How To Order Wine Like A Pro
Picture yourself on a date. You wanted to do something special for your first dinner date, and you’re at a plush fine-dining restaurant in town. Your date asks you, “Let’s order wine, shall we?”. And you start to sweat a little. You don’t want to look like a complete loser here; no one does, in fact. Excusing yourself, you go to the restroom and whip out your phone to google: “How To Order Wine Like A Pro At A Restaurant”. And this article pops up. So let’s figure this out together.
This article is structured in a way to address the FAQs about ordering wine at a restaurant and is backed by historical context.
Ordering by the Glass vs. A Full Bottle
The fundamental question most newbies have is whether we should order wine by the glass or as a full bottle.
Buying a bottle is usually cheaper compared to buying the same amount of glasses of wine. But be sure to thinking of how much you plan on drinking, what you’re eating, and if your city allows you to take an unfinished bottle home.
Talk to the group and make a mental note of what they wish to order. If everyone is ordering a wide variety of dishes, it may be difficult to find one bottle of wine to pair with each dish. In which case, it may be better for everyone to order their own glasses. Or if you are set on ordering a bottle, try asking the sommelier to choose a wine that will go with lots of different food options.
The Sommelier: Your Best Friend
If you’ve already sized up the wine list but are still clueless on what to order, be ready to ask for help. Most fine dining establishments have a sommelier who is just waiting to help you make the right choice.
Sommeliers (pronounced soh-mel-yays) are your best friend.
A sommelier is a wine expert who has been trained and usually works at a high-end or fine dining restaurant. Sommeliers are in charge of everything to do with wine service in a restaurant, from preparing the wine list to serving customers on the floor.
The History Behind Sommeliers🕴️
The old French words “sommerier,” “somier,” and “bête de somme” may have given rise to the word “sommelier,” which means a person who serves wine. In old French, a “bête de somme” was a “beast of burden,” and a “sommelier” was the person in charge of it.
Later, the word became more specific and came to mean the person in charge of carrying the luggage of the French royal family when they traveled (1316). During the time of Louis XIV, the sommelier was the individual in charge of moving the court’s luggage.
He was also the official in the home of a great lord who chose the wines, table settings, and desserts. The sommelier checked his lord’s wine for poison with his tastevin, a silver saucer on a thick silver chain that he wore around his neck.
He also made sure there was food. If the sommelier died, the meal wouldn’t be served.
One of the most important parts of being a sommelier is coming up with great food and wine pairings.
Some restaurants even consider a sommelier’s job the same as that of a chef de cuisine. This is especially true in restaurants with long wine lists consisting of 200 or more wines.
You are missing out on the years of experience and wine tasting a sommelier brings to the table by simply not utilizing their service.
What to Expect at a Wine Presentation
Presenting the bottle is a ritual among wine enthusiasts and connoisseurs. The whole process might look and sound a tad bit theatrical and, at times, funny if you’re not into such grand gestures, especially from the restaurant staff.
The way the bottle presentation is set up is an important part of serving wine and shouldn’t be ignored. If the sommelier misunderstood the guest and brought the wrong wine, the guest might complain about it later.
This bottle-presentation ceremony also shows respect for the guest, no matter how much he knows about wine, and adds to the mood of the dining room.
Here is what happens during wine presentation in order:
1. The Server/Sommelier Presents the Bottle for Inspection:
Here, you must scrutinize the label to ensure that it’s the right bottle. You don’t want to later realize that the bottle isn’t what you ordered.
Also, a pro tip, this is where you can use your knowledge on wine history to “wow” your dining companions.
2. The Server/Sommelier Removes the Cork for Inspection:
This part is a bit overlooked as a bad cork: a wet, shriveled, very dry, or crumbly cork can alter the taste of your wine. Although if there is a problem with the cork, the sommelier will most likely say something.
The History of Corks 🍾
For at least 2000 years before the actual cork bottle was invented, the Greeks and Romans knew a thing or two about corks and used them as stoppers with a film of oil to keep the air out.
In 1632; when the new English glass bottle came into the picture, the need for a decent cork stopper arose. The term “cork” is mentioned in plenty of English literature from the 16th century onwards.
Did You Know: In Shakespeare’s As You Like It (1600), Rosalind, the heroine and protagonist of the play, says, “I pray thee take thy cork out of my mouth.”
3. The Server/Sommelier Decants the Wine (if required)
Decanting means to slowly pour the wine from the bottle into a different container (a “decanter”) without stirring up the sediment on the bottom. In general, when the wine splashes into the decanter, air mixes in. This aerates the wine and allows for different flavors to come forward. However, not all wine improves with decanting.
Wines that Might Require Decanting 🍷
Wines that benefit from decanting include full-bodied, high-tannin wines, and aged wines. The aeration while decanting causes these wines to be less harsh and more expressive.
These wines include:
- Bordeaux and Bordeaux blends
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Syrah (Shiraz) and its blends
- Nebbiolo wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco
- Red Rioja
If you are’t sure whether or not to decant, talk to your sommelier.
4. The Server/Sommelier Pours You a Taste
Now the host gets the first pour out of the bottle. Give the glass a swirl, a sniff, and a sip. All eyes would be on the host at this point, and this is where you can nod your approval, or return the bottle if you sense something is off.
At this point, the sommelier may either give you a replacement bottle, or you can go for a different bottle altogether.
Whatever the case, you start again from the top.
We understand that the first time you order can be intimidating, but don’t be afraid to ask questions and have the best wine drinking experience possible.