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Fine Wine, Fine Service

We have always encouraged and sponsored education for consumers and the trade. This post focuses on wine service education rather than simply wine education. We encourage you to use this as a guideline for developing your own style and wine language.

As service personnel, you are a direct link to wine consumers. We want to provide you with the tools to create a dialogue and become comfortable recommending wines to people on an everyday basis. To win more customers among today’s wine drinkers, a friendly, enthusiastic attitude is needed. Enthusiasm comes from knowledge and personal experience.

Once you are properly trained with wine service, sales and customer skills, you will be able to reach out to customers who might not have considered wine with their meal. Ordering wine should not be an intimidating ordeal. As waitstaff, you can help enhance your customers’ dining experience (an your tips) with the appropriate wine selection.


Wine Tasting

Tasting wine is a source of entertainment and pleasure, and it’s a way of reviewing the quality of wine your restaurant offers. Just as a chef verifies the excellence of every ingredient, you can taste and review wines to ensure the maximum enjoyment for your customers.

Using your sense of sight, smell and taste, you can learn to evaluate wines and gain confidence in selecting wines for yourself and your customers.

Visual Sensations

The quality of a wine can be assessed in part by looking at its color, depth and clarity. Observe the color and clarity of a wine by holding your glass up to a white background (placemat or tablecloth) in a well-lit room.

White wines can range from light green, clear, straw yellow or gold to brown in color. Dry white wines usually begin pale and slowly gain color with age. Sweet white wines will generally start off a deeper shade of yellow.

Red wines may be purple, ruby, brick red or brownish red. Their color is determined in part by the length of fermentation during the winemaking process, the amount of skin contact the wine received, and different aging vessels (barrels, or stainless steel). As red wins mature, they will lose color and take on a brick-brown hue.


Olfactory Sensations

What is the very first thing that you think of when you smell a wine? Do you smell pumpkin pie? Freshly mown grass? Strawberries? A cigar box? These associations make wine tasting fun, and they make it easier to remember wines.

Much of our sense of taste is actually our ability to smell. To release the bouguet of a wine, swirl the glass. As the swine clings to the inside of the glass, the alcohol evaporates and carries with it the  aroma of the wine. Aerating the wine before you take the first sniff will enable you to better judge the wine.


Taste Sensations

Tasting is the final way to assess the quality of a wine. After your first sip, ask yourself: Do you like the wine? Why or why not? Is it a light, medium or full-bodied? Is the wine in balance, meaning do the components of aroma acidity, tannin and level of sweetness work together? The qualities you evaluate through taste are defined as follows:

Body - The weight and feel of the wine on the palate.

Acidity – Derived from the natural malic and tartaric acids from the grapes, creating astringency.

Tannin – Complex phenolic molecules that affect the proteins in your saliva. When tannins are excessive, they can produce a drying sensation on the palate.

Sweetness – This comes from the residual sugar left in a wine after fermentation has converted most of the grapes’ natural sugar into alcohol.

You will also want to pay attention to a wine’s finish. A clean crisp finish is the mark of a good, well-made wine. Poor quality wines finish short or fall off to a watery and insubstantial end. Top quality wines also have a measurable length of taste or beautiful flavor that remains in the mouth after the wine has been swallowed.


Selling Wine

Assist your guests in choosing a wine that will complement their meal. Their choice should always be met with your approval. Your knowledge of wine is a tool to inform people and make them comfortable. Never criticize anyone’s selection and try not to impress your customers with your knowledge. Remember, when you sell wine to your customers, you also increase the amount of your tips.

To encourage wine orders, suggest wine to your guests at the following opportunities.

When greeting your guests, offer a wine by the glass, or the wine list.

1. At the time your guests order their meal, recommend wine pairings

2. Between the salad/ appetizer and entrée, ask your guests if they’d like a wine to accompany the rest of their meal.

3. Whenever a glass or bottle is empty, ask if you may replace it or suggest a new wine.

4. Once your guests have ordered, deliver and open the wine as soon as possible.


Helping Guests Choose a Wine

There are no hard an fast rules on deciding which wine complements a certain food, although time, traditions and common sense have given us certain wine and food associations. Any wine may be served with any food and be correct. The general rule, however, is the lighter the food, the lighter the wine; the heartier the food, the richer (darker) the wine.

Typically, dry, light wines are served at the beginning of a meal. As the meal progresses, richer wines are served with the entrée. Delicate wines go well with delicate dishes, and full-bodied wines go well with robust foods. Sweeter wines pair well with desserts and certain spicy dishes.

To help your customers select a wine, ask simple questions or make suggestions, such as:

“Do you prefer red or white wine?”

“ The owner always enjoys a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon with the Risotto you  have ordered.”

“Have you ever tried a glass of Pinot Noir with salmon? It’s an excellent choice.”

“ A crisp Fumé  Blanc is an excellent accompaniment to the goat cheese salad.”

Experiment with the phrases and questions that work for you. The more you talk about wine, the more comfortable you’ll become in helping your guests select a wine that will add enjoyment to their meal. 


Serving Wine

The etiquette of serving wine should be carried our methodically and with attention to detail. Glasses should be clean, attractive and the correct size. Glasses with spots, lipstick stains or chips are, of course, unacceptable! Handle a glass by the stem. Always pre-place wine glasses on the table.

In some restaurants, a wine cooer or ice bucket may be used to maintain the proper temperature of wine at the table. Fill the bucket partially full of ice. Since the cooler is mainly for show and maintenance of temperature, it is still advisable to pre-chill white wines in a refrigerator. Under normal conditions, red wines do not need chilling prior to service. However, if a red wine is warm, chill it in the refrigerator for several minutes before serving.



