Ordering and approving wine at a restaurant is an extensive, ritualistic process. And if you aren’t very familiar with wine, it can be anxiety-inducing. If you learn the basic rules of how to order and approve wine, your next experience in a restaurant will be far less daunting.

How Do You Order and Approve Wine at a Restaurant

When ordering and approving wine, always remember to:

  • Choose your wine based on your meal and the restaurant-style.
  • Set your price limit and stick to it.
  • Be courteous and specific with your Sommelier when ordering.
  • Carefully smell and taste a sample of your wine before approving it.

Following these basic steps will make ordering wine more pleasant for everyone involved. Nevertheless, there’s more information about these steps that will make for an even more enjoyable experience. Follow the instructions outlined below, and you’re sure to be ordering wine like a pro

How to Choose Wine

Even if you don’t know which dish you want to order and which wine might match it, you can do a few things ahead of time to make your choice at the restaurant easier. Here they are:

Look at the Wine List Ahead of Time

Many restaurants post their wine lists online. Take a few moments before you go to the restaurant to familiarize yourself with the restaurant’s wines.

Check for a “Sommelier’s List”

Large wine lists sometimes feature a shorter “Sommelier’s List.” Much like a “Specials List” on a dinner menu, this list might offer interesting wines and personal favorites of the sommelier.

Order Regional Wines

If you are at an Italian restaurant, you should without question order Italian wine. Pay attention to the food menu and what region it best represents. For example, if the menu is more Mediterranean-themed, choose a wine from a Southern Italian region.

Know Your Price Range

One of the trickiest parts of choosing the right wine is figuring out what price to pay. Here are a few tips to make sure you get the best deal for your money:

  • Do Your Research. As a general rule of thumb, restaurants charge 2x to 3x the retail price for bottled wines. If you’re concerned about cost, check the wine list and the retail prices on your top choices beforehand.
  • Watch for Markup. While it may be tempting to snatch up the best deals on the menu, the least expensive wines typically are grossly marked up. There are plenty of delicious cheap wines on restaurant menus, but make sure you’re not getting duped before buying.
  • Don’t Fall for the “Second Cheapest” Trick. With the cheapest bottle out of the picture, the second-cheapest seems to be the best option. But in most cases, they’re not. Restaurants know all too well that diners who don’t want to break the bank will gravitate towards this option. Thus, markups can be excessive here too.
  • When in Doubt, Order in the Middle. If the price dilemma is too overwhelming, just order something in the middle of the wine list. These mid-range wines generally offer the best price-quality ratio.

Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone

Finally, don’t be afraid to order wines from lesser-known regions or with unfamiliar grape varietals. Many diners overlook these hidden although they might be delicious and fairly-priced options.

How to Order Wine

The next challenge is to give your order to the sommelier. Pronouncing the names of Italian or French correctly might be an intimidating task. But there is no need to be afraid to look like a fool. Just remember these simple steps, and you can order your wine without breaking a sweat.

Know Your Preferences

Make sure to give your sommelier at least some hints about your wine preferences. Even if you can’t name a specific wine or a varietal, tell him or her if you like reds or whites better. If you can’t decide, use your meal as your guide, as certain foods pair better with reds or whites.

More Details on the Differences: WHITE WINE VS. RED WINE – HOW DO THEY DIFFER?

Besides the color, you might have likes and dislikes regarding other characteristics. If you can name these preferences, you’ll help the sommelier make a much better wine recommendation. These are the wine characteristics you should know:

  • Varietal: The varietal is the name of the grapes that a wine is made from. Popular varietals are, for instance, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, or Pinot Noir. If you know you like a certain varietal, communicate this to your sommelier.
  • Body: Also known as mouthfeel, wine body describes the texture of the wine inside the mouth. Light-bodied wines have a thin, watery texture, while full-bodied wines are rather creamy. Wine body can also be a good indicator of alcohol content: Wines with a high alcohol content typically have a full body.
  • Tannins: Tannins are the compounds in grapes that give you the mouth-drying sensation when drinking. The level of tannins in wine massively impacts the drinking experience. So letting your sommelier know whether you prefer a high-tannin wine or a low-tannin wine will lead to a much better wine recommendation.
  • Bouquet: The bouquet is the combination of scents a wine produces during fermentation and aging. Typically, a rough description of your preferences, such as “fruity” or “earthy,” is enough to help the sommelier find an excellent wine for you.

Set Your Price

Be very direct with your sommelier about your price range. If you are uncomfortable stating it out loud, point to a bottle on the list that’s within your range, and tell your sommelier you’d prefer something like it.

