By Marc R. Kauffman, CSW, Certified Sommelier
Ordering wine and having it served correctly is one of the primary enjoyments in a fine dining experience. Once you understand this you will be able to order wines with the style and flourish of an expert. Learning a few simple steps will make your choices easier, impress your friends and add enjoyment to your dining experience.
Ordering wine is a process. The outcome should be that this process enhances your dining experience. The most important consideration is balance or mix of flavors. This is very simple. Powerful flavors in food call for more powerful flavors in wine. Lighter, more subtle flavored foods benefit from matching with lighter, more subtle flavored wines. There are no hard and fast rules for this process. There used to be an advantage. “red wine with meat, white wine with fish.” This is perhaps an oversimplification, but generally a good guide. Basically lighter foods go better with lighter flavored wines and richer, bolder flavored foods benefit from being matched with more full-bodied wines.
On a typical wine list you will find 4 basic groups: Champagne and sparkling Wine, Red Wine, White Wine (sometimes Roses as well) and Sweet (Dessert) Wines.
Most wine lists will have sub-sections for each type of wine. These sections may be listed by grape variety or by geographic origin. Wines listed by grape variety are primarily New World wines (California, South America, Australia, New Zealand) and are more fruity in flavor. Wines listed by geographic origin are primarily old world wines and have more “earthy” overtones. Don’t be afraid to ask for the opinion of the server or wine advisor (sometimes called The Sommelier) to help with your choices. That’s what they are there for. Part of the fun of ordering different wines you may not be familiar with is the discovery of something new!
The serving of wine takes a brief explanation as well. The server (or Sommelier) should follow this procedure when serving your chosen wine. The bottle should be shown to the host who ordered the wine to make certain it is the bottle that was ordered. Many a server has grabbed the wrong bottle on a busy Saturday night. Make sure if you ordered Beaujolais that that’s what the label says. Then the server should cut the top foil and remove the cork if the bottle has a cork. Today wines may be sealed with a variety of closures including cork, screw caps, ZORK or plastic “synthetic corks”. If the bottle is sealed with a natural cork the served should set it on the table next to the wineglass of the host. Now the question arises what do you do with the cork? Some people pick it up and sniff it. Some hold it next to their ear and claim they can actually hear the grapes growing. In reality you don’t need to do anything with the cork. Just leave it sit. If the cork is dried out and crumbles it may be a clue that the wine was stored incorrectly and could be bad. However no one can tell what a wine will actually taste like from just sniffing the cork. If the wine is sealed with a different type of closure the server should just remove the top and keep it handy to reseal any left over wine (as if that ever happens) so you can take it home. (many states allow restaurant patrons to take partial bottles of wine home if resealed and placed in trunk of car). The server should then pour a taste for the host. Taste the wine and if it tastes good just a simple nod to the server is all that is needed. The server should then pour the wine. Wineglasses should never be filled more than about 1/3 full to allow for the aromas to circulate.
Finally sit back, sip and enjoy.