1. Wine should always be served in a clean, spotless glass with no lint. If you get a dirty glass, send it back. Dirty glasses aren’t fun to drink from, and soap film gives a nasty taste; it also kills Champagne bubbles.
2. Speaking of glasses, the type and size of glass matters. If you’re in a family-style Italian restaurant or “old fashioned” Spanish or Portuguese place, you might find yourself drinking out of short, cylindrical tumblers. That’s culturally appropriate, but only for inexpensive table or house wine. For anything else, even at a casual dining place, the glass should be at least 12 or 13 ounce size, with a slight tulip-shape flare. Try to avoid drinking out of the typical, tiny (6 oz.) wine glass, shown at right here, that’s far too prevalent in casual dining restaurants and pubs.
Why? Well, to get a full pour they have to literally fill it to the top. They often spill it just handing it to you. You can’t enjoy the wine’s aroma. The big bowl glasses, while a little better, aren’t much more appropriate, and they’re awkward to hold and drink from – wine isn’t soup, after all. The ideal glass is a 13 to 16 ounce tasting glass, an example shown at left here.
3. If you’re ordering wine by the glass and you order a second or third, it should always be served in a fresh glass even if you’re ordering the same wine. If you’ve ordered a bottle, it’s perfectly fine to pour into the same glass.
4. In a fine dining restaurant, your server should keep an eye on your table and quietly move in to refill your glasses as needed. Don’t, however, expect this in a casual dining restaurant. And if you’d like to refill glasses yourself – which is fine – be polite and tell your server after he or she does the first pour. Which they, not you, should do under any circumstances.
5. If you order a bottle of wine, it should first be presented so that you’ll know you’re getting what you ordered, especially the correct vintage (year). Assuming it’s correct, the server should then open and pour it in front of you. If not, refuse the wine and ask that a new bottle be brought and opened properly. Proper wine service is a ritual and sometimes it’s silly and overblown, but there are reasons for it, too.
6. The person who orders the wine is the person for whom the first taste should be poured, regardless of who “outranks” whom at the table, or who’s paying. If that’s you – you’re on!
7. In most fine restaurants, the server will then hand the cork to the person who ordered the wine. Don’t sniff it. You can’t tell much from a cork unless it’s so dry that it disintegrates – and even a cork covered with mold (as long as it’s not on the “business end”) doesn’t mean much, at least if it’s from an older wine. It’s really just part of the ritual. The one exception is that some very fine and expensive wines will typically have an imprinted cork, including the vintage year. If so, make sure the vintage on the cork matches the year on the label. If you collect corks, put it in your pocket; if not, place it next to your plate and the server should remove it before or when he or she does the first refill. At that point the cork is just trash.
8. If you’ve ordered a white wine, the server should only bring an ice bucket if you ask. Many Americans drink their whites so cold that they taste only acid, so consider not icing it down. One good way to preserve the temp of a white is with a “chiller” – a ceramic or clay tube. Sometimes glass or stainless ones are used such as the one shown at left, and if they’re double-walled they do a great job.
9. An exception to this is Champagne and sparkling wine, which does want to be kept cold. Unless you’ve got enough guests to empty the bottle on the first pour, an ice bucket should always be brought. And it should be ice water and not just ice.
10. If you’ve ordered a red wine, in a fine restaurant it should be placed on the table on a wine coaster, usually one of pewter, silver plate or crystal. I’ve seen some newer ones in marble that even have a little niche for the cork. Woo-hoo. In a casual restaurant, a bottle of red will usually just be placed on the table nearest the person who ordered it.
11. Here’s a free #11 – Don’t get too caught up in wine rituals. If you’ve ordered a good wine and you’re with good friends, as long as you’re not drinking out of a boot you’re probably in good shape! Oh, ok maybe a clean boot…