I’m not a wine guy. I like whisky and beer. But I appreciate the artistry that goes into making wine and I respect people who have a good grasp of Oenology. However, since most people are dopes when it comes to ordering wine, I’ve assembled a list of tips to help you not look like a putz. It’s not an exhaustive list. (It’s not a knowledgeable list for that matter either. I’m sure the wine snobs are going to rip it apart.) It’s just a list of observations I’ve made over the years.
HOW TO ORDER WINE WITHOUT LOOKING LIKE AN ASSHOLE
1. Look at the wine list before asking, “What kind of wines do you serve by the glass?” The list at my bistro’s extensive. If I’ve got to rattle off all the wines, you’re wasting my time. Forgot your reading glasses? I’ll lend you mine.
2. Don’t ask, “What’s cheap?”
3. We love selling glasses of wine! The restaurant makes more money per bottle that way! Pssst! It’s usually cheaper to buy the bottle.
4. No, you can’t taste every wine on the list before deciding on something.
5. Read the wine list. Note the prices!
6. Remember the mark up – Most establishments mark up the price of a bottle from 1 ½ to 5 times the wholesale price. (At my bistro the markup’s pretty low.) Since you’re paying so much I recommend getting something you can’t get at the gas station or Stew Leonard’s. But that’s just me.
7. If you can’t pronounce the name of the wine, don’t. Just tell me the number. It’s like ordering in a Chinese restaurant. And don’t get all self conscious that “Brunello Montalcino di Biondi Santi” rolls off my tongue with the greatest of ease. I’ve had plenty of practice. You haven’t.
8. When the waiter presents the bottle LOOK AT THE LABEL! Sometimes waiters make mistakes. My bistro has several wines of differing vintages from the same maker. Sometimes a ’97 is a shitload more expensive than an ‘01! You drink it you buy it. Caveat emptor pal.
9. DO NOT SMELL THE CORK! – When I see someone do this I know I’m dealing with a complete amateur. Guess what you’re gonna smell? Cork! You want to feel the cork to make sure it’s intact. Is the bottom of the cork moistened with wine? Good. That means it was stored properly. Make sure the name on the cork matches the name on the bottle. Sometimes unscrupulous bastards put cheap wine in old wine bottles and re-cork them! Is there mold on the cork? That’s a bad sign. But smelling the cork, in the vast majority of cases, tells you nothing. (Full disclosure – I used to smell the cork before I was a waiter.)
10. DON’T SMELL THE PLASTIC CORK EITHER!- I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people do this. Lots of wine makers are moving away from natural cork to synthetics. Sniffing a plastic cork tells the world you’re a moron. Don’t smell the bottle cap either. (I never smelled the plastic cork before I was a waiter, so there!)
11. Swirl the wine – Now I pour some wine into a glass for you to taste. Most customers swirl the wine around in the glass to oxygenate or “open it up.” That’s fine. But SWIRL the wine! Don’t spin it like you’re trying to separate U-235 in a centrifuge machine! You’ve all seen these “connoisseurs.” They put the base of the glass on the table top and get a really good rotation going. Then they stop, smell, spin it again, stop, smell, spin, stop, smell, spin etc. After a few minutes they finally taste it and I have several new grey hairs. Maybe I can see that for 1975 Bordeaux. But for a $25 bottle you can pick up in the grocery store for $6? Please. You’re showing off.
12. Taste the wine – Now you take a sip. If the wine tastes like vinegar or smells like moldy cheese it’s bad.
13. Sending the wine back – If the wine’s bad send it back! It’s no skin off our nose. Usually we get a credit from the distributor. In most cases, however, people refuse a perfectly good bottle of wine just because they don’t like it. Whose problem is that? Mine? I don’t think so.
14. After you’ve tasted the wine and decided its acceptable say, “That’s fine,” or “Thank you.” That means you’ve accepted the bottle and will pay for it. Don’t wave, grunt, or nod. Tell me verbally you’re accepting the wine. This is a business transaction. Show some manners.
15. The Big Glasses – At my bistro we have very serviceable red and white wine glasses. However, some yuppies have a wine glass fetish and insist on sipping $6 Chianti out of a $50 Riedel balloon glass. Stop whining. The big glasses are for people who order older expensive wines that need to breathe. People who drink cheap wine out of the “big glasses” usually want the neighboring tables to think they’re drinking something pricey when they aren’t. Hey, Greeks and Italian’s drink wine out of water glasses. Get over it.
16. Finishing the bottle – Most people finish a bottle of wine because they enjoy it. But some people finish it because they think they can’t take it home. In the State of New York you take an open bottle home as long as the restaurant places it in a special sealed bag with a receipt. That way, if the cops pull you over, they know you’ve been drinking but not in the car! Good luck!
17. Know your limits – Wine is still booze! It can fuck you up just like tequila and usually faster. Pace yourself.
18. Cheap wine doesn’t mean its bad and expensive wine doesn’t mean it’s good. But expensive wine is usually expensive because it’s good and in demand. Simple economics folks.
19. If there’s cork in the wine that doesn’t mean the wine’s bad.
20. If there’s sediment at the bottom of the glass that doesn’t mean the wine’s bad.
21. Control your intake – My advice is to pour your own wine. That way you can control your intake and spending. Some waiters try and pour out the bottle before you’re done buttering your dinner rolls. They’re trying to make you buy another bottle! I hate that shit and don’t do it to my customers. When I go out, unless I know the waiter’s not a con artist, I pour my own wine.
22. Often the customer knows more about wine than the waiter does. (But sommeliers usually know more about wine than anybody.) Don’t try and embarrass the waiter by asking him whether the soil in a particular vineyard’s chalky or clay. We don’t know. But if you’re showing off in order to make me look bad – I have ways of exacting vengeance.
23.Tipping on wine. That’s always a tricky question. Here’s an example. I had a guy order a $500 bottle of Barolo and $100 in food. He left me $50 bucks. That’s fair. But I once had a guy order the same thing and leave me $200. Guess who I like better?
24. If you bring your own wine into a restaurant that has a liquor license you’re gonna pay a corking charge. Deal with it. We already let people carry in Starbucks coffee and breast feed their babies at the table. Next thing you know they’ll want to bring their own food.
25. Merlot is a perfectly good wine. Don’t believe all that “Sideways” crap. God I hate that movie!
26. Its wine, not the Blood of Christ. Don’t worship it. Enjoy it.
If you have anything to add to this list please feel free to email me or leave a comment. Maybe I’ll add it to the list.
Now I’m gonna get myself a beer.