Often times the sommelier will start by asking you what kind of wine you like. If you know you’ve had and enjoyed a particular varietal (Zinfandel, Chardonnay etc.) go ahead and let them know. If you can remember where it was from or who the producer was, even better! However, if you can’t remember specifics don’t be afraid to use general descriptors – sweet, dry, fruity and easy-to-drink are all great starting points. Even if you’re not much of a wine drinker – say you’re a beer aficionado – tell the sommelier the kinds of things you do like to drink and what qualities draw you to it.
Another good approach is to figure out a standard way of ordering wine that you can use every time you are in a restaurant. If you like a big, rich, full-bodied red wine that’s not dry or tannic and you’ve found that saying just that works for you, then go ahead and say it!
Finally, let your sommelier what dishes you are planning to order as he/she will likely have some great food paring suggestions for you.
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.
Next, make sure you take the time to actually try it – even if it’s a wine you’ve already tasted. Even if it’s a wine you’ve had a thousand glasses of – taste it. You’re not tasting the wine to see if you like it so much as you’re tasting it to make sure that it hasn’t been corked or otherwise compromised.
If you have the slightest suspicion that something’s not right, don’t be afraid to speak up. There is absolutely nothing wrong with mentioning that you think the wine is off. 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 sommelier 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 sommelier (another good reason to ask for their advice), not liking the wine you ordered is not a good enough reason to send it back.
Finally, the reason that servers and sommeliers sniff the cork is to make sure that the bottle hasn’t been compromised before they pour it for you – so you don’t need to worry about sniffing the cork after the wine has been poured.