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How to Order Wine in a Restaurant

Lesson Goals:

    1. Learn the key consideration factors when deciding which wine to order
    2. Know what to do when the sommelier present you the bottle
    3. Learn when to send a bottle back.

Executive Summary:

What Wine to Order?

Ordering wine in a restaurant can be fun instead of intimidating. Here are few consideration factors and some practical tips:

Key consideration factors:

cartoon wine pop

Practical tips -- If you need help on which bottle to order, below are example of practical questions to ask. The key is be specific so the sommelier gives you a solid answer instead of an entertaining one.

Last but not least, for business or important dinners, you can always plan ahead. Call the restaurant ahead of time and ask them to send you their wine list. Do your research on these wines, pick few options, making sure there is a back-up plan. Often the wine menus are not updated in time, vintage changes and the wines you want could be unavailable.

What to do?

wine splash

When the sommelier present the bottle in front of you, check that it is the wine you have ordered. Is it the right producer, appellation / field, and vintage?

With your approval, the sommelier will then open the bottle, lay the cork in front of you, and pour you a small tasting glass.

Do not smell the cork. It does not tell you if the wine is faulty or not. Instead give the glass a gentle swirl, and do the clean test (refer to the wine tasting lesson).

Return the bottle if it is corked or oxidized. It is estimated that 3-5% of the wines in this world is corked. Probability is not high, but still there.

As for oxidization, it could happen with mature wines especially those with poor storage conditions. Sign of possible oxidation -- if the color of the wine is unusally brown; if the cork is utterly dry and cracked at opening.

If the wine is good, check if the serving condition is optimal. Give it another swirl, sniff, and a generous sip. Remember there is an optimal temperature for each type of wine and many wines could benefit from aeration. (refer to the serving wine lesson).

In short, three questions to ask yourself:

1. Is it clean? No notes of cardboxes (corked) or sherry (oxidation)?

2. Is it at the perfect temperature? Do you want an ice bucket to chill the wine?

3. Does it require decanting? Does it feel tight and closed?


Interesting Knowledge...

Excessive sulfur could be a fault as well, though not as common as an oxidized or corked wine. If you smell intense, offensive notes of rotten eggs, do return the bottle.