If you’re like most people, you are handed a nice leather bound restaurant wine list and panic begins to set in as you try to choose what to order. It is likely that everyone at the table shares the same fear and are quite content letting you shoulder this heavy burden. A few simple rules will have you ordering wine like a pro while your dinner companions admire you as some sort of “wine god”.
If the restaurant has a sommelier (Soh-mell-yay), the proper name for a wine steward, ask them to guide you through choosing an appropriate wine for your meal. A good sommelier will know which wines on their list pair well with their menu items. If not, ask the waiter what they recommend. Even if the extent of their knowledge is that they have both white and red wine, they should know what is popular. If this fails, you may wish to look somewhere in the middle of the wine list price range and select a variety that you like. If you’re still confused, a safe bet is cabernet sauvignon or merlot for a hearty red and chardonnay or pinot grigio for a white.
Now that you have ordered the wine, the real fun begins. You are ready to show the waiter and your guests that you know wine! When the waiter brings you the bottle he/she should hold it for you to inspect the label. Make sure that it is the wine you ordered.
The waiter will open the bottle and may hand you the cork. Many experts advise against smelling the cork but since you are paying for the wine, it is up to you. The waiter will pour you a small sample that you should hold at a 45-degree angle and inspect the wine for clarity. Ponder the wine for several seconds while looking intently at the wine against the tablecloth. Even if you don’t know what you’re looking for, it will impress everyone!
Next, swirl the glass for about three seconds and take a really good sniff of the wine. If the wine smells clean and “fruity” you can taste the wine and nod for the waiter to pour it for the table. If the wine smells of moldy hay or wet cardboard, send it back. The wine is “corked” and even the best wines can be affected. Cork taint is caused by contaminates in the cork, not the wine. This is a valid reason for asking for another bottle.
You now have the basic tools you need to stand up to the snootiest waiter and show the world that you will not be intimidated by a 10-pound wine list.