Do you feel foolish when ordering wine in a restaurant? When it comes to wine lists, sommeliers and the wine tasting ritual, it can be intimidating for the uninitiated. The reasons behind the performance are actually quite sensible and might assist you in appearing the consummate connoisseur.
What is a sommelier?
A Sommelier is a specialised wine waiter or manager that is highly trained in all things wine as well as food pairing. They will compile the wine list, manage the cellar and assist guests in making the perfect selection before perfectly serving. In general only fine dining restaurants have a dedicated Sommelier on their staff. A good Sommelier will make you feel comfortable no matter what your wine experience as well as making sincere suggestions within your budget. Take advantage of the skill and service offered by these professionals.
Most wine lists are arranged into Red and White wines by style or variety. It is best that everyone decides what they are eating before the wine is ordered. Most lists now have several options by the glass or half bottle for flexibility with food, and responsible consumption. Wines are also usually arranged by price. Mark-ups are generally steep in good restaurants, but choosing the cheapest wine on the list may not represent the best value. Enlist the assistance of the Sommelier or server to sniff out the best choice for your table within your budget.
Why then all the fuss with sniffing, swirling and sipping?
The idea with the service ritual is to check that the wine is in good condition. Between corks, storage and the evolution of wine in the bottle, there is a chance that the wine may be faulty. The service ritual provides the opportunity to check that the wine is good and that it is what you ordered. A good waiter will make the process quick and discreet to avoid undue intrusion.
What should you do when the bottle is presented?
First check that it is the bottle that you ordered, and then touch the bottle to check the temperature. White wine should be well chilled and red wine should be at around European room temperature. If you feel that a red is a little warm, don’t be shy to ask for an ice bucket.
Next the waiter will open the bottle and may present the cork. Check that it is not broken and crumbling or wet right through. A small amount will then be poured for you to taste. Give it a small swirl, sniff and sip to check that the wine has no faults, and then indicate your approval to the waiter who will then pour for your guests and top your glass last.
What could be wrong with the wine?
Corked or oxidised wines are the 2 most common problems that you may encounter. Corked is when the wine is spoiled by TCA, a nasty bacteria that can contaminate corks. The wine will smell and taste musty.
Oxidised is when the wine has been spoiled by exposure to oxygen. It will smell and taste like bad sherry.
If you detect a problem, let the waiter know and the bottle will be replaced.