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Wine Etiquette in a Restaurant

Whether enjoying a glass of wine at home with friends, at a vineyard tasting room or in a restaurant, there are a number of factors you should consider. While wine drinking doesnít have many ďrulesĒ per say, there are a few items which confound the general gazer/passer by. By considering the following, however, you and the people you are with will have an enjoyable wine-with-dinner experience.

When ordering wine with a meal in a restaurant, make sure you select one which compliments the food you will be eating. If you are unsure if a white wine pairs better with chicken or beef (itís chicken) and have no clue what a pinot noir is, let alone itís difference to a pinot grigio, make sure to inform your server. Your server, or better yet the restaurantís sommelier, is your best resource for a recommendation. In every instance, be specific. If you hate red but liked a zinfandel once, let them know. Ask what wines will compliment the dish you plan to order. Let them know if you prefer wines from a specific region. Also be sure to tell them about how much you would like to spend on this bottle (or bottles). The wine is being served to enhance your meal but if you canít get past the price tag then it doesnít matter how amazing your filet mignon is. You wonít enjoy it if you are worried about how to get out of the restaurant gracefully.

Once the wine has been selected and brought to the table one person should have a taste of it. Before you taste, it is proper wine etiquette to examine the label to be sure the producer and vintage match what you ordered. The restaurant might be out of a particular vintage of your request and may substitute a different year. This may not make a difference to you. If you wanted a wine you have experienced previously, however, a substitution could certainly affect your expectations. If this is the case, you may want to order a different wine. A different vintage could be trivial if itís a simple Chardonnay but could be quite significant if you were ordering 2000 Bordeaux and received a 2002 instead.

Check that the temperature is satisfactory. White and rose wines are best slightly chilled at 50 degrees. It is better for all wine to be too cold than too warm for both red and white. It is proper wine etiquette to request an ice bucket to chill both a white wine and a red and of course champagne. If you prefer an ice bucket do not hesitate to ask. Conventional wine etiquette, however, with respect to an ice bucket, states that you can compromise your wine experience. White wines release more bouquet and texture as they warm in the glass. A red wine that is brought to the table slightly chilled tells you that the storage is good. There is usually no need for an ice bucket for this. As with the case of a good white wine, the flavor of a red will be better released as the wine warms a bit.

Now on to the tasting. First the wine will be opened and the sommelier will usually present the cork to the person who requested the wine. Inspection of the cork often reveals the vintage of the wine (which should match the bottle). If you chose to sniff the cork, keep in mind you are sniffing the bark of a tree. You may smell an earthy aroma but that doesnít mean itís the result of the wine. Itís probably the scent of the cork itself.

Next the sommelier will pour a small amount of wine for the taster. Typically this is reserved for the person who is the host or hostess. Many hosts, however, will defer to a guest who perhaps is more comfortable and/or experienced sampling wine. A small amount will be poured and the taster will swirl it in the glass. A gentle swirl releases the aroma. Give the wine a little sniff then have a sip.

When approval is given the wine is poured. The server will begin on the right of the taster with women having their glasses filled first, followed by older guests, then men. The hostís glass is topped off last.
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