Let your senses do the talking
We never think twice about sniffing an oyster to make sure it hasn't gone off. So why be unsure as to how to behave with wine in a restaurant? Bad shellfish, bad wine: both make a meal memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Similarly, if you ask for well-done steak and it arrives rare, you send it back without a second thought. You have every right to do the same with wine. Of course I'm not advising you to become a pernickety pain in the neck, someone waiters run from in fear and loathing. But you ought to be happy with what you ordered. After all, you're paying for it.
Here's what I do and so far I haven't been black-balled from any restaurant in Hong Kong.
After the bottle is presented so I can check out the label, a bit is poured for tasting and I put my eyes, nose and mouth to work. If a red wine displays sediment - or if a white or red looks cloudy or brownish - it's a no-no. Send it back. If it smells off, ditto. It takes a bit of experience to recognise what 'off' means but even a tiny hint of a vinegary smell means it's oxidised, that somehow air got in. Send it back.
Now for the tasting. I take a small quantity in my mouth and roll it around. Before I swallow, I purse my lips and draw in some air (not through my nose). If it's overly tart or sour, or there's cork in it, I send it back.
This may sound like too much rigmarole, but in the past 10 years I've sent only two bottles back. So chances are that absolutely nothing will be wrong.
I wouldn't go through this exercise with the house wine. But there is no reason why you shouldn't. When most establishments charge $300 for semi-plonk, it had better be drinkable semi-plonk. By the way, you should also go through this tasting procedure in your own home, but only before you bring the wine to the table. Then, if it doesn't pass muster, put the cork back in and take it back to the wine shop.
Folks are getting pretty sophisticated in Hong Kong. I recently took a bottle of brownish cabernet back to Park'N Shop. It took one look and a sniff for the store manager to give me a full refund and a sincere apology - obviously, a fellow wine lover.