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Ordering Wines at a Restaurant

So you are at your favorite restaurant and out comes the intimidating, leather bound wine list, which can often have anywhere from 20-40 different types of wines from various countries with equally varied pricetags. How do you go about ordering wine for your table? First, remember that the trained wait staff or Sommelier is there to help and not hinder. Most restaurants that offer decent wine lists will also offer decent training for their servers. Ask which wines are their best sellers, which wines will partner well with the entrees you are leaning towards and ultimately which wines are in your price range?

The Wine List – What’s Included

A well-written wine list will include the wine’s producer and country of origin, the vintage, specific varietal tasting notes and offer suggestions for ideal food pairings.

Get a feel for everyone’s wine preferences – white or red, sweet or dry and what types of food people will be ordering. If there are votes for both whites and reds, consider a palatable compromise - leaning towards a heavy white, like an oak-filled Chardonnay or a lighter red, a Pinot Noir or even a light-bodied Merlot. Or go crazy and order one of each. Keep in mind that a typical bottle of wine (750 ml) should serve 3 people enjoying in moderation. On a linguistic note, if you are uncertain of a wine’s pronounciation, and don’t want to go out on a limb, refer to the bin number if available or point to the selection and wait for your server to do the honors – it happens all the time.  

The Decision Is Made, Now What?

Buckle up, the winning wine is on its way. First things first, the server should show you the unopened wine’s label so that you can verify that the wine that has arrived is in fact the wine you ordered. Check the varietal , vintage and producer. After the wine label checks out the server will open the bottle and present you with the cork. Now what? No need to smell it, like Hollywood advocates – but do take a look at the end to make sure it hasn’t crumbled (an indication that it may have been stored improperly) and see that the cork is not dried out or cracked throughout. Next the server will pour a small sample for you to taste . Begin by observing the wine’s color and clarity. Is it cloudy or brownish in color? Only very old vintages should have this appearance. Now give the wine a good sniff. Do you smell any vinegar (sign of oxidation) or musty cork (sign of faulty cork) smells? Taste the sample, is it in good condition, free of any apparent oxidation or “corked” flavors? If so, tell your server that it is a keeper and he/she will pour the selection for the table. Quick tip - this process from label check to tasting check should only take about 30 seconds.

A great wine can bring a whole new dimension to your dining experience. Ordering the wine should be just as enjoyable as drinking it. Keep these tips in mind the next time you are holding the leather-bound list and you will be well on your way to making an informed decision in selecting and enjoying the winning wine(s) to join your table.

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