You’re out to dinner with a big group of friends and someone has the (great) idea to order a bottle of wine. The waiter brings out the bottle, thrusts it toward whoever ordered it, opens it, sets the cork on the table and pours a small sample in a glass… awkward silence ensues.

Nobody wants to ask, but a lot of people want to know – what exactly are you supposed to do after you order a bottle of wine at a restaurant?

Confirm the Bottle

When the server presents you with the bottle of wine you ordered, they’re seeking confirmation that they have brought you the correct bottle of wine.

Mistakes actually happen here – with the most common being that you have the right winery on the label, but the wrong vintage (year harvested). Usually this is an honest mistake in which a waiter simply chose the wrong bottle from a dark room, but sometimes a restaurant will attempt to pass off a different vintage if they are out of the one you ordered.

If you’ve ordered a high-end bottle of wine – say, one that’s over $100 – you’ll also want to quickly look over the condition of the bottle, and because good red wines should be stored cooler than room temperature, give the bottle a quick feel to confirm that it has a slight chill.

Inspecting the Cork

So now the server has opened your wine and set the cork in front of you. What do you do now?

The most important thing you’re checking on the cork is whether there has been any seepage of the wine. If you notice that wine has made it all the way through the cork, oxygen has invaded and you very likely have a bad bottle of wine.

The Aroma & Taste

You’ve inspected the bottle and cork, and now the server has poured a small sample of the wine to taste. Many people are intimidated by this part of the process, but it’s pretty easy to notice whether a wine is corked – it will distinctly smell like wet cardboard. Upon tasting, it will lack any complexity or any kind of enjoyable finish – it will taste flat and unsubstantial.

Believe it or not, up to 10 percent of a winery’s production can be corked, so do not feel intimidated about suggesting your bottle is corked if you truly believe it is. Restaurants are usually even reimbursed by their distributors for any returned wine.

Lastly, you’ll also want to make sure the wine doesn’t taste oxidized. As the term implies, oxidation occurs when a wine is improperly sealed and has been in contact with oxygen for an extended period of time. You’ll know the wine is oxidized if it tastes extremely high in acidity, or overly-zingy. If your wine is oxidized, you can at least tell your guests that you got them a very nice bottle of vinegar!

No matter how detailed you get with the inspection process above, know that you, as the customer, have the right to send wine back if you believe it isn’t up to par!

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