Wine Etiquette: Tasting at a Restaurant

By Lauren Loeffler A meal without wine is a day without sunshine.

When I go to a restaurant, a thoughtful wine list is almost as important to me as the food offerings. I’m a sucker for striving toward that perfect pairing. The closest I’ve gotten so far is Prosecco and fried chicken – it may sound quirky, but if you try it, you’ll thank me!

When ordering a bottle of wine at a restaurant, the server will always pour a tasting portion to the person who made the selection first, waiting for approval to pour for the rest of the table. This is a well-known fact for all restaurant diners and wine drinkers.

This tradition comes from the ages before cork, actually. Wines bottles were once sealed by adding a layer of oil that would settle above the wine and keep air out. When having a dinner gathering, the host would taste the wine first to ensure that all the oil had been removed.

There is no more oil to remove today, but occasionally there are bad bottles, so restaurants allow the patron to taste it first. Here is my “pro tip” about this exercise: swirl, sniff, taste, and nod. Make it quick! The reason for the tasting is not to savor the wine’s complexities, pick up on the subtle influence of oak, or determine if it will, in fact, pair perfectly with the glazed duck you’re planning to order. The reason for tasting is to determine if the wine is fit to drink – to make sure it’s not corked.

Taste first, savor later. Your server will appreciate your promptness, as will your fellow diners who are ready to taste as well!