Ordering wine in a restaurant can be daunting for most. While some people avoid it altogether. I’m writing this to demystify the increasingly thick and complex wine lists laying on your table. I also want to ensure everyone that ordering wine from a Sommelier should be guilt-free, worry-free, and hassle-free. Not cost-free, though. Sorry.
When imagining ordering wine in a restaurant, many would-be patrons envision a polished professional dressed to the nines, towering above while you peek over the leather-bound wine tome rife with strange symbols and vino-jargon.
On the surface, we may seem intimidating, but you and I are the same, we only have interests in different fields. Work is exhausting, and most of us don’t have a closet rack of three-piece suits made from the rarest wools in Asia. I had one suit (rarely dry-cleaned) and a small variety of ties and button-downs. Mixing and matching saved my life. So if you ever feel nervous or out of your element when ordering wine, always remember the “professional” standing in front of you struggles just like everyone else.
As for the wine list, yeah, there’s no way around it. They can be disorienting and superfluous, but one of our duties is to simplify it and put you at ease. A Sommelier’s primary job is to find you a bottle of wine - regardless of price - that complements your tastes and meal. Hospitality is first and foremost so the more comfortable you are, the better the experience.
I hope I've put you at ease. Ordering wine at a restaurant isn't a test of your intelligence or upbringing. The Sommelier isn't there to judge but to assist. And if you still don't like the idea, you can always look for affordable Bordeaux wines that you can order from the comfort of your couch.
The details of how to order wine in a restaurant
Your three main options when ordering wine
- Go to the restaurant on an independent mission. “I know my way around a wine list.”
- Play it safe. Order wine by the glass or something you already know with or without our assistance.
- Chat with us. Discuss wine preferences and style, the food menu, your day at work.
With the third option, both parties are relying on one another to reveal information in order to pinpoint the perfect bottle of wine. Here are a few questions that can help us find the right wine for you.
- What’s the occasion?
- How’s your day been?
- Tell me about bottles you love, hate, or are simply curious about.
- What food are you ordering, let’s talk pairings!
A wine list is curated to be unique and to complement the specialized menu so it’s entirely normal to be in the dark. I’ve talked with people who were worried about becoming “exposed” due to their lack of knowledge, but you should never feel vulnerable at the table. Remember, we love talking about food and beverage; we’re here to help! Also, befriending your Sommelier is a great way to get insider information, free tastings, and many other perks.
Let’s address the elephant in the room: budget
Never feel pressured to spend more than you’re willing. Yes, we are salesmen, but pushing you into a purchase you’re not comfortable with instantly spoils the dining experience, which means we’ve failed at our jobs. If you have a spending limit, let us know, or if you wish to be more discreet, ask for several options at different price points. There is no shame in ordering a $40 bottle versus a $400 bottle. You don’t have to mortgage your house for a cult wine to have a memorable experience.
How to get the best experience when ordering wine from a Sommelier
A Sommelier’s dream is to have a guest trust their guidance and present a bottle that is new to them. If you’re feeling adventurous, let us steer you into uncharted waters. Maybe from a lesser-known region or a grape varietal that is impossible to pronounce. Or, if the rapport is there and you’re feeling bold, just ask the simple question, “What do you have that’s weird?” I know it’s nerdy, but I bet your Sommelier lights up like New Year’s Eve.
You still decide which wine to order
It’s important to note that you don’t have to go with our selection(s). If there’s an odd vibe or you’re just unsure, let us know or go with your gut. I promise we won’t be offended.
So we’ve finally made a decision and your Sommelier has arrived bottle in hand
He’ll repeat your wine selection and you’ll give a subtle nod or “looks good.” He or she will then pour a sample and now you have a chance to impress your Sommelier and look like a qualified diner by doing two things: not sniffing the cork and taking a whiff of your sample wine followed by another nod.
The presentation of the cork is an old tradition and it smells like, you guessed it, cork! The sample pour is merely to check if the wine is faulty, although the Sommelier should have already gauged that upon opening the bottle. He will then pour for the table and the rest is history.
There you have it. Ordering wine should always be an easy, unassuming process once you realize both you and your Sommelier have the same end goal: creating lasting memories. While you may thank us for our service, we’ll thank you for showing us a great time. Meeting people that are eager to explore the list is why we come to work. We’ll always invite you into a warm setting if you allow us. Here’s to your next successful food and wine experience. Cheers!