Wine Tips & Tricks

How to Order Wine at a Restaurant

How To Order Wine at a Restaurant

So you’ve picked out a wine at a restaurant… Now what? Find out the common practices in fine dining so you’ll how to order wine at a restaurant.

The three basic parts of how to order wine at a restaurant are: verify the bottle, inspect the cork, and approve the wine sample.

Verify the Bottle

When the server comes over and shows you the bottle, he is simply verifying that the bottle he has in his hand is the wine that you ordered. Mistakes happen more often than you might think, especially if a restaurant is offering multiple wines from the same producer and the bottles look almost the same. If you have ordered a very old and fine bottle of wine, you’ll usually want to inspect its condition such as bottle fill level, the importer sticker, the foil that covers the cork and the temperature with a light touch of the hand (fine bottles should be stored cooler than room temperature).

Inspect the Cork

The cork gives you a clue as to what’s happening inside the bottle. In many white tablecloth restaurants, the wine server will set the cork down on a small plate or napkin or, in the case of the video, directly on the table. The reason this is done is to inspect the cork to determine that it’s printed with the same producer as the label and so you can see if there’s any seepage going up to the edge of the cork. A wine may still be good if it has seepage all the way up the cork, but there is also an increasing possibility that it could be flawed.

Approve the Wine Sample

Approving the sample is simply to determine if the wine is flawed in any way. There are three common ways a wine can be flawed. Once you determine that it’s not flawed, tell the server to pour around!


A corked wine smells like wet cardboard and is super musty. It isn’t bad to drink but the aroma is ruined by the off-smell. TCA is the culprit (for you geeks: Trichloroanisole) and can affect anywhere from 1-10% of a winery’s production. It’s caused by mold from unclean corks. It can also be caused in the winery from improperly cleaned barrels and even from some flame retardant paints that cause mold to build up behind the paint on the walls. Our noses are super sensitive to the smell of TCA, so it’ll be obvious when you smell the wine if TCA is afoot!

On Location

This episode was filmed on location at Poppy Restaurant in Seattle, WA

Cooked or Maderized?

A wine can get cooked when it’s stored at extended periods over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. When you smell the wine it’ll smell a little like stewed old jam. The smell of jam in a dessert wine may be fine, but it’s not the way most dry red wines smell! The aroma may smell nice but when you taste it, it will be very flat in taste with very little flavor except for a little sourness. The flavors of a cooked wine are completely muted.


A single bottle can be oxidized if that particular bottle was not properly sealed. A wine turns to vinegar when it’s exposed to oxygen and so when you are checking the wine to see if it has gone bad in this way you’ll be looking for a very zingy high-acid flavor that’s similar to vinegar. The wine will smell sharp and may smell similar to apple cider vinegar.


Find Out!What’s The Trouble With Wine by the Glass?

Chris Moore: Did you decide on some wine?

Oh heck yes, um, bring me the malbec!

Chris Moore: lovely

Chris Moore: Alright ma’am we have the 2012 Mike’s Hard Cranberry Lemonade.

Believe it or not, this happens more often than you might think where the wrong bottle comes out. Make sure to check the label, the style and the vintage to what you asked for.

Chris Moore: Sorry to interrupt ladies so here we have the Altos Las Hormigas Malbec from Mendoza

He puts the cork down so that you can inspect it. You want to make sure that it’s the same cork that was supposed to go in the bottle. If there’s any seepage going up all the way to the end of the cork. You don’t need to smell it though. Common misconception is he pours you a sample to see if you like it. Actually, he pours you a sample to see if the wine is flawed. Your job is to tell if the wine is corked, cooked or oxidized.

When your wine is corked it kinda smells like wet cardboard. It has a super musty aroma and it reminds me of wet dogs. What happens though is it is not because of the cork necessarily, it’s in the winemaking process, a specific TCA taint gets into the wine. You’ll know as soon as you smell it that it’s bad, you don’t even need to taste it, push it aside and tell him that it’s not good.

So what if your wine is oxidized? Well, Oxidization happens in bottling usually, air gets into the bottle and ruins that particular bottle. When it’s oxidized your wine can be very cloudy, it can stain brown, even on a young wine, and when you taste it, it’ll taste like vinegar. This wine, you might not be able to tell if it’s a red wine that it’s oxidized, but you’ll know when you taste it. If it tastes flat, tart, super vinegary on your mouth this is an oxidized wine.

So what if your wine is cooked? What happens is when your wine gets cooked or maderized it’s usually in the transportation process. If the trucks get hotter than 90 degrees it can actually cook the wine that they’re transporting to the restaurant. Or if the restaurant’s not storing their wine properly, you might have a cooked wine on your hands. This wine you’ll have to taste to make sure that it’s okay. It might smell sweet and good to you but when you taste it, it will be sour and flat. That’s how you’ll determine a cooked wine.

That wine is clean!


That’s yummers it’s super yummers, it’s like sweet berries and wine.

Chris More: Then what?!

About Madeline Puckette

James Beard Award-winning author and Wine Communicator of the Year. I co-founded Wine Folly to help people learn about wine. @WineFolly

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