  Steps for Wine Service

1. Once the order is taken from the host, repeat the order to verify that it is correct.

2. Bring the bottle to the table promptly. Wines should be easily accessible to the waitstaff and stored at the correct temperature.

3. Cradling the wine in a napkin, present the wine to the customer. Announce the name of the winery and the wine.

4. Once the host has acknowledged the wine, place the wine bottle on a napkin, on the corner of the table, Try to keep the label facing the customer.

5. Open the bottle

6. Place the cork near the host and, using a clean napkin, clean the top of the bottle.

7. Pour a taste for the host.

8. After the customer announces his satisfaction with the wine, serve the other guests.

9. Be sure you are familiar with the house policy concerning refused bottles.

10 Pour carefully without touching the glass with the bottle. Never fill a glass more than ½ full.

11. Observe the consumption closely and refill glasses when appropriate.

12. Sell another bottle of wine. Be prepared to recommend another compatible wine with the meal.



Wine Pairing

Your restaurant has been chosen by your guests because of a previous enjoyable experience or a recommendation. Serve them beyond their expectations. Create an atmosphere in which guests are made to feel important and will want tot return. Helping your guests select an appropriate bottle of wine for their meal will enhance their dining experience. Following are some general wine and food pairing guideline you can use to assist your guests.


Red Table Wines

Cabernet Sauvignon - Dark, full-bodied, dry wines with elegant lingering flavors. Serve with beef steaks, roasts and filets, lamb, duck, pheasant, game and cheese.

Zinfandel - Medium to full-bodied, spicy, generously flavored bold wines. Serve with barbequed meats, pizza, heavy pastas, sausages, stews and spicy cuisine.

Pinot Noir - Light to medium-bodied wines with gentle delicate flavors. Serve with veal, pork, chicken, duck, salmon, salads and pastas with light sauces.

Merlot - Medium-bodied, deep red with soft rich berry character. Serve with turkey, pork, beef stews and cheeses.

White Table Wines

Chardonnay – Medium-bodied, rich white wine with smoky, vanilla and oak flavors. Serve slightly chilled with seafood, chicken, Turkey, salads and pastas with cream sauces.

Sauvignon Blanc

A lighter wine whose flavors range from crisp and grassy to lush and melony. Serve chilled with salads, chicken, appetizers, light pastas and shell fish.

Wine Words

Acidity – Gives wine essential crispness and zing. Natural component of grapes in the form of tartaric, malic or citric acid.

Alcohol – Affects the weight, character and strength of a wine. Has a certain sweetness, giving richness and warmth. Is the product of fermentation of grape sugar by yeast.

Aroma – The smell of wine derived from the grape.

Astringent – A dry, mouth-puckering effect caused by high tannin content.

Body – The weight of wine in the mouth due to its alcoholic content, extract and geographical origin.

Bouquet – The pleasant and characteristic smell of wine, traditionally defined as coming from the aging of the wine.

Brightness – A fresh, lively character in the aroma, flavor and mouthfeel.

Clean – Absence of foreign and unpleasant odor and taste.

Complex – Many faceted smell and taste, the hallmark of a well developed fine wine.

Corked - An off, oxidized musty smell caused by a problem with the wine’s cork

Crisp – A desirable feature in white wines: firm, refreshing with positive acidity

Deep -  Deep colored, deep bouquet, depth of flavor – opposite to superficial –indicating underlying richness, layers of flavor.

Dry – Not sweet – absence of residual sugar

Finish – The feel and flavor left in the mouth after swallowing.

Fruity – Attractive quality derived from good ripe grapes.

Hearty – Robust, zestful, warm, alcoholic.

Herbaceous – Between grass-like, and flowery. Pleasant, open, fresh, appealing; usually found in young white wines.

Leathery – Reds rich with tannins

Length – The duration of a wine’s finish.

Light – A low degree of alcohol and acidity.

Mature – All its constituent elements in harmony from appropriate aging.

Medium –Dry – Containing some residual sugar, but not dry enough to be drunk before or during a meal.

Mellow – Soft, mature – no rough edges.

Nose – The broadest term for the bouquet, aroma, smell of wine.

Oak – An important factor, particularly in relation to fine wines. Oak barrels import an oaky, spicy, cinnamon taste and smell desirable in moderation.

Olfactory – To do with  the sense of smell and its perception.

Oxidized – Flat, stale, off-taste due to exposure to air

Persistence – Length of flavor and bouquet

Ripe – Rich, warm fruit flavors from fully mature grapes.

Round – Full, soft rich, without harshness.

Spicy – Rich, spice-like aroma and flavor

Supple – Easy to taste and sense, soft texture.

Sweet – A wine with high sugar content

Tannin – An essential preservative derived from grape skins during fermentation

Vanilla – Distinctive aroma derived from oak.

Varietal – A specific grape variety.

Wood – Distinct and desirable  odor derived from aging in oak barrels.

Youthful – A positive, attractive feature; fresh with youthful acidity

Zest – A lively, crisply flavored wine

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Reader Comments (4)

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May 24, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercoach handbags
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I think the information in your blog is great. We just started serving Italian wines from a local winery recently in my restaurant. I really don't know much about wine, and wine pairing. your thoughtful explanations and graphics have helped a lot thanks, I'll be back, and am forever greatfull.
August 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMr. Gourmet
Thank you for your very informative site. I have been working on pairing wine with different types of cheese and this site has helped me to understand wine much better.

Thank you again,
August 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChris McCormick

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