Top tips for decoding a wine list

Ask to taste

Slurp a sample

While the purpose of a swirl and sniff before serving is customary in restaurants, it is largely to ensure that the bottle isn’t corked, rather than to check if you like the wine. At this point a full bottle has been opened, and generally speaking unless it is faulty it’s yours to drink. Some restaurants may have differing policies on whether they would allow a bottle to be returned on the basis that you simply don’t like it, but it is at their discretion.

To avoid confusion, it’s perfectly reasonable to request a sample taste, especially if the wine is available by the glass and there is likely to be a bottle already open, before you commit to a bottle. The vast majority of sommeliers shouldn’t have a problem with this. Restaurants are less likely to offer a full bottle to taste without a commitment to purchase if they are unlikely to be able to sell the remaining wine by the glass.

Again, it is at the restaurant’s discretion, but scores highly in the service department.

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