Let’s assume you’ve already ordered your wine — something from the lower half of the list that offers good value. From this point on your goal is to demonstrate to your server that you really know your stuff and that choosing a good wine wasn’t just a fluke. If your server arrives with a bottle nestled comfortably in a little wine basket, ask discretely: “Is that really necessary?” The basket is an affectation that’s pointless with a young wine and potentially worse with an old one.
Next the server will pull the cork and offer it to you for inspection. Unless it’s a really cool cork and elicits ooohs and aaahs from your tablemates, don’t bother to sniff it. In fact, you can almost treat the cork with contempt as it can tell you almost nothing about the wine.
The server will pour a small amount of wine (30-40 ml) for your approval. You are the expert and will pass judgement on the wine on behalf of your guests. Look at the colour of the wine. Is it clear and radiant? If so, give the wine a good sniff. If you don’t find any faults in the nose, proceed to tasting. If tasting or smelling reveals a fault, then politely send the wine back and ask for another bottle. If there are no faults, then the bottle is yours. If you simply don’t like the wine, too bad – you ordered it and have found nothing technically wrong with it, so chalk it up to experience. (The exception is if your server recommended the wine. Then you can tactfully refuse it and ask for something different, but this is not an invitation to be unreasonable.)
If your server offers to let the wine “breathe”, take a pass. Pouring the wine into glasses will give the wine more air than if you just left it uncorked for a month. Same with decanting. If it’s an extremely old wine that’s been stored properly for years, has cast some sediment, and cost more than $500, then by all means have it carefully decanted.
Now it’s time to fill the glasses, ladies first and no more than 1/2 to 2/3 full so the wine has room to release all the aromas you’re paying for. Your server should have brought an ice bucket for a white or sparkling wine. You can also request a bucket for a red wine, since they are almost always too warm.
The hard part is over. You’ve selected a good wine at a reasonably price and made sure that the bottle was free of faults. Now you’re ready to turn your attention to the pleasant company that’s sharing your table.