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April 28, 2010

The Grape Escape: The restaurant ‘ritual’

Does the wine-pouring ritual at a fancy restaurant make you nervous? Well relax — it’s based on common sense, and you don’t really have to do much more than sit and watch.

Step by step: After you’ve chosen your wine, the server will bring out the bottle and show you the label. Check the wine name and vintage. If a different wine has been substituted, ask why. It may be an honest mistake, but if a bottle switch has happened, there’d better be a good reason.

Then the waiter will pull the cork (or, possibly in these times, unscrew the cap). The bottle should never come to the table already open. In older days, when culinary chicanery was commonplace, this procedure guaranteed your fancy bottle hadn’t been refilled with cheaper wine.

Next, you’re offered the cork for inspection. If you want to pick it up, sniff it, put it in your pocket as a souvenir, feel free. You probably shouldn’t bite it, though. All you really need to do is nod and quietly set it down.

The server then pours a small taste for the person who ordered the wine. Swirl it, sniff it, nod and smile, and he’ll then pour around the table, returning to fill your glass last.

In the unlikely event you feel something is wrong with the wine, you have the right to send it back for a replacement. But it’s not fair to send it back after opening just because you decide you don’t like it. Unless the wine is faulty, “you broke it, you buy it” applies.

All this ritual isn’t meant to show you up. It’s about making sure you get the wine you ordered and that it’s good.