Grape Tips Tuesday: 5 Tips For Choosing The Right Bottle of Wine In A Restaurant?

This Week In Wine 101: 5 Tips For Choosing The Right Bottle of Wine

Ok, so you’re at a restaurant and you’re scanning the wine list, searching for a brand name wine that you’re familiar with, but none are in sight. Then it hits you… How do you know which bottle of wine to order? Better yet, what if you select a wine you don’t like? What’s the protocol for sending it back? Is that even an option? Well, before the pressure of having to order or the panic of having no idea what to order sets in, consider these tips.

When you arrive at a restaurant and are first seated, the wait staff will usually hand you menus along with a cocktail or wine list. Generally, wine lists are categorized by varietal (i.e. Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris/Grigio, Merlot, Pinot Noir, etc.), region, (i.e. Napa, Willamette, Marlborough, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Rioja, etc.) or country. Prices are also placed in order from economical to expensive bottles or vice versa.

Consider the following tips when selecting a bottle of wine from a restaurant wine list:

Grape Tip #1: First, look for wines you’re familiar with or bottles that fall within your price range. If you find yourself unfamiliar with the wine selection, speak with someone from the wait staff or the restaurant’s sommelier. Communicating which varietals you like and are familiar with will help the waiter/sommelier select a bottle that is agreeable to your palate. Usually, the sommelier or waiter will ask what your price range is or how much you’re looking to spend. Most individuals like to keep this information on the “DL” and point to a bottle’s price on the list to show an example of how much they are looking to spend.

Grape Tip #2: If the waiter or sommelier suggests a wine, varietal or brand you are not familiar with and you’re hesitant, simply ask if you can sample the wine first.

 

Waitress pouring a bottle of wine for a couple at a restaurant - THEGRAPE

 

Grape Tip #3: When the bottle of wine is presented before you, the waiter will show you the bottle of wine. They do this so you can verify the following: the bottle, the varietal, if present, and the vintage. If it’s the bottle you’ve selected, simply nod or say, “yes.”

Grape Tip #4: Once the wine cork or screw cap has been removed the waiter or sommelier may present the cork to you for a couple of reasons. First, to ensure the print on the cork matches the label on the bottle. Second, to see that the cork is wet and isn’t damaged, which ensures the bottle was stored correctly. If the cork is dry this could indicate the bottle was improperly stored or is flawed. If the cork looks as though it has fallen apart, cork taint may be a factor and you may have to voice these concerns and ask for another bottle. Lastly, in the past you may have seen others smell the cork. This act has no merit and does not indicate the quality of the wine.

 

Couple tasting a bottle of wine - THEGRAPE

 

Grape Tip #5: After the bottle has been opened a small amount (usually an ounce or two) is then poured into your glass. This allows you to swirl and sample the wine. This also gives you an opportunity to smell the wine’s bouquet and aromas, while savoring the flavors of the wine. Generally speaking, wine will exhibit floral, fruity, citrusy, sweet, spicy or other aromatic fragrances accompanied by succulent flavors. Smelling the wine that was poured into your glass gives you your first opportunity to verify the freshness of the wine.

If, for example, you smell damp or moldy scents mixed with a wet cardboard or experience a vinegar odor or taste, bring this to the waiter’s attention and ask for another bottle. However, if you have no objections to the wine’s aromas or taste nod in approval and the waiter will then pour you and your guests a glass of wine.

So the next time you are out dining at a nice restaurant don’t let the wine list intimidate you or cause a feeling of slight panic. Look for varietals you enjoy, or regions you are familiar with that are within your budget. If you are unfamiliar with the wines they have listed ask to see which wines the waiter or sommelier might recommend that will best complement your meal. Communicate any concerns or flaws you detect. Ultimately, the restaurant wait staff and sommelier want you to have an enjoyable dining experience that will keep you coming back for more. Plus, you never know which wines you may be turned onto next. Cheers!

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