We’ve all been there: We’re out with a group of friends and decide to order a bottle of wine. The waiter pours us the first glass to taste, but we’re not sure what we’re looking for. It tastes fine (we think) but it’s not our favorite. Remembering the full-bottle price tag that we’ve committed to, we wince a little, hope our friends like it more than we do, and tell the waiter to proceed. Here are the 6 things you need to know in order to make the most of your wine investment:
1. Get The Scoop Before You Order
The first step is to make sure you order something you’ll really like. Tell the waiter what you’re looking for, including the style of wine you like, the type of food you plan to have, and how much you’re looking to spend. A good wine list will have many well-made, affordable options. If you’ve had success with a certain wine in the past, ask if there is something similar on the list.
2. If You’re Not Sure About A Bottle, Order The Glass
If you order a bottle that is also offered by the glass, you’ll encounter less resistance if you try to return it (and shouldn’t feel guilty if you send it back simply because you don’t like it). If the waiter suggests a new wine you’ve never tried—and it’s offered by the glass—he’ll often offer to pour a taste from a previously open bottle. Just remember that, if you send it back, it won’t go to waste, as the restaurant can use it to pour glasses for other parties. So, be honest about your preferences!
3. Inspect And Accept
When your bottle arrives at the table, be sure that the label parallels the listing on the wine menu.
For example, say that the wine list reads:
Cabernet Sauvignon, CHATEAU MONTELENA, Calistoga Cuvee, Napa, 1999
Here’s what it means:
Varietal name (name of the grape), WINERY, vineyard or proprietary blend, place of origin, vintage
Even if two wines come from the same winery—and have similar labels—one can be markedly more expensive than another if it’s from a different vineyard or blend. If the wrong wine mistakenly arrives at your table, you may be committing to a bottle double the price without even noticing! The waiter is showing you the label so that you can give the thumbs-up that this is, indeed, what you ordered.
4. The Point Of Tasting The Wine Is To Find Flaws
Once you’ve made sure that you have the correct bottle, the waiter will pour you a taste. The point of the tasting isn’t to decide if you like the wine, but to determine if the wine is “correct.” You’re looking for flaws in the wine.
5. Taking The First Taste
First, smell the wine. Your job is to spot any “off-aromas,” which would indicate a flawed wine. Red flags include wet cardboard smell (cork taint), nail polish remover smell (volatile acid), or the smell of rotten eggs (sulfur). If all seems well, go in for a taste. As you take your sip, think to yourself, “Does it taste pleasant?” If so, give a nod to the waiter and he’ll pour wine for your party, ending with you.
6. Beyond The First Sip Of Wine
If you are disappointed with the first taste, don’t panic. Take a second sip. You might still be tasting your own toothpaste or afternoon coffee. Keep in mind that wine changes perceptibly when food is introduced, so it might taste different or better with your meal. But, if you still don’t like the wine after the second taste, it’s time to involve the waiter. Be gracious. When you call him over, he will taste the wine and assess. Often he will offer to bring you another bottle, even if he finds no flaw in the wine. This is especially true if he was the one who suggested it to you.