top of page
  • Theresa Downs

Confused About Wine Etiquette: Find Out The Seven Basic Rules

First off, you don’t really have to do anything you don’t want to do, period. That said, most etiquette rules have a modicum of practicality in the details, like old wives’ tales. So, let’s start with seven basics; let’s call them tenets instead of rules.

1. How to hold a wine glass.

Pretty easy, right? Well, not so much. Wine glasses should be held by the stem of the glass; there are three ways to do it. Use your forefinger and thumb together on the stem; pinch the stem; or pinch at the base of the stem. Here’s why it matters; it keeps the bowl of the wine glass super clean so you can see the wine, and, more importantly, it doesn’t warm the wine (wine that you just spent hours trying to chill).

2. Don’t Fill Wine Glasses To The Brim

For several reasons, don’t fill a wine glass to the top with wine. You want to provide enough space for the wine to breathe properly, and you don’t want to spend the night trying to scrub wine stains out of all of your belongings. A standard pour is about 5 to 6 ounces of wine (mid-way for most wine glasses) or about 2/3 cup. Pour the same amount of wine for all guests (no favorites!), including yourself. A couple of tips when pouring, keep a napkin (or serviette if you want to be fancy) to wipe any drips. Sommeliers keep the bottle label facing guests so they can see what’s being poured.

3. Do Smell the Cork:

There is some disagreement among wine industry folks if you should smell the wine cork. The sommelier or wine steward or whoever’s opening the bottle will present the host (usually the person ordering that particular wine) with the cork after the bottle has been opened. Sniffing the cork discretely, of course, can reveal whether the cork and likely the wine is tainted, most likely with TCA. TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole) occurs when sodium hypochlorite (bleach) reacts with lignin, a wood compound; yeast and bacteria then convert this compound into TCA. TCA is most definitely a flaw with a distinctive moldy basement odor and a wet bandage taste. Not something you want to experience with your rib-eye. The argument to not sniff is unconvincing as this is an easy way to ascertain if the wine is possibly defective.

4. Serve Wines In the Right Order

Again, this is pretty commonsensical. For example, the lightest sparkling wines should be served before that heavier, robust Cabernet Sauvignon. So, in order, sparkling, light body whites (dry Rieslings), heavier body whites (Chardonnay), Rosés, lighter body reds (Pinot Noir), heavier body reds (Cabernet Sauvignon), and dessert wines. While you can certainly serve wines in any order you like, considering the weight of the wine while serving and dining will enhance the tasting experience.

5. Toast Bell To Bell

Who doesn’t love a good toast or invent excuses to clink glasses? At this point, you may question the ridiculousness of this tenet – except a lot of people do it wrong. To avoid mishaps such as spilling wine on people, or worse, showering them with glass (it happens), make sure your wine glass rim is positioned away from your clinking partner. Line up the Bells of both your glass and your partner’s, and then gently clink.. (The Bell of the glass is the rounded part in the middle of the glass.)

The whole idea of toasting is fascinating; It’s been rumored that the tradition started In medieval times when wine was safer than water to drink. People toasted their hosts (making sure to slosh their glass so the liquid in their glass would end up in the host’s glass). Thus, this would ensure that a) the host wasn’t trying to poison them and b) to signify that the guest trusted the host.

6. Do Ask Lots of Questions About The Wine When In A Restaurant

Fine restaurants know that their wine is expensive, and most will accommodate requests for a taste before ordering, especially now that Coravin devices are readily available. So, go ahead and ask questions and ask for a sample.

7. Sending Back A Bottle of Wine When You Don't Like It

There is a considerable amount of controversy about this topic. Some sommeliers insist that customers should always send back a bottle if it’s not to their liking; others ascribe to the mantra you ordered it, you buy it. Somewhere in the middle is the answer. First off, it helps if you think of wine as food or another course. If you ordered a course at a restaurant and didn’t enjoy it, you’d be tempted to let the waiter or server know. That’s how I feel about wine in this matter, particularly if the server or sommelier helped you pick out the bottle of wine. The upshot is, restaurants want you to be happy, and most people aren’t going to be happy if they’re stuck paying 100 bucks for something they detested. That will really leave a bad taste in their mouths. Be ready to complain if the wine is not to your liking when the server checks-in (and they will). Most restaurants will replace the bottle with something more pleasing.

Till next time.


bottom of page