Okay I am NOT @GaryVee, Gary Vaynerchuk, but I have worked in fine dining and I can give you some very easy common sense advice. If you don’t live in the Napa Valley or a big city, here are some tips to enjoy wine in a restaurant.
Ordering wine, there are a few easy tried and true rules:
Oysters: Champagne or Sauvignon Blanc
Chicken: Chardonnay, aka Chard
Salads or Seafood: Sauvignon Blanc aka Sav Blanc
Pork, Duck, Lamb: Pinot Noir or Merlot
Beef: Cabernet Sauvignon, aka Cabernet or just plain Cab
All of these are subject to change depending on the wine. Personally, I think champagne goes with everything! I love all varieties of wine. There are good wines and bad wines in all varieties so don’t judge all chardonnays by one bad one.
If you have no, or limited, wine knowledge my best recommendation – is to ask the server for a recommendation. You can read magazines or websites or books and do research and find an amazing high rated bottle of wine and then get to the restaurant and find out they don’t carry that wine. If people are having a variety of dishes I will often times suggest a pinot noir, a light red. Your server or the sommelier will ask what type of wine you are looking for, what your price range is, and look at what you have ordered and make a few recommendations. Don’t go with the house red or white unless you are on a strict budget. This wine was bought in bulk by the restaurant and won’t have the best taste.
As a general rule white wine should be less than 5 years old. It is not made to age a long time the way most red wine is.
Once a bottle of wine is ordered, the server presents the wine to the person who ordered it by reading the label, then confirms it by showing the bottle. After they say, “Yes, that is what I ordered”, the bottle is opened, by the server, and a small sip is poured to the person who ordered the wine. That person must try the wine to make sure it is not corked, they do this by swirling the wine, taking a sniff, then taking a small sip. Corked wine smells musty and tastes of mildew. It’s not really necessary to sniff the cork. Once they have approved the wine, the server will pour the wine for the rest of the guests at the table, and lastly fill the glass of the person who ordered. At this time you make a toast and clink glasses!
You may request an ice bucket for champagne or white wine to keep it chilled. There is usually no extra charge for this.
If your red wine is quite strong or has too much of a bite from the tannins, you can request that your wine be decanted. There is usually no extra charge for this. This is done by your server and your wine is poured into a clear glass decanter, which gives the wine more air surface to breathe. This is especially recommended for red wines over 5 years old. Decanting the wine allows it to breathe and smooths out the taste. There is also a really nifty wine aerator tool that does this instantly, called the Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator. I highly recommend it if you enjoy red wine!
Different shaped wine glasses are used with different varieties of wine. The general rule is that champagne is served in flutes, white wines in a smaller wine glass and reds in the larger bordeaux glass and the largest bowl glasses for the pinot noirs. This rule can change in accordance to the restaurant. Fresh glasses should be provided for each new bottle of wine unless otherwise requested.
If you bring in your own wonderful bottle of wine most restaurants will charge a corkage fee. This can vary greatly in amount from approximately $15 – $50 a pop. This fee is a charge for the service of using their glasses, which will need to be washed and hand polished, and the server opening the bottle and pouring the wine. On the higher end ($50) it can be cheaper to buy a bottle at the restaurant. If the corkage fee is a concern to you I recommend calling ahead to the restaurant and asking what their corkage fee is.
Most restaurants do greatly mark up the price of wine, it can be almost double what you would pay at a wine/liquor store.
Now you are ready to go out to a restaurant and enjoy wine! Cheers!
For more tips please see my other article: How to Tip in American Restaurants.