To help overcome this social retardation, we humbly offer a survival guide of sorts...a way to make it through a wine ordering experience without looking like an asshole. Don't worry, it's easy. These simple rules are more about what avoid than what special skills are required (absolutely none)...
Rule #1: Don't Assume
Embarrassing moments are guaranteed when you assume - or ignore - what your companions have a taste for. Ask them. Up for a bottle of red? Or should we order by the glass? Common courtesy.
Rule #2: It's Not Okay To Read At The Table
Rule #3: Don't Complain About The Prices
Nobody likes a whiner. Deal.
Rule #4: Know What You Know
See something you recognize? Something appropriate? It's your lucky day. You do not get extra points for belaboring the decision. You do get extra points for decisiveness (but only if you've followed Rule #1). Go for it.
Rule #5: Know What You Don't Know
Look, you either know or you don't. That in-between area you're fooling yourself into is a bullshitter's playing field. If you don't know the wines on the list, get some help. Man up.
Rule #6: Get Help
An entire book could be written about how to have this conversation, but it all boils down to this: Say what you want in terms you are comfortable with and don't pretend to know/understand anything you don't. Ask questions, even if they seem stupid - especially if they seem stupid - no one is going to laugh at you. If they don't recommend wines in different price categories guide them there by asking about wines in your comfort zone. Bravo.
Someone's going to present, open, and pour a taste. The cork will be placed on the table. Repress your animal instincts and refrain from fondling it. Pick it up and give it a quick look to see if there's been any seepage. That's it. Any more handling might look suggestive. Seriously.
Rule #8: If It Sucks, Send It Back
Nicely. The tableside ritual happens for a reason. It's the establishment's way of saying, 'Here's what you asked for...Acceptible?' If you accept, it's yours. So, if it's funky, say so. No reason this needs to be awkward - have the waiter/sommelier taste it. "Uh-oh. I'm not sure that this is what the winery had in mind. You mind giving it a taste? If you think it's okay, then I'm fine with it, but it seems a little off to me." Nicely.
Rule #9: Wine Is For Drinking
Wine is a beverage. An elixir. A social lubricant. Treating it any more seriously than that threatens our ability to enjoy it. Unless you're with similarly empassioned geeks, less wine talk, more wine drink.
Rule #10: Enjoy
This may seem dumb, but is more easily forgotten than you'd think. Sit back, relax, and enjoy yourself. It's harder to be an asshole when you're smiling. Cheers.