offer little or no guidance.
The best wine lists offer a wide variety of wines and prices – some that are familiar and some that are more unique. The wine list should have a wide selection of wines priced at the same level as an entrée or slightly more.
To discreetly inform the sommelier how much you would like to spend without announcing it to the table:
- Start by selecting a wine in the category you are interested in and find a wine at the price point you are comfortable with.
- Show the sommelier your selection and ask for his opinion,
- Place your finger on the price, rather than the name, when pointing the wine out.
- This communicates to the sommelier the price range you are comfortable with.
A good rule of thumb to determine how many bottles to order is to start with a half bottle per person. If the group includes at least three people, you may try ordering a bottle of red and a bottle of white.
Memorizing the different characteristics of each variety, region, and country can be daunting. If you don’t have the time or inclination to study, just remember that the following food-friendly wines will pair well with almost anything and are generally available in several prices:
- Pinot Noir. If you’d like to order a red wine, choose a Pinot Noir. The Burgundy region of France, California, Washington, and Oregon all produce quality Pinot Noirs.
- Riesling. If you’d like a white wine, select a drier Riesling from Germany or the Alsace region of France.
If you have the time and want to expand your horizons, you can obtain a copy of the restaurant’s wine list and review it beforehand. The lists are commonly available on the Internet, can be received by fax, or you can stop by the restaurant and obtain one in person. This will give you time to study the varieties, wineries, and vintages on the list. You can also learn how to correctly pronounce the names of the wines.
The sommelier is a specially trained, knowledgeable wine specialist. He or she creates the restaurant’s wine list and has an intimate knowledge of the wines on it. Don’t hesitate to ask the sommelier for assistance. They are available to help you make selections based on your preferences, food choices, and price.
If asking the sommelier for help, be prepared to answer the following questions:
- What kind and style of wine do you like?
- What types of food will you be eating?
- Are you open to trying new wines?; and
- How much do you want to drink?
Most restaurants offer a smaller selection of wines by the glass, so that you don’t have to purchase an entire bottle. This gives you a chance to experiment with a few different wines. When ordering wine by the glass, you should be aware that you may be getting wine from a previously opened bottle. You should ask the server when the bottle was opened. If it has been open for one or more days, you may want to make another selection.
It is commonly the host’s responsibility to order wine for the table. At some point after you place the order, the sommelier or server will return to your table with the bottle for you to sample. You simply inspect the wine to confirm that you received the wine you ordered and that it does not have any flaws.
Here is what will happen:
- The server will offer the wine bottle for your visual inspection. Look at the label to ensure it is the wine and vintage you ordered. If it is not, tell the server.
- The server will then remove the cork and put it on the table in front of you. Pick it up, examine it and squeeze it to determine if it is dry and crumbly or completely wet – both clues that air may have reached and spoiled the wine.
- The server will then pour a small amount of wine into your glass. Look at it against a white background. Swirl it, put your nose in the glass, and take a deep breath. Take a sip and roll it around in your mouth before you swallow. If you don’t detect any flaws, nod to the server. That’s it!
If the wine smells like wet cardboard, tastes like vinegar, or is otherwise flawed, you should send it back. Simply say, “I am afraid this is a bad bottle, I’d like to send it back.” Even if you are the only one that notices a flaw, the server should replace the bottle. The restaurant will send the bottle back to the distributor for free a replacement.
- Mike Lininger, Editor, Etiquette Scholar
If you find any typographical errors, inaccuracies, or inconsistencies, or if you just have something to add, please email us.