How to Order Wine in a Fancy Restaurant

Wine on the Porch

Wine on the Porch (Photo credit: slgckgc)

I’m not a wine expert, but as I was writing about my trip to Cancun, I realized that ordering wine in a fancy restaurant can be tricky if you haven’t learned how. I certainly didn’t know what to do until a few years ago, when I was lucky enough to take the Intro to Wines course my university offered.

Best. Class. Ever!

We got to taste several wines during class, but we also had to study up on wine making techniques, varieties of grapes and regions of production, and the process of being served wine in restaurants, among other things.

Despite all this knowledge, I’m not a “wine snob” – most of the wines I drink on a regular basis range from $8-16. Some of my favorite wines fall within that range. And don’t be turned off by a screw cap either – plenty of wineries that make very drinkable wines are turning toward screw caps for cost and convenience.

Since my class in 2008, I’ve had a few opportunities to order wine in upscale restaurants and put my knowledge into practice. Luckily, my dad paid for those meals!

Here’s how to order wine in a fancy restaurant.

  1. Find a wine everyone will like:
    This was very hard to do in my case, since my mom likes sweet whites and my dad likes dry reds. For a seafood restaurant, I lean toward a juicy off-dry white wine like a Pinot Gris or a semi-dry Riesling, or in a steak restaurant I tend to order a somewhat fruity medium bodied red wine, like a Pinot Noir (from the Americas or Australia; European Pinots tend to be too dry for my mom). Feel free to ask your server for suggestions – it’s their job to satisfy you!
  2. Order the wine:
    There should be a single go-to person to order the wine. The waiter will look to this person for the next steps.
  3. When the wine comes and the waiter presents it to you:
    A Sommelier decanting and serving wine

    A Sommelier decanting and serving wine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Inspect the label to make sure it is the correct vintage, type, etc. This should only take a few seconds, the waiter holds the wine bottle while you look.

  4. After they open the bottle they’ll present the cork to you:
    You’re supposed to smell it (you don’t have to if you feel awkward), inspect it, and look for signs that the bottle might be compromised (rot, mold, dry/cracking cork, etc). I’ve had this happen at home after someone gifted me an improperly stored bottle of wine, but it shouldn’t happen in a restaurant. Once again, this should only take a few seconds.
  5. When you accept the cork, they’ll pour a very small amount into your glass:
    Swirl it around, look at the wine to see its color or any sediment in the glass, take a deep breath and inhale the aromas of the wine. Then take a sip, rolling the wine over your tongue and around your mouth. While it is highly unlikely you’ll come across anything, you’re supposed to be looking for “off” flavors, like vinegar or burnt flavors, that might indicate the wine is ruined. This step usually takes anywhere from 10-20 seconds.
  6. After you sip it, indicate your acceptance and then be patient:
    Your waiter will pour wine for the other people at your table first, starting with the ladies and then the men. If you order more than one bottle, the waiter will pour the wine from one bottle first, and then the other bottle. You will be the last to receive a full glass, in case the wine runs out.
  7. Cheers!
    Self explanatory.
  8. Refills:
    The waiter will automatically refill the glasses at the table after they drop below about 1/3 of a glass. If someone does not want a refill, they should let the waiter know. I’ve been to a few restaurants (like Antoine’s in New Orleans) where I ordered two or three bottles of wine for a table of 6+, and none of us needed to lay a finger on a wine bottle. The waiters were just that responsive.
  9. Leaving the restaurant:
    I can’t say that I usually end the meal with some wine left in the bottle, but most restaurants will allow you to take any leftover wine home with you. Ask your server though, as laws and regulations will vary from place to place.

So that’s it! Pretty simple.

If you like this post, please feel free to reblog it, post it to facebook, or retweet it!

What are your favorite wines? Do you like red wines, white wines, or blush? How about dry or sweet? Any favorite wine regions? Are you like my mom, in that your favorite wine is a box of white zinfandel?

Categories: Entertainment, How To

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7 replies

  1. Great piece! I’ve just shared it on my Facebook page. Through my experiences opening the most expensive wine bottles for my clients; I might add this advice: if you are new to wines and at a fancy restaurant, stick with your favorites and when you’re at step 5 & 6, don’t hesitate to return a wine even if the reason is as simple as “it’s not to my taste!”…

    • Thanks for sharing! I agree, if the list of wines is overwhelming, definitely stick with something you like unless you have someone who knows your tastes making recommendations for you. For example – if my mom goes to a restaurant with my dad, she’ll order a white zinfandel or a pinot grigio. That’s it, no other choices. But when we go out to eat, I know what kind of wine she likes, so I try to get her to drink outside of her comfort zone. So far, all of the wines I picked with her in mind (moscato, pinot gris, etc) have been to her liking!

      And yes, don’t be afraid to return it if you don’t like it. The restaurant pads their alcohol prices so much that declining one bottle and ordering another still nets them a little profit. I’ve wines I can buy in the store for $12 selling for $39 in restaurants!

      • Love your mom’s choices! The simple grapes make some of the best wines…Oh yes, padded prices…and the bottle of wine returned due to taste preference, generally gets served as ‘wine by the glass’ or as house-wine unless it was corky. So no worries on it being wasted:)

  2. My favorite wine is Pinot Noir. Enjoyed the lesson-thank you!

  3. Love this just Tweeted it, I work in a restaurant and spend my time pretending to know what the hell I am talking about to the customers, I got the pouring down but when they ask me stuff i’m oblivious and just make it up, now I can blag more convincingly. It’s hard because i’m like your mum more a box of wine person.

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