Wine Etiquette With Wine Expert Anthony Giglio

In this interview at the 2011 Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, wine expert Anthony Giglio talks wine etiquette, drinking by yourself, ordering wine by the glass, and wine date night.

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People always have questions about how and why to order things. What are some things to do or never do?

When ordering wine at a restaurant, never, ever, ever ask the waiter for advice. And that's not because they're idiots, but because that's not their job. People think I'm condescending, but I was a waiter for 10 years before I was a sommelier. It's not their job to know, and they're going to try to do anything they can to please you, and it ain't going to help you. They might just recommend the most popular wine that they keep hearing over and over and over again. And that's not going to do you any good. Ask for the wine director.


Really? Ask for the wine director?

It doesn't matter how much you know about wine, nobody knows that list better than the wine director, so you're wasting your time. When I'm handed an 80-page list, it's like, sure, I could read it, but I actually want to spend some time with the people I'm eating with. I can fall completely into an 80-page wine list and not say a word for a half an hour. And that's ridiculous. I would rather say to the wine director, "This is a really impressive list. I'm looking for..." And then you say, "What's the price point?" And you're going to tell that to the person.

Americans feel completely freaked out by mentioning prices because it's gauche, right? But we have no problem talking about money in any other situation. So come up with a number that works for you and your guests if it's a meal where you're all sharing the cost. So I say to my friends, because they all expect me to order, and I've had in the past recrimination, "Oh my God, we spent $300 on wine?" And I'm like, you were licking the glass, and those were bargains by the way, and we just happened to have 10 bottles of it because you're insatiable! But I would say to my friends first, "What are we spending on wine?"


You say that outright?

I don't care if you're having the tofu salad, and you're having the côte de boeuf for two, what are we spending on wine? Is it $25 a head, $50 a head? And if we're six people, and we're in New York where we don't have to drive home, is it a four-bottle night or a six-bottle night? Dinner party etiquette, by the way, is to count one bottle per person. You'd be shocked at how often it goes beyond that number. Honestly, always have one bottle per person on hand. Once I know that number, so say I know I have $200 to $300 to play with for dinner for wine, I ask for the wine director. I don't introduce myself as "Anthony Giglio, I Write About Wine," I just say, "Congrats on your list, man, it's amazing, and we have everyone here eating everything. So there's the fish, there's the tofu, there's the beef. I would imagine this would be fun."

And I did this at Empire State South the other night. I said, "Can you put two glasses in front of everybody, one white, one red, one rosé, and help me pick?" And he pointed at $40 to $50 bottles of wine, which was exactly where I wanted to be, and I didn't even have to say it. So I think he just took us seriously because of the instructions I gave. Otherwise I would always point to a number, and it could be any wine on the list, but you point to $40, or $55, or $60, and you say to them, "I'm looking around here." And that's if you want to be polite and not talk money in front of your friends. Or you say, "Hey, look, we're probably going to have four bottles, so let's call it $50 a bottle, unless something's really exceptional, but then minus it from something else. You have a budget of $200, and we're probably going to have four bottles. Surprise me."

And you wouldn't believe how well you're treated, and that's without credentials. That's just giving them something to do besides pouring you another glass of Chardonnay and Merlot, which is what I would say 75 percent of people are doing in restaurants by saying, "I'll just have a glass of red, I'll just have a glass of white." And it bores them to tears. Engage the wine director, and they will treat you well. They really will. But if the wine does come warm, you would say, "You know what? I tend to like my wine a little cooler. I'm sure you're going to disagree, but I would love a cooler. Can you bring an ice bucket and make sure there's some water in there too?" And if not, I ask everyone at the table for their water glasses, and I dump everything into the ice bucket and then call the busboy and say, "Can I have water, please?"


Any wine advice on going out as a couple?

A great thing to do with two people only, I call it Date Night Wine. My wife and I have a Monday night babysitter until 10 p.m. We get out of work at 7 p.m. and have two hours for dinner, more or less. I will call the director over and say, "Listen, Monday night or Tuesday night wine, so we're talking $35 max. Blow me away. What do you got?"

