So, you think you know about wine. You have downloaded your favourite wine investment app and for sure, you consider yourself a dedicated wine lover. If you do think you know all about the correct etiquette that surround fine wine, then great, you can stop reading now. However, for the uninitiated, drinking wine correctly can be intimidating. Many of us panic when it comes to tasting wine and imitate what we’ve seen others do: sniff the cork, swirl the stuff around in your glass and taste a bit before telling the wine waiter “ok, lovely”, regardless of what we really think. If you believe that wine etiquette comes down more or less to that, then read our 8-point plan for oenophiles and investors and think again. From proper etiquette in a restaurant to understanding the importance of serving wine in the right order, here are a few basic rules to enjoying our favourite tipple.
When You Are Tasting Wine or Dining Outside
There are a few basic do’s and don’t to consider when your tasting wine, whether you’re at Nobu or your local bistrot.
- Do ask your sommelier questions: these are trained guys and gals with a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips. It is their job to help you navigate the tastes and flavours around the plethora of fine wines. However, try not to ask what wine they recommend; this really boils down to personal preference. Ask instead what’s in the cellar – many restaurants have extensive wine cellars that might not always be on the menu.
- Don’t hold your glass by the bowl: there are many ways to properly hold a wine glas, but none of them entail holding the glass by its bowl. If you do, the heat from your hand will alter the temperature of the wine in the galss and change the wine’s temperature. Hoding your glass correctly is actually a bit of a minefield – a white wine glass and a champagne glass should be held at the top of the stem, while a red wine glass should be held like you’re cupping a tennis ball with the stem falling between fingers.
- Do learn how to toast correctly: it’s not just enough to simply say cheers and clink your glass. Mais non. When saying salut, clik glasses bell to bell – i.e. at the widest part of glass. This not only reduces the potential of breakages and spillages, but won’t warm up your wine with the heat from your hand (see above). Then, make sure that you hold your glass at the right angle. Tilt the glass slightly toward yourself, keeping the rim away from your partner’s glass. Tap the bell of your glass to the bell of theirs for a proper clink. And always, always look your partner in the eye when saying cheers. Not only is it considered terribly impolite to be looking away, but the French are convinced it will lead to seven years of bad sex if you don’t clink glasses eye to eye. Better safe than sorry!
- Don’t leave mouth marks all around the rim of the glass: while it may seem fine in the detective movies of old to leave lipstick marks on a wine glass, in the modern world of wine etiquette this is a terrible faux pas. Ladies (and gents, if that’s your cup of tea), invest in a lipstick that stays put.
When You Are Hosting a Wine Tasting or a Dinner
The rules are slightly different if you’re hosting a wine tasting night or dining at someone’s home.
- Do pick the right glass for your wine: Choosing the right glass for your wine isn’t as easy as it sounds. A wine glass must meet three criteria for proper tasting: look, nose and palate. In other words, the wine glass should let the taster clearly see the wine’s colour, allow the wine’s different aromas to be released and reveal all its flavours when tasted in the mouth. However, it’s not that simple. Depending on the type of wine, its colour and its region, the right glass can sometimes be completely wrong. Red wine glasses should have a bigger bowl in order to appreciate the wine’s aroma. The shape should be wide at the bottom and slightly narrower at the top. However, there is a minutiae of details here too, as the shape of the red wine glass varies according to the region. For white wines, opt for smaller, thiner glasses than for reds. These should be narrower at the top too – white wine benefits from the concentration of aromas kept in by the smaller opening. Link to: Types of Wine Glasses & What Wine They Are Used For
- Don’t hold your wine bottle by the neck: ever noticed that hole in the bottom of your wine bottle? Well, that’s the punt. Historically, the punt was put in as a method of ensuring stability and strengthening the blown glass bottles of yore. This meant that the seam of the bottle – where the glass comes together to form a sphere – was pushed up and allowed the bottle to stand upright. While glass blowing skills have evolved since the middle ages, the punt has stayed as part of wine-bottle tradition. For still wine, punts serve no structural function, but in sparkling wine such as Champagne or cava, the punt allows for a more even distribution of pressure. The exception to this rule is of course Cristal, with its famous flat bottom.
- Do open the bottle quietly: you might think it very sexy to crack open the bubbly as if you were a Formula One racer but the reality is that it’s very poor show. The correct way is to open the bottle cleanly and quietly (if not decanting). Then, leaving the glass on the table, take the bottle from its bottom and pour from the punt (see above). Gently pour a small amount into the glass and try to avoid any splashing. Take particular care if it’s a sparkling wine – pour a small amount into the flute, let the bubbles settle and then finish pouring until the glass is three-quarters full. Don’t send the cork flying across the room unless you are at a frat boy party.
- Don’t serve different types of wine without an order: the right order that your serve your wines in should be approached like a conductor approaches his orchestra. This is particularly true when featuring exceptional wines – you should know when to highlight the delicate notes and when to go all-out with bigger, brasher ones. In general, the order is lightest to heaviest. Anything bubbly is best served at aperitif stage, followed by lighter whites such as Sauvignon Blanc. Heavier whites (such as Chardonnay) come next as well as rosés if you’re serving them and light reds (think Pinot Noir and Barbera). Heavy reds come last – Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec for example. Dessert wines should be served as the name suggests, with the dessert. This should be followed for a formal dinner, but if you’re just having a few friends round you needed be so strict. A bold white wine might work perfectly with the main course while a thick, rich Chardonnay might be better served after a delicate glass of Prosecco. Some light reds work well as a starter wine. Champagne can be reserved for the pudding as much as for the aperitif. And what the heck – why not even for the main meal too!
Now that you have your basic wine etiquette sorted, don’t forget to check out our superb guide on how to taste wine!