The Do’s and Don’t’s Of Ordering Wine at a Restaurant

Last Updated: September 26, 2018
How To Order Wine Like a Pro at a Restaurant |

How To Order Wine: Tips from DineAmic Group’s Wine Director, Adam Sweders

The holidays will be here soon, which means, there will be a lot of entertaining happening. While dining out with friends, family, clients, and/or co-workers, there can be a few nerve-wracking moments you wish you knew to impress him/her or them. The first is being handed a wine list and asked by the table to pick a “winner.” Then, the bottle is brought to the table and there is the tasting portion, if you order it, essentially you will be the one asked to taste it. On both occasions, if you are not a certified sommelier or a wine connoisseur, what is the right thing to do?

Impress your guests with some simple knowledge about choosing the correct wine and making sure it is a winner. Below are some tips from DineAmic Group’s Wine Director, Adam Sweders, that will help you not only pick out the correct wine but to “do’s” and “don’t” when the bottle arrives at the table.

Sweders says:

Don’t fret about this subject. It is a lot easier than most think it is and with these helpful tips, you’ll be able to dine with confidence and impress everyone at the table.

The first thing to remember… there are no tricks

As a sommelier for the past decade, I’ve heard a lot of interesting things including the following. And while some of these – and countless more – comments may have some rationality to them.

“I heard the best wine is the second cheapest on the list.” – False

Nine out of ten times there are no tricks on the wine list. The Sommelier or wine buyer is listing the best wines they feel fit for their clientele in their respective price points. On my lists at DineAmic Group restaurants the second cheapest wine is amazing, but so is the cheapest, and the third cheapest.

“The Sommelier only recommends wines they are trying to get rid of.” – False again

Any Sommelier pushing wines to just get rid of them isn’t going to be a Sommelier for long as their priority should be your happiness. No hidden agenda beyond that. Yes, restaurants need to be profitable so don’t expect to get that wine for the same price you found it online, but we want to give you a great deal. We want you to come back.

 “Red wines give me headaches.” – Not likely

While certain attributes in certain wines may have different implications for your health, you’re most likely getting those headaches because essentially you’re drinking alcohol. You’re also probably getting older. When that happens, your body fails to break down alcohol as efficiently and your hangovers get worse and worse.

“I hate Merlot.” – Stop watching movies (looking at you, “Sideways” fans)

I simply say, “Drink Merlot. It’s fantastic.”

How to Taste/Approve your Selection When the Bottle Arrives at your Table:


Look at the cork. What you’re looking for is the seepage of the wine through the cork. If it’s a young wine and the cork is stained throughout this may be a bad sign.

Swirl the wine. This unlocks the aromas and allows you to better assess the wine’s health. The color will also provide insight into the wines age and whether appropriate oxidization has occurred.

Taste the wine. You are looking for two things. 1) Is the wine healthy? Unless it smells and tastes like something wretched you’re probably good to go. 2) Do you like it? If you DO NOT LIKE the wine, tell them. They should be happy to get you something different. Again, your happiness is their goal. Don’t expect them to get you something else if you drank all but a half a glass and decided you didn’t like it.

Let them know the wine is good. Your satisfaction is important to us. If you think it’s great, say so. If it’s just okay, say so. If it’s awful, please tell your Sommelier.  

If you want… ask for it to be decanted. The truth behind decanting in restaurants is it is almost never going to impact the wine within a 90-minute dining experience. Any wine that truly needs oxygen needs to be decanted for hours. Plus, for old wines the number one enemy is oxygen. Clearing sediment is about the only benefit from decanting in a restaurant setting. But if you want it done, just ask and your sommelier will be happy to do it.

Tip the Sommelier if you’d like. Several years ago, some folks on the Internet said, “Stop tipping your Sommelier, they’re already getting paid.” Unfortunately, everyone agreed and this is now a lost art. Tipping is a show of personal appreciation like one does to the craps dealer after a heater, the pizza delivery guy, or your server or bartender. And don’t be surprised if you do tip to receive extra attention, a taste of something special open in back, or have your wine decanted six-hours before your arrival because you’ve established that relationship.


Smell the cork. All this does is put the offsetting smell of cork in your brain. There is absolutely nothing about smelling a cork.

Raise your glass. Most probably don’t know this but holding your glass in the air is a signal for a Sommelier to fill up your glass and the best way to spill your wine. Leave it on the table and ensure no spillage to happen.

Ignore the Sommelier. If the Sommelier has poured you a taste and is patiently waiting for your approval, make sure to show your gratitude or dislike for it.

Ask for a discount. I was once told that a word on the wine list was misspelled and asked for that wine to be discounted. This would be a similar situation if I told a doctor I couldn’t read their handwriting, so I need 20% off my visit.

Be shy. Ask for the Sommelier or wine buyer at a restaurant. We are there to help you. We are there to enhance your experience. We are there to make you happy.

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Comments ( 2 )

  1. I appreciate the advice about swirling the wine to determine the age of it. It’s my girlfriend and I’s first year anniversary this weekend and I want to take her to a fancy restaurant where we can have some wine with it. Since I haven’t been wine tasting in a while, I’ll have to remember these tips so I can what to order when we dine out.

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