Ordering wine can be intimidating. It’s a complex drink with a lot of history, and there are certain rules surrounding it that shouldn’t be broken, particularly when it comes to ordering it at a restaurant.
I had so many questions: when the waiter pours a sample into your glass, are you supposed to sip it? If you don’t like it, can you ask to return it? And, luckily, Tesauro had the answers.
1. When the waiter shows you the bottle and announces the name of the wine, they’re double-checking it’s the one you ordered.
Don’t get intimidated or confused by this move — the waiter is simply making sure they didn’t make a mistake.
“They are coming over with the contract. [They’re asking] ‘Is this what you ordered?'” Tesauro said.
2. The first thing you should do is check the temperature of the bottle.
If you want to look like an expert and have a proper glass of wine, check the temperature of the bottle with the palm of your hand.
“The first thing I do is put my hand on the bottle and feel it. Are my red wines too warm? Are my white wines too cold?” Tesauro said.
Light-white wines, rosés, and sparkling wines should be served at around 40° to 60° Fahrenheit. More full-bodied white wines and light reds should be around 50° to 60° Fahrenheit, and darker, full-bodied reds should be 60° to 65° Fahrenheit.
If the temperature feels off, Tesauro suggests asking your waiter to either ice a too-warm red or leave out a too-cold white.
3. Don’t sip it — just swirl, look at, and smell it.
When the waiter pours you a sample before serving the whole table, it’s not a taste test.
Tesauro explains: “They are not asking you whether or not you like the wine. They’re asking you whether the wine has survived. Did the wine make it from the vineyard, to the importer’s containership, to the distributor, to our cellar, to your glass correctly?”
“When they pour the wine, all you need to do is swirl it, look at it, and smell it,” he said.
General rule of thumb: if it smells fruity and fresh — not musty, or like vinegar — the bottle is fine, and you should not return it.
By not sipping the sample, you’re also taking your first drink with the rest of the table — after a toast, of course.
4. Only send the bottle back if the wine has technically gone bad.
There are only two reasons you should send the bottle back: if the wine has technically gone bad, which you should be able to detect by smelling it, or, if the waiter recommended the wine and you really don’t like it. A good technique is to double check with the waiter.
“You can soften the blow by asking the server, ‘What do you think?’ It puts the ball in their court,” Tesauro said.