How to Order a Bottle of Wine in a Restaurant (Without Feeling Like an Idiot)

Categories: Wine Time

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Photo by Jeremy Parzen
A good restaurant with a solid wine program should never let you drink a bad bottle of wine.
Please click here for previous entries in our "how-to wine" series.

How can I put this delicately?

I get treated like shit by sommeliers more often than I'd like to admit.

I guess I just have a face that screams wine idiot. It's hard to believe, but sadly, it's true.

As much as I hate to write this (and thankfully, there are many wonderful exceptions to this generalization), we are living in a nascent era of heightened wine awareness in this country when wine connoisseurship often trumps a spirit of hospitality.

I've had sommeliers refuse to serve me a bottle of wine because they "didn't think it was ready to drink" (why is it on their list then?).

I've had sommeliers refuse to take back a clearly defective bottle of wine (how could they know that I'm a wine professional myself and know how to sniff out a corked or cooked bottle?).

I've had misinformed sommeliers lecture me on the finer points of single-vineyard designations in Piedmont (how could they know that I've written extensively on the subject?).

To some extent, I can understand where they're coming from. They are bombarded every day by know-it-alls and would-be wine experts. They are "schooled" by people who spent a junior year abroad in Europe and think they know everything about wine (check out Dallas-based wine blogger Alfonso Cevola's recent post on People You'll Meet at a Winemaker Dinner). And they are assailed by guests who step into their restaurants convinced that the sommelier is going to try to rip them off.

The good news is that none of the episodes described above took place in Houston (although I have had one egregiously awful wine experience here thanks to a snotty sommelier). There are so many fantastic wine directors working in Houston today, and I can assure you that good wine at fair prices and great wine service are easy to find in our city.

The following rules of thumb by no means unlock the mystery of great wine service. But they do offer some guidelines that -- I hope -- will give you confidence in ordering a bottle of wine in a restaurant.

This story continues on the next page.

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11 comments
AlexSmith
AlexSmith

Perhaps there is a Wine Restaurants for Dummies book. I know that it would help me. 

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AlexSmith
AlexSmith

Very efficiently written information. It will be priceless to anybody who uses it, together with myself. Sustain the good work – for positive i will try extra posts.

Vanessa_T.B.
Vanessa_T.B.

Jeremy, thanks so much for broaching the subject-- there needs to be an ongoing conversation about the interaction between Sommeliers in a restaurant and diners looking for a bottle of something tasty. Your point about wine knowledge trumping hospitality is so relevant--in this age where people are obsessed with wine certifications and pins, it befuddles me how few people know how to bus a table, or remember to fold a napkin when someone is away from their chair, or help the Maitre d' answer the phone, etc., etc., understanding that a guest's complete experience is a sum of all of those things.  Discovering Teroldego is only one facet of most people's enjoyment of an evening out.  As a Sommelier myself I wish others would remember that more.  Ladies like their chairs pulled out.  ;-)

big.red.guy
big.red.guy

What is a reasonable way of figuring out a tip for a bottle of wine? Seems as though the tip for a $60 bottle should be close to the tip for a $30 bottle, given the labor and time involved. And what about a $100 bottle?

kelsey
kelsey

what should I do when the somm opens the bottle, places the cork in front of me, along with a small taste of the wine I've ordered

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