Whether you are a newbie to wine or have been sipping happily for years, there are a few rules of etiquette of which you should be aware. And it’s not about being a wine snob! Etiquette is a good thing. All societies depend on a code or protocols of polite behaviour. We have our mothers & fathers to thank for teaching us good manners … for example, don’t speak with your mouth full! And I hope you agree that the following make good sense, too:
- don’t pull up to the exit gate in a parking lot without your ticket handy
- don’t board a plane when they’re loading group A and you are in group D
- use your turn signal at least 50% more than you use your middle finger
Wine etiquette also makes sense and makes entertaining with wine easy-peasy. So here are a few do’s and don’ts for newbies and pros alike.
1. Trust your palate. Don’t let someone else tell you which wines you should drink; drink what tastes good to you. But do become aware of why you like the taste of a particular wine … grape variety, sweetness/dryness, acidity, tannin, alcohol, body, flavour characteristics, texture and finish. Each one of these features of wine affect whether you like or don’t like the wine you are tasting.
2. Invest in some good glassware. Whether you like your wine glasses with stems or stemless does not matter. It is the size of the opening and the bowl as well as the thinness of the glass that will make a difference. I do not have the budget nor the space for a different glass for each grape variety. Therefore, I suggest universal glasses which can be used for white and red wines and offer good quality. Top brands include Zalto, Schott Zwiesel, Riedel and Jancis Robinson/Richard Brendon.
3. Don’t hold stemware by the bowl. Holding the bowl of a stemmed wine glass warms the wine and leaves unsightly fingerprints on the glass. Instead, hold the glass by the stem or base.
4. Don’t invest in fancy bottle opening gadgets. It’s easy to use a classic wine key. All the tools you need to open a bottle that has a foil and cork closure is at hand … small cerated knife for the foil, a hinged two-step cork screw, and a bit of muscle.
5. Don’t wear perfume/cologne. Wearing perfume hinders your sense of smell and that of others. That also goes for scented candles. Sense of smell is essential to distinguish the aromas and flavours of the wine you are drinking.
6. Do try a variety of wines. Drink different varietals and wines from different wine regions of the world. How will you know what you like or do not like or what you are missing out on if you drink the same wine(s) all the time?
7. Do pay attention to the right order when serving wine. Bubbly wines go first. Then go from white to rosé to red; lightest (e.g., Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir) to heaviest (Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon); driest to sweetest.
8. Do pour wine with the label toward the guest. That way people can see what they will be drinking. (Unless you are my friend George who loves to guess which varietal he is tasting.)
9. Don’t serve red wine at room temperature. The ideal temperature for red wine is slightly chilled (18 degrees Celsius or 64 degrees Fahrenheit). Lighter reds could be chilled even more (10-13 degrees Celsius). Chilling red wines enhances fruity flavours, tempers tannins, and reduces the heat of alcohol.
10. Do consider decanting some wines. There are two reasons for decanting wine: to separate sediment that has formed during aging; to expose the wine to oxygen. The latter is meant to soften acids and tannin. Do be careful, decanting a delicate Burgundy is probably not necessary, but an older vintage Barolo or Rioja could benefit from a little breathing time (30-45 minutes).
11. Do pair wine to the food you are serving. There are many resources on the Internet to help you pair food and wine. I wrote a blog on that topic for a winery that may be of some help to you. It’s a good idea to always choose both a white and a red wine for your dinner party table. That way you can address the different palates and preferences of your guests.
Bringing wine to a dinner party may pose a dilemma for your host. Most likely the host has already selected wine to pair with the food being served. However, a bottle of wine is always welcome. So here are a few options …
12. Do tell your host that the wine you brought is a thank you and that you hope she/he will enjoy it soon.
13. Do call ahead and ask if the wine you are eager to bring will work with the food and the occasion.
14. Do spend at least $15-25 on a bottle of wine to bring to a dinner party.
15. Do talk about the wine your host is serving or the wine your guests have brought. Wine can be a fun topic of conversation.
Are there any wine etiquette tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment.