As with ordering and pairing wine, serving wine also has its own rules of etiquette. Keep in mind that the following refers to wine serving etiquette in a restaurant and that the main points of this ritual are to verify you received the bottle you ordered, and to make sure the wine is not spoiled. This is not a test to see how much you know about wine. Relax, and enjoy:
- Once you order the wine, your server will bring the bottle you selected to your table.
- Before opening the bottle, your server will present it to you so that you can check the vintage and year printed on the wine label to make sure it is the wine you ordered.
- The server will then open the bottle of wine in front of you at the table.
- Once the bottle is opened, the server will present you with the cork. Look at it to make sure it is not cracked or dried out because that can indicate that the wine is spoiled.
- The server will then pour you a small amount of wine to taste. Smell the sample to make sure that there is no strong aroma or offensive odor. Specifically, if the wine smells like vinegar, send it back because the wine has oxidized and is spoiled.
- If the wine smells fine, taste it. If you are trying a new wine and are not sure what it should taste like, ask the waiter. Keep in mind that it is only appropriate to send the wine back if it is spoiled. You can’t send wine back because you don’t like how it tastes.
- Once you approve the wine, the server will pour a glass for your guests and finish off with you.
Knowing these wine etiquette tips will help you impress your next date, client or dinner guest, making you look like a wine expert in the eyes of any guest.
When is it okay to send a bottle back (and how to do it politely)
Sending back a bottle of wine at a restaurant can seem intimidating or snooty, but the occasion to do so can come up. Have the confidence and voice your informed opinion if either a) you smell or taste the wine and sense cardboard or musty basement aromas or flavors. That means it’s faulty or “corked.” or b) if the sommelier or waiter chose the wine for you after you described what you were looking for and the actual wine doesn’t fit the description, send it back.
You can’t send it back if you just don’t “love” the wine you picked, unfortunately. A way to avoid this situation in the future is to order a glass or bottle that is sold “by-the-glass” and ask for a taste of it first. The wait-staff should easily oblige you.
To politely send a bottle back, first ask the waitress to smell the wine herself and comment that you think it’s corked and mention the musty aromas. Or, ask her to try the wine herself either from the bottle at your table or, if you ordered it by the glass, the bottle from which it was originally poured. Communicate in an authoritative yet kind tone and you should quickly be accommodated.