If you're sitting with 2 or more people, we recommend getting a bottle because it's a bit more cost effective in the long run. Always try to have just one person in charge of picking the wine in order to avoid heckling over a merlot or a cabernet… choosing a wine doesn't have to be completely democratic. Also, when going this route, choose your colors early in the decision process. This narrows down your options by half, making the decision less painful.
From there, you can decide what will go best with your meals. If everyone is having something different, try a soft red like a pinot noir, that can stand up to your red meats but also pairs quite well with your fish and poultry. If white is what floats your boat, go with something crisp that has more body. If you have a large group, I would recommend ordering both a bottle of red and a bottle of white for the table.
If this task stills seems a bit overwhelming, point to a wine in your price range and simply ask your server their thoughts on the wine. They'll be happy to guide you in the right direction.
Ok, moving on. You've ordered your wine… now what? You don't have to feel like a bumbling idiot if you're the person chosen to take that first taste. When your server comes back to display the bottle, simply check if it's actually the bottle you've ordered. This part of the ritual isn't for you to faun and admire the pretty label, so don't worry if you aren't sure you're giving the right amount of accolades. When your server opens the bottle and hands you the cork, go ahead and take a good gander at it. If you've got a serious bottle, check to make sure the cork is moist, without any damage to it as it could be signs for a damaged wine. When the wine has been poured, swirl the wine a bit to open it up, smell it and then taste it. If it doesn't smell musky or moldy, you're good to go.
However, if you're caught in that sticky situation where the wine has been “corked”, any good restaurant should be more than happy to take the bottle back. Be polite but firm and don't let it hang up your evening too much.
See, not as bad as you thought, right?? Ordering wine is no big deal, just take the bull by the horns and you'll be a wine ordering pro soon enough.
New York Wine Co. in Manhattan. So far so good!