As you begin to enjoy and understand wine, you’ll also want to know proper wine etiquette. Wine is a social drink to be enjoyed with family, friends, and colleagues. Many times it will be consumed in celebration and most times with a good meal.
Having proper wine etiquette is appropriate for all occasions, especially formal ones. But remember, the idea is to have fun and enjoy yourself, especially among good friends. That said, here are several setting you may find yourself in where knowing wine etiquette will be important.
A great place to taste wine is at a winery. It’s also a place where wine etiquette is important.
Don’t feel you have to know a lot about wine to visit a winery. As a matter of fact, a winery is an excellent place to learn about wines.
Most wineries will have knowledgeable staff to assist you. Don’t hesitate to let them know you’re a new wine drinker and are trying to determine what you like and what you don’t like. Winery staff will be more than happy to explain the different wines and styles.
While wine tasting, it is perfectly acceptable to discard wine you don’t like. All tasting rooms will supply a receptacle for you to pour the wine you don’t care for into. It’s also acceptable to ask for another small taste of a wine you weren’t able to completely understand the first time.
It is not good wine etiquette, however, to ask for a second pour on every wine. If you find a wine you like, it’s in much better taste to purchase a full glass.
You can also taste wine at a wine room. Most wine rooms offer “flights” – a sampling of several different wines side by side.
Most flights contain several different producers of one grape varietal so they’re good for side by side comparisons, but not helpful if you’d like to compare a Chardonnay with a Zinfandel.
Please see our wine tasting guide for complete information on the proper way to taste wine.
Wine is a perfect compliment to a nice restaurant meal. If you are a new wine drinker, it’s easy to feel intimidated when the waiter presents you with the wine list.
Restaurant wines can be very expensive. My favorite wine etiquette tip is that it’s perfectly acceptable to bring your own bottle of wine to a restaurant.
Be sure to find out ahead of time what the restaurant charges to open your bottle (the corkage fee). At high end restaurants it can be as much as $20 or $25.
If you’re unsure which wine to order from the menu, consult with your waiter or the sommelier (wine steward). It is their job to suggest a wine that perfectly compliments your meal and they’ll gladly do so. It’s helpful to decide what you’re ordering before choosing your wine so your server can recommend a wine that pairs nicely with your food.
Because restaurant wines can be so pricey, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask your server for several recommendations in various price ranges. This way you won’t feel compelled to order the expensive bottle he or she will possibly recommend.
If you are dining with several people, make sure your wine selection will pair well with everyone’s meal.
When your server brings your wine, he or she should always show you the bottle label before opening. This is so you can be sure this is the bottle and vintage (year) you ordered. Your server will then pour a small amount into your glass for you to look at, taste and give your approval to.
Next, your server will put the wine cork next to your place setting. This is so you can see if the cork has any mold on it or if it too dry. Mold will indicate the wine may be too old. A dry cork can indicate the wine has not been properly stored.
This next point is very important. Do not be afraid to reject the wine if it truly does not come close to your expectations, especially if you’re paying a hefty sum for it.
Remember though, that red wines will need to “open up” (be exposed to air for a while) to taste their best. You may want to request your server decant the wine for you.
Make sure your wine is served at the proper temperature.
The biggest mistake restaurants make is to automatically put all white wine into an ice bucket. All wine should be chilled to the correct temperature before arriving at your table. Keeping white wine in an ice bucket will make it too cold.
If a sommelier has assisted you, it’s good etiquette to tip them 10% – 20% of the wine price.
Wine At Home
If you’re serving wine at home during your own dinner party, basic wine etiquette tells us that you serve a wine that pairs well with food.
If your guests would like to enjoy a glass of wine before dinner, a lighter white wine or sparkling wine is most appropriate. This doesn’t mean you can’t serve a glass of Pinot Noir if you know your guests well and this is their favorite.
When you serve your guests, it’s nice to use the appropriate wine glasses. Try not to serve wine in plastic or paper. I know this gets a bit unrealistic if you’re having a large party.
Never fill a glass to the top with wine. I like to leave at least 1/2 the glass empty, sometimes closer to 2/3 depending upon the type of glass.
When you are a guest at someone else’s home, it’s good wine etiquette to allow the host/hostess to serve your wine for you, unless he or she suggests you help yourself.
Bringing Wine To Dinner
When you are invited to someone’s home for dinner, it’s always appropriate to bring a bottle of wine.
It’s not good wine etiquette to expect your wine to be opened that evening. Do not bring a bottle of white wine already chilled. This assumes you expect the host/hostess to open it.
Most hosts/hostesses will have their wine planned out ahead of time to pair with their meal.
Wine As A Gift
Many people ask me what kind of wine to give as a gift. If you’re buying the wine for someone you know, the obvious answer would be to choose a bottle you know they’ll enjoy.
Another suggestion would be to get them a bottle they may not be familiar with, but you know they’d be open to trying.
If you’re buying wine for someone you don’t know well, stay neutral. Buy a medium priced wine of medium body. I suggest a $15-$20 bottle of Sauvignon Blanc if it’s warm out or a $15-$20 bottle of Merlot or Zinfandel if it’s cool out.
Shop at a wine specialty shop and ask the expert there for recommendations. Don’t go to a grocery store and choose blindly yourself.