No matter who you’re with -- the boss, that hot date, or maybe your fiancée’s parents -- you’ve probably got enough to worry about, so having to deal with some stuffy, ritualistic wine rigmarole might turn you off of ordering wine completely. Don’t shy away! Knowing your way around wine service might just seal your deal!
1.) Check the Label
Once you’ve ordered your bottle of wine, the server or sommelier will present it to you at the table.
This show is your chance to make sure the wine you’re about to be served, and will be paying for, is the wine you ordered. Make sure it’s the wine you ordered, and the vintage that you ordered.
It might be easy to mistake a Chateau Latour for the Les Forts de Latour, their second wine, but it will be easy to figure out when you get hit with the bill. And since that bill will be three grand instead of $300 dollars, that’s gonna be a lesson you won’t soon forget.
2.) Learn about your server
Once you approve of the wine that's presented, your server will then uncork the bottle. Watch the technique and you’ll instantly know how wine savvy your server really is.
If they jab the corkscrew right through the capsule that covers the cork, you might be in for a rough ride. And if they jam the corkscrew right through the top of a metal twist-off closure, run for the hills.
If, on the other hand, they cleanly slice the capsule under the lip at the edge of the bottle, you’re being served by a professional, so relax and trust them.
3.) The Cork
Once your bottle is open your server will present you with the cork. There’s a bit of ritual surrounding the presentation of the cork, but it’s worth observing as you might learn something about the wine. The thing to do is to smell the cork.
What you’re looking for are the tell tale aromas of TCA (Trichloroanisole), the chemical responsible for ruining many a bottle of wine, frequently referred to as cork taint.
The aromas of TCA are frequently similar to old, damp musty basements and newspapers. Sometimes it makes me think of old school dry-cleaners who used the similar smelling trichloroethanol to get the stains out! It’s also worth giving the cork a squeeze since if it’s lost its elasticity, a potential sign of heat damage with a younger wine, it makes sense to pay closer attention to steps 4 and 5.
4.) The Pour
Someone at the table is going to have to give this wine a whirl, literally, and if you’re looking to impress someone it might as well be you. Once the server pours that first taste take a look at the color of the wine. What you’re looking for are signs of oxidation and premature aging. Oxidation makes a wine brown, just like it does with an cut apple left out.
A white wine will first darken then begin to brown while a red wine will lighten and turn brick colored before turning noticeably brown. Now some wines, especially those with some age on them will and should look a little aged but if it’s a young wine you’re looking at, browning could be a sign of bad storage or worse.
5.) The Test
You won’t really know if your wine is good, damaged, or indifferent until you put it though its paces so now it’s time to sniff and taste. In order to get the wine’s aromas to really jump out of the glass, you’ll have to give the glass a little swirl. This simply spreads a thin layer of wine along the inside surface of the glass, allowing more of it to evaporate all at once, giving you a good bowl full or aromas to stuff your nose into.
Here you’re pretty much looking for the same TCA aromas that looked for on the cork. And by the way just because you found some in the cork doesn’t necessarily mean the wine is tainted, and visa versa. You might also find defects on the nose like acetic acid (vinegar smell) or ethyl acetate (nail polish remover) in your wine. These are referred to as volatile acids and are generally viewed as defects. When in doubt ask your server, assuming they’re still not fighting the pull that screw top off with their corkscrew!
It’s kinda funny actually but by this point, when you’re going to to finally take a sip of the wine, you actually know a lot about what to expect.
Tasting the wine can confirm TCA taint (the wine will taste muted and may taste like wet newspapaers) or it might have the thinness associated with a wine that has the guts cooked out of it, or in all likelihood it might just be fine.
If the wine is defective don’t hesitate to send it back, but otherwise just sit back and enjoy having just impressed the hell out of your dining companions.