And they'll say, "Oh!" And we could be at Daniel, at BLT Steak, anywhere, and I'll just say, "What do you have for $35 bucks?" Or "Under $40, blow me away." And they might say, "Any parameters?" And I'm like, "Of course it's red, it's not Cabernet, probably not from California, but whatever you got. Let's see what you got."

Cause for that money, I could do better from Europe than in California, and typically what happens, if they know who I am, they're going to try to impress me more, but I'm telling you, blind? Blind instructions from Anthony Nobody, and more often than not, the enthusiasm is unbelievable. They'll come up from the cellar with three bottles, and one might be dusty — seriously like as if it's from a movie. "This was on the list last year. We took it off. I forgot it was down there. We used to sell it for $40; I'll give it to you for $35." Or, "This is my favorite. It's $50. I'll meet you at $40." Or, "If I can talk you into $50, you really should try this." And I might not mind the upsell if they give me a good story about it and why they love it. There's also, and I love this, "A salesman dropped a bunch of these off the other day. If you give me a glass of it, I'll give it to you for $35, but it's probably going to be $60 on the list." I mean, this has happened. 

So what difference is this going to make really?

Better glassware comes over. I mean, it's just you engage them and say, listen... or for people afraid to say what they like, they can say, "Listen, I tend to drink Pinot Noirs, I tend to drink Cabernets, and your list seems very Italian, or very French, so all I'm going to tell you is this is what we're eating. This is what we want to spend. I put it in your hands. What would you do?"

And they'll go through pages and start pointing at things. Or they might bring a few tastes over by the glass and say, "You could try this or you could try that." And that's the last thing I'm going to say, because this is going to be the longest interview in history.


OK, what about buying wine by the glass?

I don't ever recommend buying wine by the glass if you're at least two people. It's a waste of money. Wine by the glass is the cheapest stuff they're pouring. Usually bought really, really, really inexpensively. There are only five glasses in a bottle. You're paying at least $8 a glass for a bottle of wine that was probably bought for a dollar by the container load.

You could have put those two glasses of wine for $16 into a logical equation, which is this: if you and a friend are having "a glass" of wine, are you really having a glass? You're probably having two, $8 times four glasses? $32. You could have bought something delicious and gotten a free glass out of the bottle, right? But if you are by yourself, and you're at a restaurant, and you see six bottles of wine behind the bar offered by the glass, it is Baskin Robbins, and you are absolutely entitled to taste as many as you want.

Any resistance, remind the person there: "Any wine by the glass that's opened is available to be tasted, thank you." And then you could of course throw out the, "I'm sorry, I forget how this works. Do you work for tips? Because I don't see the hospitality angle here that I'm looking for when I tip."


What's the etiquette on opening your own wine at a party?

Etiquette dictates that you can't expect for your wine to be poured at a dinner party, although if it's really good, you could hope.  So I always bring two bottles. So I guarantee myself a decent bottle of wine with dinner by saying, "This one is for you. Thank you for inviting me. There's the host wine."

Of the second bottle I say, "But this I've been saving for us to share." That's a nice way to get away with it, because there are plenty of houses that I go to where the best wine of the night is probably going to be $8. And not that that isn't great, but if it's not from Spain, $8 could be pretty crummy from California. So I think that's a nice way to get around the whole, can I expect my wine to be poured at dinner? Yes you can. Bring two.


What if you're by yourself?

If you're by yourself and handed a really delicious glass of something that's too warm, say, "You know, I'm probably going to have a glass or two of this, but I'm by myself so I'm not going to get a bottle. I would love it if you could open a fresh bottle and put it on ice. I'm going to spend an hour at the bar with you." A $20 under your elbow doesn't really hurt as a symbol of good faith, but seriously, you should ask for what you want and see what happens. The better you're treated, the better you should tip, and that's the way the world works.