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The Ceremonious First Sip

We’ve all been there: You’re out with friends or clients, the conversation is flowing and everyone is all smiles – until the bottle of wine arrives. And it’s presented … to you.

Suddenly, the conversation has ground to a halt, and all eyes are on you. All you can think is – do I sniff, then swirl? How far am I supposed to stick my nose into that glass? And what am I supposed to do with this cork?

It can be tempting to rush through the archaic seeming ritual, but don’t! According to our friend and Master Sommelier, Scott Harper, the whole point of all that pomp boils down to one simple but important question: Do you like the wine?

Let’s back up a moment. First, you’ll want to confirm that the bottle is, in fact, the wine you ordered. This is a good time to make sure you’re not presented with a $400 reserve instead of that Sonoma-Cutrer Russian River Ranches Chardonnay you ordered.

Next, you’ll probably be given the cork. No need to smell it – unless you want to, of course. Simply make sure it’s not crumbling, moldy or cracked, which may indicate a problem with the wine.

Before you sip, go ahead and smell the wine. A little swirl will bring out the aromas, which are generally pleasant. However, if you get a nose full of wet dog or rotten eggs, the wine may be spoiled. Issues like cork taint and unbalanced sulfur levels are rare, but easy enough to spot.

Assuming everything is sound, it’s time to taste the wine. Take your time – this is not a test. The point here is determining if the wine suits your palette. It’s also a good time to identify particular tastes that your sommelier may have mentioned. For example, in your Russian River Ranches, you might detect green apple, lime and pineapple, with touches of nougat and caramel.

If something seems off, don’t be afraid to send the bottle back – or get a second opinion. And just remember that there is no wrong way to test out a bottle of wine. It’s simply about your enjoyment.

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