David’s article as prepared for the Duluth News Tribune for the column which ran on 8/19/2015:
Proper Wine Service
When you order a bottle of wine at a restaurant most people expect to engage the server in a presentation and tasting of the wine. The process should go something like this:
You order the wine.
Your server presents the bottle of wine, repeats the name and asks you if this is the bottle you have ordered.
Upon confirmation, they uncork the bottle and place the cork with the cork label showing.
Holding the bottle toward you, so you can see the label, they will pour a small taste into your glass.
You swirl the wine, smell it and taste it. If it doesn’t appear faulted you say something like, “Mmm that’s very good, thank you.”
The server will then work clockwise around the table filling each glass 1/3 full, serving women first, then men and finally you.
That is how the process is supposed to work. This also assumes the wine is being served at the right temperature, and that the wine glass are clean and smudge free. This wine service routine is also incumbent on the customer and the server understanding the etiquette. These are part of a concept called Fine Dining. If you aren’t at a restaurant that considers itself as a fine dining establishment (their prices and décor should reflect that) then disregard the process, no harm done. They should just plunk an opened bottle down, within arm’s reach, and you are good. But if proper service is required by the restaurant management and the server is poorly trained and the customer expects and understands these steps, then the restaurant’s reputation will be diminished in the eyes of the customer.
As you can imagine, I understand the routine. Here are four examples of poor wine service I’ve received locally.
I ordered a bottle of white wine with dinner and it was served after the meal. The excuse was that the bottle wasn’t chilled so they stuck it in the freeze and delayed our meal as long as they could. In the end we got the bottle but after most of us had finished eating and the bottle was still too warm. The result was late food, warm wine and not getting to enjoy the wine with the meal. Employing an ice bucket would have fixed this issue.
Another time, I ordered a bottle of wine for four people. The server brought our bottle and four glasses over to the table. The glasses were wet, as if they’d just been rinsed but not dried. When questioned she said, they do this to reduce soap residue on the glasses. My thought was, “Why are they still wet?” A quick dry with a bar towel would have made this a much less memorable experience.
On a different occasion, I ordered a bottle of wine and when the server brought the bottle to the table they presented it to someone else and asked if they’d like to try it. Remembering who ordered is always the hallmark of a good waiter. Asking if you forget is acceptable and less embarrassing.
My last example is after a proper tasting and accepting of the wine our server poured out the entire bottle into our four glasses, then removed the bottle from the table. Our glasses were filled right up to the rim. It was difficult to drink out of such full glasses, forget swirling for an aroma.
Proper wine service is just as important to setting the mood in a restaurant as having the table set correctly or by delivering proper temperature food on clean plates. Often it is an overlooked nuance but when done well it can vastly improve the experience for the customer.
David Devere is a certified specialist of wine. He teaches wine classes mainly in the Duluth, MN area. Contact him at email@example.com.