How Wine is Served at a Restaurant

Here are the steps that most restaurants follow when you order a bottle of wine.

Present the Bottle

The waiter always wants the drinkers to know what they're about to drink. He will show you the bottle, with the label and vintage clearly showing. He will want you to check the winery name and vintage to ensure both are what you want. I've been served the wrong vintage *several* times at restaurants. I have given up on worrying about that, usually it's close enough. However I once was served a bottle that cost $169 more - the right winery, the wrong sub-type. So make sure you check ALL parts of the label to verify your order. The $169 Wine Ordering Mistake.

Open the Bottle

Whether it's a Champagne cork, a regular cork, a screwcap or any other closure, the waiter should open the bottle with a minimum of noise and fuss. His sole aim should be to get the cork off without letting the wine escape, the bubbles escape or bits of cork fall into the bottle.

In some restaurants they will show you the cork. This is done to prove to the buyer that the cork matched the wine - i.e. that the restaurant hadn't pre-opened the bottle, poured out the good wine, and poured in bad wine, then corking it with a new cork. Most people don't usually worry about that sort of thing in modern times. And plus, they could have re-corked the bottle with a matching cork if they really were going to go to those lengths.

Pour Out a Sample

10% of all wine bottles with cork in the top end up "corked" - that is, mold naturally found in tree bark taints the wine's flavor. It ends up tasting like cardboard and wet paper. You always want to taste a wine to see if you detect those flaws. The wine is served to whoever ordered the bottle - male OR female, young OR old. That person swirls it, takes a sip, and says whether they think it is OK or not.

Pour Out the Wine

It's usually best for the waiter to serve clockwise around the table, standing over the right shoulder of each person as he pours. He should never fill up a wine glass fully - you want it half full at most, so there's room for the person to swirl the wine and release its aromas. He can always refill the glass when you need more. It's also less likely for the person to spill it that way.

Some restaurants pour the womens' wine and then the mens' - but those are usually the restaurants that give women menus without prices on them :) A personal pet peeve of mine. In fact I was at a restaurant like that once, with my boyfriend and another single friend, and the single female friend got a priceless menu even though she was paying her own bill! What, was she supposed to guess at prices?

Leave the Remaining Bottle in a Cooler

No wine - neither red nor white - should be served at "room temperature". They should all be kept chilled to varying degrees for serving.

NOTE: If the wine needs decanting, you're sort of in trouble - wine can't "breathe" in 5 minutes. It needs to be in a decanter for 30 minutes to an hour usually. Just popping the cork and letting the wine sit, in bottle, for 5 minutes isn't going to make any difference. There is only a tiny circle of air - with no air movement - for any sort of oxidation to take place in!

Also, a wine that needs decanting is one that has sediment - meaning if the waiter has to go down into the cellar, bring the bottle upstairs, pour it into a decanter - some of that sediment is going to be mixed into the wine. I doubt it'll settle back out in 30 minutes! The "swirling of the wine and air" does help *slightly* - and wine does look pretty in a decanter - so if your waiter really does want to do this, it's not worth arguing about. Just make sure he is being really careful with the wine and with his pouring if it's a wine that could have any sediment in it.

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All content on the WineIntro website is personally written by author and wine enthusiast Lisa Shea. WineIntro explores the delicious variety and beautiful history which makes up our world of wine! Lisa loves supporting local wineries and encouraging people to drink whatever they like. We all have different taste buds, and that makes our world wonderful. Always drink responsibly.