Tip 1: Order by the glass or by the bottle?
At many restaurants and bars, wines offered by the glass tend to be of lesser quality than wine sold by the bottle, but the percentage markup is higher. This isn’t always true, however, and there are good reasons for going with wine by the glass:
• You’re a dedicated red-drinker dining with a stubborn whites-only companion. Neither of you are willing to compromise on rosé or Champagne, so it seems that by-the-glass is your only way to go!
• You need to drive and you have neither the time nor tolerance for more than one glass.
• You are feeling adventurous or want to test your food pairing skills and want to have a different wine with each course.
• Every once in a while, if a restaurant or bar is having trouble selling an otherwise fantastic wine by the bottle, they’ll offer it by the glass. It may be on the expensive side, but the whole bottle would be a lot more expensive, and this is a great opportunity to try some great wine that is worth sipping slowly.
Tip 2: Ask your server for guidance
Asking your server for help is always a good idea. Keep in mind that, although they are there to serve you, servers are also salespeople working on behalf of the restaurant. If you ask the waiter what he recommends without any guidance, he may try to steer you towards the more expensive wines or perhaps the ones the manager has told him or her to get out the door!
Give your server some guidance. Let the server know what food you’re thinking of ordering, give a brief run-down of things you like in a wine — or tell him about wines you have had and liked, and most importantly do not be embarrassed to give your server a price range.
Don’t feel you need to listen to your server go on at length about various wines if you have no intention of ordering them, or if you’ve already made up your mind!
Tip 3: Ordering a wine with a complicated name
We’ve all found ourselves in the position of wanting to order a wine with a name we can’t pronounce. Rather than attempting to say the name, we might hold the wine list up, point, and say, “That one.” While this is surely one way to order wine, it’s not the best way to do it and can definitely lead to an expensive mistake!
• If you can’t even begin to imagine how to pronounce something, look just to the left of the name of the wine. Chances are it may have a BIN number attached to it and you are welcome to use that to order your wine.
• Don’t be embarrassed if you bungle it — try to find at least part of the whole description that you do know how to say along with the year attached to the bottle. Look for a producer’s name, the grape variety, or the name of the wine.
Finally, when it comes time to actually taste your wine, you know how the server typically presents the bottle for your inspection? Pay attention — you want to make sure that they’ve brought you the wine you ordered, so look for the winemaker’s name, the year, and the name of the specific bottle you ordered.
Tip 4: Tasting your wine
When the server pours the wine for you to taste, take the time to actually try it. If you have the slightest suspicion that something’s not right, don’t be afraid to speak up. Ask someone else at your table to taste it and if they agree, most likely, the waiter will take the bottle to a manager or wine person to taste, as well. They will replace the bottle if it is, in fact, bad.
Unfortunately, if you order a bottle that you taste and just plain hate, that’s not a good enough reason to send it back. Unless the wine has been grossly misrepresented by your server (another good reason to ask for his advice), not liking the wine you ordered is not a good enough reason to send it back.
Finally, you don’t need to sniff the cork. The reason that servers and sommeliers may do this is to make sure that the bottle hasn’t been compromised before they pour it for you — so there is no need for you to pick up the cork and put it to your nose after the wine has been poured.