Let’s be honest: Some of the rituals that people go through when a restaurant server brings a bottle of wine to the table can be downright hilarious.
In particular, the practice of sniffing the just-dislodged cork sends a clear signal that the sniffer THINKS he knows a lot about wine.
But, hey, if his guests are impressed, no harm done.
However, there are a few things that the host of the party could – and should – do to help assure a positive wine-drinking experience for everyone.
First and foremost, when the selected bottle is brought to the table, check the label to make sure you’ve received the wine that you ordered. It’s easy for a server or even a sommelier to make a mistake, especially when a restaurant stocks multiple bottlings from an estate.
When checking the label, first verify the winery name. Next, confirm the grape variety or “name” of the wine. Finally, and equally important, check the vintage.
A Bordeaux from 2003 (a very hot year) is going to taste different than a 2004 Bordeaux from the same chateau.
Long story short: Make sure you got the wine you ordered.
Next, do take a look at the cork. If it’s wet all the way through, from tip to tip, it’s possible that air got into the bottle and damaged the wine. The same holds true if the cork seems brittle and crumbly.
Keep in mind, however, that the appearance of the cork provides only clues. It’s very possible that the wine inside the bottle is just fine.
As mentioned earlier, there’s no need to smell the cork – unless, that is, you enjoy the aroma of cork. Do, however, smell the wine that the server has splashed into your glass.
This is the most important part of the process because a wine that has spoiled will not only taste “off,” it will smell “off.” In fact, once you’ve opened and tested enough bottles, the only thing you really need to check is the aroma.
When smelling the wine, you’re sniffing for obvious defects – musty impressions reminiscent of wet cardboard. If you detect such an aroma, hand the glass to your server and ask him or her to smell it. An experienced server will recognize the “off” aroma and fetch a fresh bottle.
If you want to go the extra step of tasting the wine, that’s fine. But all tasting accomplishes is to confirm what you smelled. It’s impossible for a foul-smelling wine to taste good, or for a foul-tasting wine to smell good. Flavors and aromas are attached at the hip – or somewhere higher up in the body.
Keep in mind that the goal is not to impress your guests with your wine knowledge. Rather, it’s to assure that they – and you – receive a quality bottle of wine to enjoy with your meal.
It’s not about pretense. It’s about pleasure.