Wine Etiquette

There are many different wine lovers in this world with varying degrees of wine etiquette; the buff’s who know a great deal, the aspiring who think they know a great deal and the guzzler’s who claim to know nothing.

Whatever your knowledge is it is impossible to know everything; a lifetime of study and there would still be something to learn.

But the great news is that you don’t need to know everything. In fact, you only need to know some simple wine tasting etiquette skills and have a few good, well priced bottles up your sleeve to get you through every social situation. 

I attended a few wine tasting sessions last year and in a short period of time, I learnt some good basic wine etiquette, tasting skills and grape variety's which have helped me immensely.

Wine etiquette states that wine should really only be drunk when dining. Sometimes a very light white wine can be served as an aperitif, often with nibbles.

In France you will rarely see french women sat with a bottle of wine as a social drink in the middle of the afternoon. The reason for this is that wine is made to compliment food, as it enhances the flavour.

An aperitif should instead be chosen prior to dinner as they are designed to stimulate the taste buds ready for the meal ahead. As with all alcohol, it should be drunk sensibly. 

Wine Selection and Cost

The ultimate goal is to be confident in choosing a good wine when presented with the wine list at every type of occasion.

There is no definitive answer on the perfect wine for each dish; it is a matter of interpretation and personal taste. Even your mood and the season can alter your final choice.

At respectable and indeed informal restaurants, it is quite acceptable to choose the house wine, especially if it is a casual evening. A good restaurant (note that does not mean expensive) should not risk its reputation by serving poor house wine.

A more formal occasion means you may want your guests to feel special and you will want to choose a wine that compliments the meal. This is normally done by the host (the person who is paying) but, as is often the case, it’s a group of friends out for dinner so there is no host as such.

If you are hosting then it is a good idea to get a price in mind before you order and if you are dining with friends then it is good wine etiquette to ask everyone what they are comfortable with. Beware of those who order incredibly expensive wine without first conferring with any of their fellow diners; you may well be expected to split the bill equally.

Choosing expensive wine is a risk, unless you know exactly what you are doing. Generally the well known wines are able to hike their prices up e.g. Montrachet, Chateau Latour, and Chateauneuf-du-pape etc.

You will normally pay three times the amount in a restaurant compared to the cost in a wine merchant. There is definitely an argument here for enjoying the good vintages at home.

Good establishments will have a Sommelier; do not be afraid to ask their advice, whilst you may have good wine etiquette skills, they are a professional.

They will normally recommend one wine that is towards the bottom of your price range and one towards the middle/top. Their recommendations are normally less well known wines but are usually excellent.

Don't be afraid to learn your wine etiquette as you go along, and if you are happy with the recommendation you should tip your wine waiter separately at the end of the meal.

Your Guest's Preferences

Selecting the wine should be done once your fellow diners/guests have chosen their meal. It is fine to suggest an aperitif or glass of champagne to be enjoyed first whilst you are looking at the menu.

Once your guests have chosen their meal you can then decide on the wine. If everyone is having a red meat dish then red wine should be chosen. If your guests have chosen chicken or seafood then a white wine should be selected.

If the majority of guests are having one wine but one guest would prefer another then suggest that they order an individual glass of their choice.

If your guests are all ordering meals that are difficult to pair with one specific wine then consider half bottles or ordering by the glass.

As a guest you should make sure you compliment your host on their wine selection

To ensure you order enough wine you should allow 2 glasses of wine per person; there are approximately 4 glasses in a bottle. If you have more than 4 guests you might consider ordering a bottle of white and a bottle of red.

If someone is not drinking wine then the sommelier should remove the wine glass on your instruction, the wine glass should not be turned upside down!

As with all etiquette principles, don’t consider the food and wine pairing rules to be set in stone. Sometimes you just fancy a glass of white wine with your lamb, and that’s absolutely fine. It is not good wine etiquette though to comment on someone else's choice!

When to Top Up a Wine Glass and by How Much

Your glass should hold approximately 10 to 12 ounces of wine and should never be filled higher than halfway so that the wine has space to breathe when you swirl it.

Your server should keep an eye on your glass and refill it when it is close to empty. Etiquette states that if you do not want your glass refilled then leave a decent amount in it. However, I have noticed that in many restaurants my glass is topped up regardless of how much remains in it.

If you are dining casually or at home then the host should be keeping an eye on your wine glass and refilling it when appropriate.

Choice of Wine Glass

There are many wine glasses available, not just for red or for white, but also for the many grape varieties i.e. Burgundy, Beaujolais Nouveau, Riesling etc.

In a restaurant you need not worry, there will be one glass for red (normally a tulip shaped) and one glass for white (normally with a long stem). Once you have chosen the wine the server will remove one of them.

Should you decide to splash out on an expensive bottle of red wine quite often your glass will be upgraded to one with a wider mouth and deeper bowl, depending on the type of wine chosen.

When purchasing wine glasses my advice is keep it simple, but take into account the following:

White Wine Glasses

  • Long slim stems which should be held thus stopping the heat from your hand warming the wine
  • Smaller bowl than that of a red wine 
  • More fragile glass which complements the clear colour and delicate flavour of the white wine

Red Wine Glasses

  • Shorter stem than a white wine glass so that you hold the glass closer to the bowl, which allows the heat from your hand to gently warm the red wine and release its flavour
  • Larger bowl which allows the wine to breathe

Other Wine & Dinner Etiquette Tips to learn on this site: 

Wine Tasting Etiquette

Table Etiquette

Place Setting Etiquette

Chopstick Etiquette

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About The Author

The Author, Emma Dupont, is hosting a One-Day English Social Etiquette Skills Training Course on:

3 November 2016

Mayfair, London

Designed specifically for international people visiting or living in London, UK

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