Welcome to The Real World: Ordering Wine Without Fear

By Bruce Matsunaga

"good wine is a good familiar creature" -Shakespeare

This is a tutorial designed to aid anyone who wants to overcome their fear of ordering wine at a restaurant or just wants to know more about the ritual etiquette that takes place when ordering wine. The learner will develop a knowledge of wine ordering etiquette, be able to use the correct pronunciation of different wines and common terms, and come to an understanding of what wine to choose. You may proceed in a linear fashion or jump to the section you are interested in. Cheers!

The History of the Wine Ordering Ritual

There is nothing more intimidating than being part of a ritual when you don't know the rules, and ordering wine at a restaurant is a good example. With any good ritual, it is a bit mysterious at first, because it separates those who know from those who don't. But like most rituals, once you know it well enough, you can just take it for what it is worth. Sufficed to say, that much of our present wine ritual comes from the shift from service l'anglaise (an English buffet style) to service la russe (The Russian style of having servers bring out dishes one at a time) in the 1850's. As with the food, your wine was delivered to you and ordered by the host. The wine ritual also got a boost from the etiquette obsessed, rule seeking folks of the 1900's. The logic was, if a person obeys the rules of decent society they are part of that society.

Another factor that gave us some of the nuances of the wine ritual was the concern of authenticity. In the 1900's, truly great wines were rare and quite exotic, and unfortunately fairly easy to fake. The reason you are presented with the cork is not to sniff it, it is given because one can easily switch labels from an expensive bottle to a cheap bottle of wine and most producers label their corks. You are presented with the unopened bottle for a similar reason, to make sure you get the wine you asked for! You are allowed to sample the wine for two reasons: remember that many wines were and are bad on delivery, this is your chance to reject it; and if you are a very good taster, you could tell whether or not the wine is what the bottle and the cork says it is (it is possible to re-cork even older bottles with very authentic looking results).

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