How to order wine in a restaurant, part three: the tasting ritual
This tradition stems from a time when many more bottles of wine were off than they are today. Now, bottling is better, and many bottles are screwtops, which gets rid of many risks of the infamous cork taint.
So why do we still do it?
Part of it is ritual. Rationalist amongst you may see this as pointless, but ritual and tradition are huge contributors to our pleasure of wine, so shouldn’t be discounted.
For me, there’s three primary, rational reasons for the process.
First: check the bottle. Make sure it is what you ordered. Make sure the vintage and producer line up. You might see a more expensive wine or likewise cheaper than you wanted.
Second: check the wine’s temperature. Red wine should not be served at a summer’s room temperature. They should be cooler than that. Touch the bottle. Or check the temperature in your mouth. Red wine that is too hot will taste more alcoholic and flatter.
Third: check if it’s off. The key here is sniff once before swirling. Swirling brings out a lot of wine’s more pleasant aromas. A quick sniff, pre-swirl will show you the off ones predominantly. If it smells of cardboard, mould, or vinegar, there’s potentially a problem.
If there is a problem, raise it. Ask “is it supposed to be like that, it seems a bit vinegary/fizzy/cardboardy.” Some wines, especially given natural wine’s growth have imperfections to them.
It’s a huge ritual, and for 99% of wine, it’s going to be fine, but run through this quick checklist if you want to look for something.