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How do I get the waiter to choose me to taste the wine?

The question: How do I get the waiter to pick me to taste-test a wine if I don't trust my friends to judge whether it's "off"?

The answer: If this were a Dear Abby-style column, I suppose I'd start by advising you to make friends you can trust. But there's an easier solution for your predicament.

Restaurant custom dictates that the server defer to the guest who ordered the bottle. He or she will first display the label to ensure the brand and vintage date correspond to what has been ordered. Then comes the sample pour, enabling the guest to sniff and scrutinize for faults, such as cork taint (a musty aroma), volatile acidity (vinegar) or just plain tired and stale (often a sign it was cellared improperly).

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The best way to insinuate yourself here is to prevail on your dining companions to let you order the wine. If you're concerned about coming across like a control freak (or, worse, wine snob), consider a subtle approach. Try a line like, "Hey, I've been to this restaurant before and have a few favourites on the wine list. Anybody mind if I make a few suggestions based on the table's preferences and what we'll be eating?" I find that people often are glad to be relieved of the burden. But, of course, it depends on the crowd.

Let's say somebody in the group has already hogged the wine list and beaten you to the punch. You've got another option. "Hey, that's a great choice," you might say (flattery is catnip for wine snobs). "Could we do away with convention and let me be the first to try it when it comes?" Or you could try a more subversive approach. Tell your companion(s) that you've been reading up on wine faults and would love to test your skills in a formal setting, adding that if the wine turns out to be defective even after you give it the thumbs up, then you'll pick up the dinner tab.

If you've got friends like mine, that last promise should do the trick. Just one caveat: Make certain that you know more about wine faults than your friends.

Have a wine question?

E-mail your wine and spirits questions to Beppi Crosariol. Look for answers to select questions to appear in the Wine & Spirits newsletter and on The Globe and Mail website.

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