Dinner out with my wife or friends is often a good time, but there is one thing often found when ordering that presents a few difficulties –  the leather bound wine list. In it you”ll find anywhere from 20 to 40 different types of wines from all over the world with price tags as varied as the countries that comprise the list.
If you’re like me, your wine knowledge consists of there’s red wine and then there’s white wine. That’s it, right?
So how do you go about ordering wine for your table without looking foolish?

How To Order

To begin, remember that there should be a trained wait staff or perhaps even a Sommelier who is there to help and not hinder. Most restaurants that offer decent wine lists will also provide decent training for their servers.
Ask which wines are their best sellers, which wine partners well with what you’re thinking of ordering, and of course which wines fall within your price range.
A well-written wine list will include the wine’s producer and country of origin, the vintage, specific varietal tasting notes and offer suggestions for ideal food pairings.
If you’re stepping up to order for the table, get a feel for everyone’s wine preference – white or red, sweet or dry and what types of food will be ordered during the meal. If there are mixed votes among the group, consider a palatable compromise – a heavier white, like an oak-filled Chardonnay or a lighter red, like a Pinot Noir or a light-bodied Merlot.
Depending on your group, you could order several different types. Keep in mind that a typical bottle of wine (750 ml) should serve 3 people drinking in moderation.
On a side note, if you’re unsure of the wine’s pronunciation and don’t want to take a linguistic leap of faith, refer to the bin number if available or point to the selection and have the server do the honors.

The Wine’s Arrival

Okay, the order has been placed and the bottle is on it’s way, now what?
The server should show you the unopened wine’s label so you can verify that the wine is in fact the wine you ordered. Check the wine’s vintage and the producer. After the wine checks out, the server will open the bottle and present you with the cork. Not every restaurant does this but most will. No need to smell the cork like Hollywood advocates, but you do need to take a look at the end of the cork to make sure it hasn’t crumbled (which would be an indication that the wine’s been stored improperly) and see that the cork is not dried out or cracked throughout.
Next, the server will pour a small sample for you to taste. Begin by observing the wine’s color and clarity. Is it brownish in color or cloudy? Only very old vintages should have this appearance.
Now give the wine a good sniff. Do you smell any vinegar (a sign of oxidation) or musty cork (a sign of a faulty cork) smells?
Next, taste the sample. Is it in good condition? Free of any oxidation or corked flavors? If so, inform your server that the bottle’s a keeper and they will pour the selection for the table. Quick tip: this process from label check to tasting check should only take about 30 seconds.
Enjoying a great wine can bring a whole new dimension to your dining experience, and ordering the wine should be just as enjoyable as drinking it. By following these tips the next time you hold the leather bound list, you’ll be well beyond the person who orders a box of the restaurants finest boxed wine.

Photo courtesy TheBusyBrain

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