There are about three weeks left until Valentine's Day and not surprisingly, V-Day promotions are in full swing.
As happy couples ramp up the romance, it may help to get a primer on the basics of wine service, because when you're trying to woo your sweetie with your suave self, it's better to look like James Bond than Jacques Clouseau.
Even if you belong to the camp that poo-poos the most romantic day of the year, that's fine; this article will still come in handy as you'll need booze to get through your bitterness.
Last week, we discussed the ins and outs of wine and food pairing. This week, we're taking a look at how to engage your sommelier or server so you can get the most out of your night -- and your wine.
Selecting a Bottle
1. Don't be too proud to ask for the sommelier help. Just like asking for directions when you're lost (gentlemen), if a massive wine tome is plunked on your table, you may want to seek guidance, unless you're happy to read away while your companion texts someone else.
2. Be upfront about your budget. Believe us when we say sommeliers and restaurateurs are not looking to hose you, so don't be scared to reveal your budget when asking for a recommendation. This gives direction to your sommelier and puts your mind at ease that there's no mistake about what you're willing to cough up for a bottle.
3. If you're dining in a restaurant that has a wine list, but not a wine professional on staff, we recommend going to the regions and styles you've enjoyed before. If you know you like California Cabs, but can't find one in your price range, try another big red from a warm climate, like Aussie Shiraz.
4. Do some research. Almost everyone posts their menus and wine lists online these days, and it can be fun to compare from the comfort of your own laptop.
Trying the Bottle
5. Look at the bottle when it's presented. You'd be surprised how often in our sommelier careers we've had a bottle of red approved by a guest, only to announce during the first pour they thought they ordered a white. Prices can also vary from vintage to vintage, so give the bottle a thorough once over to ensure you're getting what you had in mind. You don't have to read the fine print, but mistakes and miscommunication can happen on either side, so look at the bottle carefully.
6. When you're handed the cork, take a look to see that the name on the cork matches the name on the bottle. Then put it aside and move on with the tasting.
7. You will be poured a small amount to try. While it won't be anywhere near a glass, make sure it's enough to give you a good mouthful for tasting. First, holding the glass by its stem (not the bowl), and swirl the wine if you can. If you don't think you can do this with grace, skip it and move on to smelling (or "nosing") the wine. If you don't smell anything that makes you gag, move on to a sip. If you don't taste anything that makes you gag, approve the bottle and go back to your conversation.
8. The rest of your guests will have their glasses poured before your glass is topped up. This is done out of consideration that you as the host presumably want your guests to feel welcomed. Don't shout to the waiter that he didn't give you a full glass, as he is likely making his way back to you (unless he really did forget about you -- then please go ahead and freak out).
9. Some restaurants will keep the wine off to the side of your table; this is done as much for room as it is a detail of fine service. This is a controversial practice, as some diners worry their server will purposely over-pour and then hard sell a second bottle. Here, we respectfully ask you reread point number two, as we're of the belief that having wine poured for you is akin to de-crumbing the table, a ritual that allows the guest to be indulged with attentive service.
10. Unless you feel your sommelier went above and beyond to make your evening beyond compare, it is not necessary to tip the sommelier specifically. In most restaurants servers will "tip out" support staff (including sommeliers) at the end of the evening from the tips they have made.