You're hosting a business dinner with important clients, or maybe it's your anniversary, and you're celebrating by having dinner at a five-star restaurant. Your server comes by the table to introduce themselves and hands you the wine list. The server tells you the Sommelier will be over in a few minutes to take your wine order. You look at the wine list; it's as thick as a book with pages of wines you're unfamiliar with and entirely out of your price range. You feel your heart beating faster as you keep reading through. You think to yourself, what am I going to do?
Ordering a bottle of wine at a restaurant doesn't have to be stressful.
The process is the same at any fine dining establishment. Once you're familiar with the process of ordering a bottle of wine and what to do when it arrives at your table, you'll be able to order wine at any restaurant confidently.
Selecting Your Wine
Many restaurants have a Sommelier on staff, a trained wine professional who can guide guests through the wine list. It may feel intimidating at first to talk to the Sommelier, but they are there to help you, not to judge you. The Sommelier knows the restaurant's wine list best and most likely put the list together for the restaurant. The more information you give the Sommelier, the better they can help you choose a wine you enjoy and pairs well with your meal.
You will receive the wine menu from your server or the Sommelier themselves. Once you have the list, you will have time to review it. The list may be a single page or a small book depending on how many different bottles of wine the restaurant offers. Many wine lists are organized by style or wine or country of origin and will also include the price per bottle and the vintage of the wine.
After you've had time to review, the Sommelier will come to your table to ask if you have any questions or are ready to order a bottle of wine. If you have already decided, order your wine, but do not order your food from the Sommelier, only your wine.
If you are unsure what wine to order, tell the Sommelier your wine preferences, what dishes your party plans to order, and even your price point for the bottle. The more information you give your Sommelier will help them narrow down the choices on the list and suggest wines that will be a good fit.
Remember, the Sommelier is not there to judge your wine preferences or budget. They want you to enjoy the wine you order and want it to pair well with what you're eating. If the restaurant does not have a sommelier, your server will be the one leading you through the process of selecting and opening the wine.
Receiving Your Wine
Once you've decided on a bottle, the Sommelier will bring it to the table. Now the opening and tasting process begins. This process is the same at any restaurant. The Sommelier will show you the bottle so you can inspect the label and ensure it is the exact wine you ordered. Check the label name and vintage to ensure it matches the wine you initially requested, as mistakes can happen. Also, be sure to look at the condition of the label. A damaged label could be a sign the wine was not stored correctly.
If you're satisfied that everything is in order let the Sommelier know to proceed. If this is the incorrect wine or it appears damaged or stored incorrectly, let the Sommelier know, and they will get you another bottle.
Next, the Sommelier will remove the foil from the bottle and uncork the wine. They will then show you the cork or place it on the table for you to examine.
Visually inspect the cork, but do not sniff it. You want to ensure the cork is not crumbling or damaged. Also, don't pass the cork to other people at the table. The person who ordered the wine is the only one who should inspect the cork now.
The Sommelier will then pour a small sample of the wine into a glass and hand it to you to taste. Many people make the mistake that is to see if you like the wine. This assumption is incorrect, as this taste is for you to ensure the wine is free from faults. If you don't like the flavor of the wine, you can not send it back. You can only send it back if something is wrong with the wine. For example, if the wine is corked.
Once you have the glass with the taste in it, look at the wine in the glass, swirl the wine, sniff, and take a small sip to ensure the wine is free from defects. Don't pass this taste around the table. Remember, whoever ordered the wine is the one who inspects it.
If there is something wrong with the wine, let the Sommelier know. They will get you a different bottle, and you will repeat opening and inspecting the process. If the wine is free from faults, let the Sommelier know that everything is good, and they will begin pouring the wine for each person at the table.
Bottle or Glass?
Most restaurants will also have a small selection of wines available by the glass. Wine by the glass is a good choice if you plan on only having one glass of wine or if everyone in your party has a different beverage preference. However, if more than one person is drinking wine or you plan on having more than one glass, it may be more cost-effective to order a bottle of wine and split it as long as everyone can agree on the type of wine to order.