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August 10, 2008 - Wine Cooler

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Wine Tasting Ritual De-Mythed: How to Test Wine in a Restaurant

You?re at a restaurant and somehow the job of ordering wine has landed on your plate - literally. You realize that, much to your dismay, not only will you have to order the wine; you?ll also be expected to make sure it?s okay for your table to drink.

You?ve just encountered one of the most intimidating public wine drinking experiences; and, naturally, you?re wondering how to pull it off without looking like a bozo.

First step, relax! This is a simple ? and way overrated -- ritual that has been around for years. And, luckily it?s the same ritual in every restaurant. So learn it once and you?re all set.

This is a three-step process. There really are no time limits; although you could annoy your server to no end if you drag it out too long. And annoying your server needlessly is rarely a good idea.

Step 1: The presentation of the wine bottle

The server is slowly walking up to your table and you swear you hear the theme song from Rocky playing in the background. Take a deep breath and make eye contact.

He or she will execute the presentation-of-the-bottle portion of the ritual. This is simply so you can verify that it?s what you ordered. Hopefully, you can remember.

Take a good look at the label. Is it the correct wine and vintage (year)? If it is, nicely tell the server you are accepting the bottle for the table and to be opened. If it isn?t, nicely point out the mistake to the server. (Hey, no one?s perfect).

As the server is opening the bottle, this is a good time to smile and say something witty to your guests who have been staring at you the entire time. Although not necessary, it makes things a little lighter.

Step 2: ? The opening of the wine bottle

The server opens the bottle and gently places the cork next to your hand. No matter what, fight the urge to smell it! Smelling the cork accomplishes nothing, and will make you look like a dork. Especially if it?s a plastic cork or screw top.

Just feel the cork to make sure the bottom is moistened with wine and that it?s intact. It?s okay if the cork is dry, but it shouldn?t be cracked or falling apart. There?s not much you can learn by feeling a plastic cork or, worse, a screw top.

While you were feeling the cork, the server has poured a small amount of wine into your glass. Simply swirl the wine a tad. No need to go crazy and create a whirlpool in your glass. Just a little, calm swirl. This helps ?open up your wine? or oxygenate it so you can smell and taste the true flavor.

Now, with nose in the glass, take a nice long whiff. Without getting into the complexity of the specific aromas of the grapes, you are simply making sure the wine is not bad. Believe me you will know if it?s bad as the essence of vinegar or mold will be present.

Now taste it. Odds are it will be great. Every now and then a wine will be either ?corked? (the cork has contaminated the wine) or it was damaged by improper storage. If either of those has happened, you will probably taste something like moldy bread or fruit, a wet basement, cork, cardboard, or vinegar. It will be pretty obvious that it should be sent back.

Step 3: Serving the table

If your wine passes steps 1 & 2, then let the server know that the drinking can begin. He or she will pour to your guests first, beginning with the ladies. Your glass will be the last one to be filled. Chances are good you?ll get the bill at the end of the night, too.

Congratulations! You?ve now mastered the ritual that intimidates and scares many people and you didn?t look like an idiot! In fact you undoubtedly looked fabulous.

?2006, Let?s Talk About Wine

Lynne Thomas knows a good glass of wine when she drinks one. She is a founding partner of Let?s Talk About Wine, a wine information resource created to connect people who want to learn about wine the fun, easy way. Visit for a few laughs and a lot of info.

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Wine Tasting Ritual De-Mythed: How to Test Wine in a Restaurant

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