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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Do I Have to Endure the Wine Opening Rigamarole?

Posted By on Tue, Sep 20, 2011 at 10:45 AM

click to enlarge You don't need to say anything. Just like this lady.
  • You don't need to say anything. Just like this lady.

I'm fielding your questions about dining out in 21st-century Bay Area restaurants. Have one? Email me

The learning curve on ordering wine in restaurants isn't as steep as it appears. And it's not hard to relax on the bottom end of the curve without feeling pressure to climb. Take this week's questions about how to navigate the ritual around pouring wine.

T.W.: When the server shows you the bottle you ordered, what do you say? "Yep, that's it all right," or what?

J.S.: Is it all possible to skip over the thing where they pour a little bit of wine and then I have to taste it and pretend like I know anything and give a curt little nod? It's a bit of theater that always bothers me.

The subtext to both questions seems to be: What do I have to do to avoid looking like a fool? Not much, actually.

In answer to T.W.'s question, all you have to do is nod. You're just confirming to the waiter that the bottle she brought out is the one you ordered -- not just the brand, but the vineyard and vintage as well. You might not have been paying attention to the vintage when you were looking over the menu, but I've been out to dinner with wine pros who immediately called out the restaurant for switching out a 2007 for 2006 without updating the wine list. 

So if you picked a bottle at random but want to pretend you made a careful, intelligent choice, all you have to do is peer closely enough to read the year and then nod. If you're on your third bottle, simply confirm that the wine is, indeed, alcoholic. 

As to that whole "theater" around uncorking a bottle and pouring a taste for the person who ordered it, you're not alone in finding it fussy and potentially humiliating. But there's one reason you should go through the ritual, even if you have no idea who Robert Parker is.

When the waiter pours a taste into your glass, you're not being asked to expound over the pencil shavings in the bouquet or snidely comment, "My, they're certainly fond of American oak." All the waiter wants you do to do is confirm that the wine isn't flawed. And the flaw you're most likely going to encounter is cork taint, which affects 1 to 7 percent of all bottles stoppered with natural corks. 

So indulge the waiter by taking a sip of the wine. Does it taste mildewed? Mossy? Like wet cardboard? If you think so, ask the waiter to have a sniff. If it doesn't taste bad -- or if you don't care -- just nod, and he'll pour you the full glass you wanted all along. 

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Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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Jonathan Kauffman


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