Ordering Wine in the Restaurant: FAQs
IN THE RESTAURANT
Q. When the waiter presents a bottle I have ordered, what is the procedure?
A. Look at the label to make sure it is exactly what you ordered, especially the vintage. If you ordered the sort of wine sufficiently grand that the vintage matters, and you have been given a much poorer or younger one, then you are justified in asking for a replacement, or a reduction.
Q. What should happen when a waiter offers a taste of a wine in a restaurant?
A. This outmoded custom stems from a time when wine varied much more from bottle to bottle. It gave the host the chance to check that a wine was in good condition before it was served to his guests. Now it simply allows YOU to check that the wine has no serious fault (not whether you like it or not). It is a bit absurd, since very few waiters give you the chance to taste a second bottle, which has just the same chance of being faulty, ie. about one per cent.
If you feel uncomfortable about the tasting ritual, simply ask the waiter to pour for everyone. If you have got one of those rare bad bottles, it is not asking too much for him to whisk all the glasses away. Otherwise, glance at the wine to make sure it is not cloudy and then swirl and sniff as outlined in Assessing a Wine by Smell.
If after this you feel like drinking the wine then a) it can’t be seriously out of condition and b) you can treat yourself to this optional extra as a host’s perk if you wish. On drinking the wine, you may feel it is too sweet or dry for your taste, or possibly even too acid or too lightweight or too tannic for you. These judgements are usually too subjective to warrant sending a wine back. Only if a wine is suffering from one of the faults mentioned or is ‘corked’ or ‘oxidized’ (above) can both the restaurateur and yourself agree that it is so out of condition it should be sent back (eventually to the supplier, who will refund the restaurateur).
Q. Should the bottle be opened at the table?
A. A good wine waiter will open all bottles, even house wine, in front of his customers to prove to them there has been no substitution. The grander the wine, the greater your right to insist on this point.
Q. How much wine should be ordered for each person?
A. Your calculations will have to take personal habits into account, but half a bottle a head at lunchtime and a whole one in the evening would be generous.
Q. How many glasses to a bottle?
A. Six generous or eight perfectly adequate ones.
Q. If one of the party is eating fish and another meat, what wine should be ordered?
A. Anything you want! Perhaps something from the vast range of fairly full-bodied whites such as those from Burgundy, Rioja, California or Australia or a light, fairly crisp red such as a Beaujolais, vin de pays or inexpensive Italian, or any dryish rose.