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Two Women on Wine: Tips on ordering wine in restaurants

Posted: February 27, 2009 4:19 p.m.
Updated: February 27, 2009 2:40 p.m.

Lil Lepore and Shari Frazier Two Women on Wine

 
Ordering wine in a restaurant doesn't have to be a scary, intimidating experience. That's what we always tell people who say they dread the moment it's time to order wine. If you get a little pang of anxiety when you're handed the wine list, here a few suggestions that might help smooth the way. |

Choosing a wine to enjoy with your restaurant meal should be part of the fun of dining out. In some ways, ordering wine is no different than ordering an entrée. First, you would determine what you are in the mood to eat. Sometimes you might prefer chicken, other times the lamb shank. It's the same with wine - a big fruity red wine one time, then a crisp light white the next. Or maybe you have a preference for both on the same occasion.

So here's tip number one: Start with what appeals to you and your guest or companions.

Tip number two is simple: Don't try to impress anyone with pretentious flourishes, such as smelling the cork. Instead, simply look at the cork. Is it wet or dry? A wet cork is a good sign that the wine has been properly stored on its side. A dry cork could mean that the wine is flawed in some way.

Like a good Boy Scout, it pays to be prepared. Don't wait until you have been handed the wine list to think about your wine selection. Instead, take time beforehand to consider the occasion, your wine preferences and price range.

For example, an anniversary might call for champagne. Your wine preferences could be red or white, sweet or dry, Old World vs. New World wines. If the restaurant has a Web site, check it out in advance to see if the wine list is posted. You can also call ahead and ask to speak with the sommelier.

Speaking of sommeliers, don't be shy. Ask to speak with the sommelier or talk with your server. Share your wine likes and dislikes, food preferences and the all important price range. If you have had a particular wine that you enjoyed, share that information as well.

Remember the five Ss - see, swirl, sniff, sip and swallow. When the server opens the wine and pours a bit of it into your glass, this is the time to test the wine. Note the color of the wine in the glass. A pinot noir, for example, may be a lighter shade of red but not so dark that you can't see through it. A zinfandel, however, will be a deeper, almost purplish red.

Swirl the wine around in the glass to release some of the aromas. Then stick your nose in the glass and give it a good sniff. Do you smell fruit, flowers and lovely aromas? Good. Then sip the wine, swirl it around in your mouth, taste it, swallow and nod to the server to begin pouring, assuming it meets with your tastes. If you smell mold or anything unpleasant, send the wine back.

A couple of other things to consider: If the restaurant menu is Italian, order a barbera or sangiovese with your red sauce dishes. You can also order wines by the glass or half-bottles, when available. That way, you can have light-bodied white wine with the salad and a fuller-bodied red wine with steak or chops.

Whatever you decide to choose, have fun with it. Ordering wine should be as enjoyable as drinking it. Keep these tips in mind to help make your dining experience a memorable one.

Bon Appetite and Cheers!

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