Glass or Bottle

You should already know whether you want a glass or a bottle of wine when the sommelier takes your order. There are approximately five glasses of wine to a bottle. If you’re with a large group of people who have different wine preferences, it’s more affordable to order by the glass. However, it’s generally cheaper to order by the bottle for a small group who want to drink a similar type of wine.

Be Kind to Your Sommelier

This rule should go without saying – just be nice! Your sommelier’s job is to help you. If you’re kind, personable, and ask relevant questions, your sommelier will be much more inclined to help you find the perfect wine for your meal!


How to Approve Your Wine

Before filling the glasses, the sommelier presents the wine for approval. A good sommelier always lets the person who made the order approve the bottle. In case you aren’t this person, don’t ask to check it. But if you are, there are a few key processes that will help you ensure that you got what you asked for.

Check the Bottle Label

First, the sommelier presents the bottle to you. Take a moment to check the wine’s name, the varietal, and the vintage year to ensure they’re correct. If the sommelier makes the label visible and it turns out to be the wrong wine, the blame is on you.

Waiter Presents Red Wine Bottle to Patron

Patron Checking a Wine Bottle Label

Check the Wine’s Temperature

Touch the bottle with the palm of your hand to check its temperature. If it’s too warm, it should be chilled down. And if it’s too cold, you should wait a couple of minutes before drinking.

More Details on Wine Serving Temperature: WHAT IS THE RIGHT SERVING TEMPERATURE FOR WINE?

Inspect the Cork

After the bottle presentation, the sommelier pulls the cork out of the bottle and places it on the table. Inspect it. The cork should be damp on one side, indicating that it was stored properly. If it looks dry or crumbly, the wine might have suffered from oxidation. You shouldn’t sniff the cork, though. The sommelier or other patrons might consider that pretentious. And the cork’s smell won’t give you much information anyway.

Taste the Wine

Next, the sommelier pours a small sip of wine into your glass. To approve it, you should follow these steps:

  • Swirl the Glass: Give your glass a few swirls to aerate your wine and help it release its aromas. Have an eye on the wine to make sure there aren’t any cork pieces in it.
  • Take a Sniff: After swirling it, bring the glass directly to your nose and take a long, deep sniff. Feel free to do this a few times to capture all the different smells in the bouquet. If the wine smells moldy, musty, or burnt, like wet cardboard or vinegar, that’s a clear sign that it’s not drinkable anymore.
  • Sample the Wine: Take a small sip of wine and let it sit in your mouth for a few moments before you swallow. If the wine tastes as it should and you can’t detect any off-flavors, give your sommelier a sign of approval.

When and How to Send Wine Back

Sending a bottle of wine back is an uncomfortable scenario that diners and sommeliers want to avoid at all costs. Nevertheless, it does happen. Here are a few different reasons to send your wine back and how to handle each situation appropriately.

The Wine is Faulty

In case your wine tastes or smells like it is faulty, that’s a valid reason to send it back. Politely mention to your sommelier that it doesn’t taste right. No matter how obvious the fault is, always ask for the professional’s opinion, instead of declaring your conviction right away. If the sommelier confirms the wine’s fault, the restaurant should replace the bottle without any questions.

The Wine Tastes Funny

You may encounter a scenario where something in the wine tastes strange, but you can’t point out the problem exactly. In this situation, politely describe the flavor you’re experiencing. The sommelier may be able to explain the unique flavor – or confirm the bottle actually is faulty.

You Just Don’t Like the Wine

Finally, there might be nothing wrong with the wine, but you just don’t like it. That’s surely the most unpleasant situation, and every wine connoisseur and restaurant will have a slightly different stance on this matter. Here there are a few generally-accepted guidelines for this scenario:

  • If you chose the wine, keep it. Take this as a general rule of thumb: You selected it, so the blame is on you. Thus, you should keep the bottle and pay it. In case you try to send it back anyway, expect some resistance from the sommelier or the restaurant owner.
  • If your sommelier chose the wine, send it back. If you put your choice in the hands of the sommelier, they’ll likely be more inclined to take the bottle back and help you choose a new one.
  • In any case, don’t be aggressive or condescending. Instead, be courteous and kind to your staff. You may find that they’re willing to take back a perfectly good bottle of wine regardless of the situation.

Final Words

Ordering and approving wine can be a little intimidating, especially in restaurants with extensive wine lists. But with the rules in this guide, you’re well prepared to master these situations. Always remember: At the end of the day, most Sommeliers and restaurant owners always put customers first as long as they’re polite and kind. So don’t hesitate to ask for help and wine recommendations.