John Wilson: Wine tasting tradition serves a purpose

How to Drink Better: No point in being saddled with a more expensive wine or different vintage from that chosen

Q. Why do waiters in a restaurant give you a taste of the wine before pouring everyone a glass?

A. There is a ritual to serving wine in a restaurant, which can seem intimidating, but it serves a purpose. The waiter should first show you the label; this is simply to confirm that you have been brought the correct wine, and the correct vintage. It’s not always the case so it is worth checking.

You don’t want to be saddled with a more expensive wine, or end up with a different vintage from the one specified.

Then you will be poured a small amount of the wine for you to taste This is not to make sure that you like the wine, but to see if it is faulty. A small percentage of wines are “corked” or have been contaminated by cork taint.


Swirl the wine around in the glass and smell it. Then take a small sip. If it tastes musty, mouldy or unpleasant, you should send it back and ask for a new bottle. A good waiter will do this without question.

A fresh bottle, which may be the same wine, will be brought for your approval.

If the wine comes with a screw cap it cannot actually be corked, but most waiters will give you a taste to make sure it doesn’t have any other faults.

Don’t worry too much about the cost to the restaurant. Most will send it back to the distributor for a refund.