So you go out to a nice dinner and you want to get a nice bottle of wine to go along with it. You browse the wine list and pick something that looks interesting. And then the waiter brings it over, opens it for you, and pours you a small taste. And you do what? Panic? Interrupt your story mid sentence chug down a sip and keep going? Seriously, everyone is basically staring at you at this point and you’re supposed to say what…well-done sir? Fruity? Tastes like wine?
Why put you through that and what exactly are they expecting you to do? Tasting in a restaurant setting is not like tasting at a winery. They are not giving you a taste so you can perhaps find your new favorite wine or try to convince you to walk away with a case. Ultimately taste is on you and just because you don’t like a wine doesn’t mean its bad. They are letting you taste not to tell them whether or not you like it but to taste for any flaws or faults in the wine. Is it corked? Oxidized? Maderized (heat damaged)?
Corked wine we talked about already, it is that musty wet cardboard stink that overpowers everything. But what about oxidized wine or maderized wine? Oxidized wine tastes and smells pruney (that’s a technical term). Want a good way to familiarize your self with that? Pour a small glass of red wine and leave it out on the counter for, say a day. Then smell it and taste it. It will still kind of smell like wine but underneath that typical fruit smell there is a distinct aroma of a different kind of fruit, almost old fruit, like prunes. Maderized wine is wine that has been damaged by heat. Wine likes a cool, constant temperature. If you have ever forgotten a bottle of wine in the trunk of your car on a hot afternoon then you will know. Intense heat can actually cook the wine. This cooked wine has flavors reminiscent of almonds and candied fruit; actually cooked wines can have a lot of similar flavors to a desert wine. But while those flavors are cultivated and appreciated in certain desert wines they certainly have no place in a dry table wine. And what if the wine is bad? Just tell them you think it tastes a little off, most restaurants or really anyone who serves wine is prepared for that. They will help you get a better bottle.
Basically the big rule for restaurants, don’t pick a fancy wine whose name you can’t pronounce and then taste it and decide that Greek wine really isn’t for you. If you don’t know what you want or what would be comparable to what you want ask the waiter. That is why restaurants have their staff taste through the wines. That is why the hire a sommelier, so they can help you decide what you would like. But once you have decided on a choice when it comes time for you to take your taste, don’t freak out. Take a second to actually focus on the wine, your friends will wait for you to finish your funny story, and actually taste the wine. Think about it, think about the flavors and make sure it tastes clean and sound. And then you can go back to your dinner and your friends and just enjoy.