08 August 2007

How To Order Wine In a Restaurant (And Not Come Off As An Asshole) Part 1

You've been there before. You're on a date. You're dining with company. You're dining with your boss. It's decided that you want wine, but a) You don't know anything about wine and b)You don't know anything about wine. What do you do?

I'm thinking of this as a multi-part series. I don't feel like writing about the flooding in New York, or the earthquake in SIngapore or the war in Iraq. How about something useful and trivial?

Today's wine post is going to be about how to order a bottle properly. I'll maybe do a little Wine 101 later, if I feel like it. So, let's take it away.

Let's assume a wine has been chosen by you or someone else at the table. Your server comes over, and asks you what bottle you want. If you don't know how to pronounce it, that's okay. Either point at the bottle on the list for the server to see, or order the bottle by the bin number (which is really there so people won't be embarrassed by mispronouncing something).

Your server has returned to the table. Now is your time to shine. Here are the steps to follow, and why.

-Your server will present the bottle. This isn't a theatrical gesture (or shouldn't be). The bottle is being displayed for a couple of reasons. Is it the right producer? The right grape? The right vintage? Look closely. It was the waiter's job to get the bottle, but it's your job to make sure it's the right one. Don't make a big deal out of it. Just look and see if it is the 2005 Martinelli Pinot Noir that you ordered. If it is the 2003, or maybe the syrah, tell the waiter that it's the wrong bottle. Once it's opened, it's yours, so make sure.

-The waiter opens the bottle. If it's a screwcap, don't be afraid. Plenty of beautiful, artistically made wines are now using screwcaps. Most wines from Australia and New Zealand, for instance. Don't say something stupid like, "Oh, I don't drink wine with screwcaps." That's just asinine.

Now, if it has a cork, it could either be a real or fake one. There's nothing wrong with fake corks, either.

If it's a real one, the server might present it to you, or they might just stick it in their pocket. Personally, I like to see the cork. Is it all dried out, implying that the bottle may have been stored improperly? Is it the right cork? The bottle might have been mislabled. I've found corks in bottles that were from a different vintage than the bottle claimed (although this is rare). But do you need to see the cork? It's up to you.

Should you sniff the cork? Why would anyone do that?

Don't sniff the cork.

Cork comes from the bark of a type of tree that primarily grows in Portugal. Being a natural product, it can pick up a chemical called 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, or TCA. If it does, it causes what is referred to as "corking" the bottle.

-The waiter pours a little wine in your glass. This is not to see if you like it. You already had the bottle opened. It's yours. This is to see if the wine is corked. How will you know? There are many things that wine can smell or taste like, from black cherries to cow manure. A wine should never smell like wet cardboard, though. If it smells and tastes like wet cardboard, the wine is probably corked. Not sure? Ask the waiter or manager to try it, or someone else at your table.

This is why wineries are switching away from real corks to other enclosures. You could spend $5 or $500 on a bottle, and it could be corked. But you could spend $5 to $500 on a bottle with a screwcap, and it will always be okay.

Back to the table, though. The server pours a little wine in your glass. Swirl it around if you feel comfortable doing that, otherwise, just take a sip and make sure it doesn't taste like wet cardboard. Tell the server, "okay." Or "Go ahead." Or "It's great." Or whatever.

DON'T USE THIS OPPORTUNITY TO INSPECT THE COLOR OF THE WINE, OR THE BOTTLE, OR THE LEGS. The server is just going to be standing there, waiting for you to give the okay to pour. The people at the table are waiting to get their wine. Don't hold it up. Let 'em go. Afterwards you can do all of this stuff. If you try it while the waiter and the table are waiting, YOU WILL LOOK LIKE AN ASSHOLE. Just sip, and either okay it or not.

In short:

1) Order the bottle
2) Inspect the bottle
3) Taste the wine
4) Approve the bottle (or not).

Deviating from any of these steps makes you an asshole. The people that are most impressive are the ones that can do this in their sleep. Think about Cary Grant. How would he order a bottle (although, it turns out that he actually wasn't a wine drinker)?

If you or any of your friends disagree with anything I've written here (e.g. Sniff the cork! No, you're tasting the wine to see if you like it! Make sure the wine has good legs before accepting it!)...YOU OR THEY ARE WRONG.


Trust me.


Part 2 will be coming along shortly. But if you have any simple wine questions, ask them in a comment below. If I don't know the answer, I'll find out. Remember, drinking wine doesn't make you an asshole, only drinking wine like an asshole.


Laaw-yuhr said...

This was great. Thank you. More people should read this.

Do you know a great deal about wine? I'm thinking of posting some recipes and it might be nice to know someone who can make a wine pairing. I'm also thinking of writing a cookbook called "Cooking With Booze".

The Idea Of Progress said...

I'll handle wine pairings next, since you've asked so nicely.

Valerie said...

So where's the part 2 of this lesson?

This is good info.