How to order wine


For some, ordering their tall (or is it short??) double, skinny, mocha, latte, iced first thing in the a.m. is a no brainer, but don't feel as confident when faced with the daunting prospect of ordering wine from a menu in a public institution.  I understand the pressure that can come with this kind of decision.  There are so many options and aspects to consider that I'm sure I'm not alone when I've decided to go with the “close your eyes and point” strategy.  However, there's hope for us all because I've put together a couple of basic guidelines that will help you narrow down your search with little to no pain.
First things first: Glass or bottle??  By opting for just a glass, you automatically narrow your search to a handful of options.  From there you can either base your decision upon price point, or if you're still a little bit confused, tell your server what you like and she can take it from there.  Your servers or sommeliers are very capable and should be quite intimate with the wine list.
If you're sitting with 2 or more people, we recommend getting a bottle because it's a bit more cost effective in the long run. Always try to have just one person in charge of picking the wine in order to avoid heckling over a merlot or a cabernet… choosing a wine doesn't have to be completely democratic. Also, when going this route, choose your colors early in the decision process.  This narrows down your options by half, making the decision less painful.

From there, you can decide what will go best with your meals.  If everyone is having something different, try a soft red like a pinot noir, that can stand up to your red meats but also pairs quite well with your fish and poultry.  If white is what floats your boat, go with something crisp that has more body.  If you have a large group, I would recommend ordering both a bottle of red and a bottle of white for the table.

If this task stills seems a bit overwhelming, point to a wine in your price range and simply ask your server their thoughts on the wine.  They'll be happy to guide you in the right direction.

Ok, moving on.  You've ordered your wine… now what?  You don't have to feel like a bumbling idiot if you're the person chosen to take that first taste.  When your server comes back to display the bottle, simply check if it's actually the bottle you've ordered.  This part of the ritual isn't for you to faun and admire the pretty label, so don't worry if you aren't sure you're giving the right amount of accolades.  When your server opens the bottle and hands you the cork, go ahead and take a good gander at it.  If you've got a serious bottle, check to make sure the cork is moist, without any damage to it as it could be signs for a damaged wine.  When the wine has been poured, swirl the wine a bit to open it up, smell it and then taste it.  If it doesn't smell musky or moldy, you're good to go.

However, if you're caught in that sticky situation where the wine has been “corked”, any good restaurant should be more than happy to take the bottle back.  Be polite but firm and don't let it hang up your evening too much.

See, not as bad as you thought, right??  Ordering wine is no big deal, just take the bull by the horns and you'll be a wine ordering pro soon enough.

New York Wine Co. in Manhattan. So far so good!

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: Mark Angelillo
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    2 5,324

    A practical perspective.

    Aug 18, 2008 at 11:03 AM

  • definitely information worth knowing… keep up the good work!

    Aug 19, 2008 at 10:53 AM

  • Snooth User: John Andrews
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    36106 3,448

    Just to add some financial perspective (courtesy of WSJ)

    - Typically, a restaurant will price a glass of wine such that it will cover the wholesale price of the bottle (typically 1/3 of retail)

    - Markup on a bottle of wine will be from 4x to 1.5x. Interestingly, you _can_ get better value on more expensive wine than a cheaper one.

    - Markup will include things like distributer markup, local tax, level of service, stemware and to be ‘in-line' with competition

    While it is impossible to know the retail price of every wine if you are familiar with a few that are commonly available and compare them to the price on a wine list you can get an idea of the restaurant markups. For example, (as the article suggests) use a champagne. I use the 99 Veuve Cliquot Gold Label which I have found retails around $65. So when I see it retail for around $100 I know the markup isn't that bad.

    While the WSJ article doesn't clear everything up it is a good read. See it here:

    Aug 19, 2008 at 12:11 PM

  • Gabriella Opaz

    Great post! But I'd like to add one more thought. Little is mentioned about ordering wine in other countries. Although the process is generally the same, I would advise anyone to do a quick google search on local customs, pricing and language. There are some customs that are perceived as offensive in some cultures, such as excessive swirling and sniffing, an indication that you “must not” like the wine (rather than you absolutely love the wine and want more of that great aroma!); or the way in which you hold your glass.

    Living in Spain, it took awhile for us to learn how to ask for a decanter, a bucket of ice, a new bottle or a clean glass; hence, why not come armored? It takes a little effort and pays off tenfold.

    Aug 20, 2008 at 10:44 AM

  • Snooth User: Philip James
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    1 12,575

    I like the idea behind just letting one person pick the wine - it doesnt need to be an ordeal, but having 5 people browse the list makes the whole thing a bit of a palava! Now, if hats what you are after, go ahead and geek out!

    Aug 22, 2008 at 12:12 PM

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