Recently, Fran and I dined out at a fairly pricey restaurant and our waiter totally skipped the wine ritual – which to put it mildly – annoyed the hell out of me. This gave me the idea to throw a post on up about what the wine ritual and what is expected of you.
The first thing is the waiter (or waitress) should come out with your bottle and show it to you – you're looking the make sure it's what you ordered. You're checking the wine producer, the vintage, the varietal/region, and I suppose even the bottle size. If it looks good, shake your head, say “thanks” or “yes, that's fine.” If something is wrong, speak up right away – even if the vintage is wrong. It's possible they ran out of the vintage you ordered – or it's possible the wrong one was grabbed by mistake, I've seen significant price differences for the exact same wine but different vintages, so say something!
The waiter will then uncork the bottle. You may or may not be handed the cork – I've read this is becoming less common, in part because many more wines have screwcaps and fake corks. If the waiter hands you the cork, put it on the table. There's virtually no reason to do anything with it – if it's totally jacked up or moist then you'll know there may be a problem, but don't smell or chew it please.
The waiter will then pour a small amount into your wine glass. Taste it. Is it fine? Shake your head and “thanks.” The waiter will do the rest – usually pouring everyone at the table before you, typically ladies get poured first.
Now, I've heard of establishments where the sommelier will taste the wine first. We have yet to encounter this – I mentioned this to Fran – she found the very idea of this infuriating, where I thought it was totally fine.
What if it's not okay? This is tricky, but say something as soon as possible – not after you're halfway through the bottle. The key here is to be polite. I've, luckily, never had this problem in a restaurant.
If I picked something I simply didn't like then I wouldn't say anything – that was my error and I'll live with it. If the sommelier or waiter pushed it on me, I'd perhaps say something – when asked how I enjoy it, I may say something discreet to express my displeasure.
But what if the wine is bad – corked, perhaps? Here's how I would approach it: If the waiter is good, I'd ask him, otherwise I'd ask the sommelier or manager to try the wine and get their opinion. If you're convinced something is up and they disagree, then be tactful but firm.
Here's a pretty good article that's worth reading:
Personally, unless I have a conversation with the waiter about wine, I will never buy something that I know nothing about. I may not know the producer, but I'll know the region and/or varietal. (I also won't pay more than $75 for a bottle at a restaurant, and even that is pushing it.)
For example, I don't know much about old Bordeaux, I've heard it's funky and a bit of an acquired taste – some day I will buy some and try them out, but I'd feel really goofy paying three times what I can pay at a shop for something that I may wind up thinking has gone bad – but is, in fact, correct. If the place you're at has a wine list, then the odds are someone there will be able to talk to you about it – don't hesitate asking for assistance, that's why the staff is there!