Restaurant Wine Service


Question from Mike: What am I supposed to do when the wine comes at a restaurant? I’m okay ordering it but I get really embarrassed when the waiter gives me the cork and all that.

Reply: Hi, Mike. I’ll be a lot of people will be really glad you wrote to ask. It can be a little intimidating.  

The most important thing to remember is that you’re the customer and the server really wants you to be happy so don’t worry about any potential faux pas. Here’s how it goes:

The server brings the wine to the person who ordered it and shows it to him/her. Go ahead and check the label to double check that you got what you ordered. 

The most common mistake is that the wrong vintage comes to the table. If so, you might ask your server if there’s a significant difference between the vintages. For myself, if the wine is from California or some other warm climate situation, I don’t worry too much about the vintage. If it’s European, the vintage can play a bigger role. Ask the server. If the restaurant’s any good at all, he’ll probably offer you a taste. If you do a lot of dining out you might download a vintage chart. Here’s one from Robert Parker. And one from Wine Spectator.

Some people are so paranoid that they recommend making sure the brand name stamped on the cork is the same as the one on the bottle. I suppose it’s possible for some disreputable restaurateur to pull a switch, but I don’t like to live or think that way. 

After you’ve given the wine the nod, the wine the server pulls the cork and puts it in front of you. You don’t have to do anything with it if you don’t want to. Some folks like to give it a sniff. It usually smells like a cork. I’ve never been handed a screw cap before 😉  In any case, I prefer to go straight to the wine.

Never skip smelling and tasting the wine! It’s a shame to pay restaurant prices for a wine that’s gone bad! But you don’t have to make a big deal of it. You’re not writing a review, you’re just making sure it’s okay – not spoiled or corked. So, give it a quick sniff and taste. Most of the time it’s just fine and you can say “Fill er up!” 

If you have any doubt about the wine, ask your server to try it. If you’re sure something’s wrong with it, just politely ask him to bring another bottle. It’s not really fair to send a wine back just because you don’t like it. There should be something wrong with it to justify sending it back.

If you don’t think you can tell a sound wine from an off one, believe me – you’ll know. Spoiled wine can smell like paint thinner, vinegar, fingernail polish remover or mold. It’s offensive!

Once you’ve approved the wine, the server will pour all around you’re on your way to a fun and delicious evening! Cheers! 

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