Like food, wine is a complex, varied substance that is served in a variety of ways. While trained wine sommeliers are familiar wine etiquette, the occasional wine drinker may be far less familiar with how to order and/or serve various types of wine in different situations. However, with our wine etiquette tips, you”ll be able to choose, order and serve wines with confidence!
General Tips for Ordering Wine in a Restaurant
Before getting into the nuances of wine etiquette, here are some more general tips for ordering wine in a restaurant:
- In a party of two or more wine drinkers, ordering a bottle of wine will be less expensive than ordering wine by the glass.
- Never begin your meal with a cocktail, as hard alcohol generally muddies the more subtle flavors of wines.
- Wines that work well as a precursor to a meal include lighter white and sparkling wines that don”t overpower your palate or fill you up.
Reading a Wine List
Wine lists can be intimidating, especially in fine restaurants that have wine lists that are pages long. Here is some advice that can help you navigate your way through any wine list:
- Decide whether you and your party wants red wine or white wine. Making this decision immediately eliminates half the wine list.
- If you know in advance the restaurant that you are will be treating people to, consider asking for a wine list to be faxed to you so you can review it prior to your reservation. Your seemingly innate knowledge of the wine list is sure to impress your party!
- Try not to order the most expensive wines on the list, as they usually have the highest mark up. Stick to the wines in the middle price range because these are generally the ones restaurants are trying to get rid of and, therefore, will give you a better deal on.
Whether or not you have experience ordering wine in restaurants, the most important rule to keep in mind is that asking your server for help isn”t a social faux pas. In fact, servers in fine restaurants are typically trained to be fluent in describing flavors and recommending appropriate wines off the restaurant”s wine list.
Your server can help you with the wine list by:
- describing new wines the restaurant has to offer
- highlighting the better vintages of particular wines
- making an unusual, yet tasty, wine and food pairing for you and your guests
- pointing out wines within your price range.
If you feel uncomfortable stating a price range in front of your dinner guests but still need to ask for your server”s help with the wine list, try asking in the following way: ”I am looking for a mid-range priced wine to suit the meal. What do you recommend?” This prevents you from having to specify a dollar amount. At this point, your server will likely point out a few options from which you can choose.
Wine and Food
As you are deciding between wines (whether or not you choose to enlist the help of your server), one of the deciding factors will likely be the type of meal you plan on ordering. In fact, properly pairing wine with food can enhance the subtle flavors of both. In contrast, poor wine and food pairings generally mean that the flavors of either the wine or the food are too heavy and/or uncomplimentary to the other, which either deadens the palate to the meal or causes it to be bombarded with unappetizing flavors.
The basic rule is to try to find a wine that balances the flavors of the food (and vice versa) so that neither overpowers the other.
Whether you are ordering wine at a restaurant or deciding what type of wine to serve at (or bring to) your next dinner party, check out our table below so that you can develop your understanding of pairing wine with food.
|Wine Type||Examples||Foods to Pair with It|
|Sweet, Light White Wines||Rieslings, Gewurztraminer||Asian flavors, white meats (i.e. chicken, turkey), cheeses|
|Dry White Wines||Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio||Cream soups, shellfish, vegetable-based dishes|
|Sweet Blush Wines||Zinfandels||Darker cuts of meat, lamb, pork, roast beef, sausages|
|Dry Red Wines||Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot||Gamy meats (i.e. duck, rabbit), lamb, roast beef|
|Full-Bodied Red Wines||Shiraz, Syrah, Rhone Varietals||Gamy meats, goose, lamb, roast beef|
|Sparkling Wines||Champagne, English Bubbly, Spanish Cava||Fish, caviar, cheeses|
|Dessert Wines||Ports||Any sweets (i.e. cakes, pastries)|
Clearly, some of the wine and food pairings overlap. The good news is that this overlap not only gives you more choices, but it can also allow you to bring out different flavors of the foods. Experiment with ordering a variety of suitable wines for your favorite meal so that you can find your favorite wine and food pairing!
The Ritual of Serving Wine
As with ordering and pairing wine, serving wine also has its own rules of etiquette. Keep in mind that the following refers to wine serving etiquette in a restaurant:
- Once you order the wine, your server wine will bring the bottle you selected to your table.
- Before opening the bottle, your server will present it to you so that you can check the vintage and year printed on the wine label to make sure it is the wine you ordered.
- The server will then open the bottle of wine in front of you at the table.
- Once the bottle is opened, the server will present you with the cork. Look at it to make sure it is not cracked or dried out because that can indicate that the wine is spoiled.
- The server will then pour you a small amount of wine to taste. Smell the sample to make sure that there is no strong aroma or offensive odor. Specifically, if the wine smells like vinegar, send it back because the wine has oxidized and is spoiled.
- If the wine smells find, taste it. If you are trying a new wine and are not sure what it should taste like, ask the waiter. Keep in mind that it is only appropriate to send the wine back if it is spoiled. You can”t send wine back because you don”t like how it tastes.
- Once you approve the wine, the server will pour a glass for your guests and finish off with you.
Knowing these wine etiquette tips will help you impress your next date, client or dinner guest, making you look like a wine expert in the eyes of any guest.