Ordering wine at a restaurant can be intimidating. It can feel as if you're expected to know exactly what you're doing – especially if you're ordering wine when out with colleagues, on a date, or with friends. Here are some tips to make this process easier for the next time you are out and want to order wine.
Try to get a restaurant's wine list — either from their website or by calling ahead to request it. This will allow you to review the options at your leisure and come in with informed questions to help the sommelier on staff make her own recommendations based on your research. If you make your selection beforehand from the online wine menu, be sure to mention it when you call. Ask if they can reserve the bottle, as wine lists change often so listings can be outdated by the time a reservation rolls around.
Many restaurants allow patrons to bring in their own wine. Going to Dymon Wine Cellar to choose a bottle from your personal selections before heading to a restaurant will take a lot of the pressure off and you will already have a connection to the wine! It's generally considered good etiquette to order something off the restaurant list, as well. Depending on the size of the party, this could be a glass of sparkling or cocktails to start, a bottle that pairs with starters or dessert wine or digestifs afterwards.
When ordering from the restaurant's cellar, ask for the wine list immediately upon arrival to give yourself time. Survey the list and narrow it down to two or three bottles of wine that are of interest and in your price range. There’s really no formula for determining how much to spend on wine — so just select bottles that look interesting with a price tag that's comfortable. Part of the reason for selecting multiple choices is to discreetly communicate your price range to your server.
Be forthcoming with your server about your willingness to experiment. It helps to be clear about your preferences and limitations. Show your server or the sommelier the options you were considering and ask which they would recommend alongside your meal(s). With multiple diners and courses there may not be one bottle that is a "perfect pairing." However, now that the staff knows your price range and preferences, they can offer suitable recommendations to suit your taste, dishes and budget.
Once a decision is reached, the selected bottle will be brought to your table. When the server shows you the unopened bottle, examine the label to make sure it’s what you ordered. Don't hesitate to ask questions if something, such as vintage or vineyard, seem different than expected.
The server will open the bottle and either hand you the cork or closure or lay it on the table. It should be slightly wet on the end that was in the bottle. If a cork is dry and crumbly all the way through, that’s a red flag. If it’s wet and shriveled all the way through, that’s also a red flag. The server will pour a tiny bit into your glass. Now is your time to inspect the wine to ensure it has not gone bad. If it smells vinegary, moldy or musty, let the server know. Once this is done, you can give permission to the server to pour wine for your guests. As the person who selected and approved the wine, you are the "host" and will be served last.
With a little practice, ordering wine at a restaurant can become a fun collaboration with knowledgeable wine experts on staff can be one of the most exciting and enjoyable parts of the dining experience!