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Two Women on Wine: Ordering wine in a restaurant

It doesn’t have to be an intimidating experience

Posted: April 29, 2011 6:00 a.m.
Updated: April 29, 2011 6:00 a.m.
Lil Lepore and Shari Frazier Lil Lepore and Shari Frazier
Lil Lepore and Shari Frazier

You know the feeling. You're in a nice restaurant with hopes of enjoying a special meal. You're more than confident navigating through the dinner menu, but you experience a pang of anxiety when you're handed the wine list. We've all been there.

We are big proponents that ordering wine in a restaurant doesn't have to be a scary, intimidating experience. That's what we always tell people who say they dread the moment it's time to the order wine. However, if you're overwhelmed and anxious when handed the wine list, we'd like to provide you with a few suggestions that might help smooth the way.

Choosing a wine to enjoy with your restaurant meal should be part of the fun of dining out. In some ways, ordering wine is no different than ordering an entrée. Ask yourself what you are in the mood for. Sometimes you prefer the chicken, sometimes the lamb shank. It's the same with wine; it may be a big fruity red wine one time or a crisp light white the next. Or perhaps you might like both on the same occasion.

So that's tip number one: Start with what appeals to you and your guest or companions. A crisp white like a Gruner Veltliner pairs nicely with salads, fish or chicken. A light to medium-bodied red such as Pinot Noir would be a good accompaniment with salmon or chicken; a full-bodied red like a Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah would be wonderful with grilled meats, lamb or chops. Decide on your entrée and then review the wine list.

All restaurants typically organize their wine lists by regions or varietals. They may even go a step further and organize the varietals under specific regions. If you're dining in an Italian restaurant, for instance, you might want to order a Barbera or a Sangiovese to accompany your red sauce dishes if you're having pasta. If you are not sure of the varietals or regions, don't be shy. Ask the sommelier or your server. Share your wine likes and dislikes, your food preferences and the all-important price range. Know your budget and make that clear to your server when he or she makes suggestions.

After you've decided on the wine, your server will present the bottle to you. Check it to make sure it is the wine and vintage you ordered. They will then open the bottle and present the cork to you.

Tip number two: Don't try to impress anybody with pretentious flourishes, such as smelling the cork. Instead, look at the cork - is it wet or dry? A wet cork is a good sign that the wine has been properly stored on its side. A dry cork could mean the wine is flawed in some way.

Another reason for presenting the cork is to verify that the writing on the cork matches the wine. This ritual stems from a time honored tradition that originally guarded against counterfeit wines, something that fortunately would not happen today.
The next step involves your server pouring a small amount in your glass to test the wine. Remember the five Ss: see, swirl, sniff, sip and swallow. Note the color of the wine in the glass. A Pinot Noir, for example, may be a lighter shade of red, but not so dark that you can't see through it. A Zinfandel, however, will be a deeper, almost purplish red.

Swirl the wine around in the glass to release some of the aromas. Then stick your nose in the glass and give it a good sniff. Do you smell fruit, flowers and lovely aromas? Good. Then sip the wine, swirl it around in your mouth, taste it, swallow and nod to the server to begin pouring. If you smell mold or anything unpleasant, send the wine back.

If all is to your satisfaction, you acknowledge your approval to your server. They will then pour the wine into each glass, pouring your glass last. The final step is to enjoy your wine with your meal and companions.

So whatever you decide to choose, have fun with it. Ordering wine should be as enjoyable as drinking it. Keeping these tips in mind will help you make your next dining experience a memorable one. Bon Appetite!


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