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Wine Etiquette

by Staff Writer - B. Scottenberg | July 10, 2011

As you begin to enjoy and understand wine, it is a good idea to learn proper wine etiquette. Wine is a social drink which is normally enjoyed with family, friends, and colleagues. Many times wine will be consumed in celebration and wine is most often enjoyed with a good meal. Having good wine etiquette is appropriate for all occasions, especially formal ones. The idea is to feel comfortable while enjoying yourself and you can do that by being confident in your wine etiquette skills.

Ordering Wine While Dining Out

If you are dining out and are unsure which wine to order from the menu, ask your waiter or the Sommelier (wine steward) to assist you. Part of your waiter’s job is to suggest a wine that perfectly complements your meal as they are trained in wine selection and proper wine etiquette. It is helpful to decide what you are ordering before choosing your wine so your server can recommend a wine that pairs nicely with your food. If you are dining with several people, make sure your wine selection will pair well with everyone’s meal if they will be drinking the wine.

Because restaurant wines can sometimes be rather pricey, it's perfectly acceptable wine etiquette to ask your server for several recommendations in various price ranges. By asking for several options, you won’t feel obligated to order the expensive bottle that he or she may possibly recommend.

When your server brings your wine, he or she should always show you the bottle label before opening. Check the label to be sure it is the exact wine and vintage (year) that you ordered. Once you know the correct wine selection was brought to, the waiter will open the bottle for you. He or she may either hand you the cork or place it next to you. You may want to feel the cork after the wine is opened. Check for moistness in the cork, which is one way to determine whether or not the wine has been properly stored. A cork that is too dry or damaged will let air into the bottle and damage the wine. You can also smell the cork to make sure there is no unpleasant odor. A hint of vinegar will indicate the wine has gone bad. Your server will then pour a small amount into your glass for you to look at, taste and give your approval to. The host is usually offered the first taste. Take a sip and let the waiter know of your approval or disapproval of the wine. If you are satisfied with the wine then serve all of your guests first and then serve yourself.

If the wine is not acceptable to you, let the waiter know and explain your reasons why so that another bottle can be brought to your table. Do not be afraid to reject the wine if it truly does not come close to your expectations. If a wine steward has assisted you, it is good wine etiquette to tip them 10% - 20% of the wine price.

Wine Tasting at a Winery

A great place to taste wine is at a winery. Don’t feel you have to know a lot about wine to visit a winery, because a winery is an excellent place to get started and learn about wines and good wine etiquette.

Most wineries will have knowledgeable staff available to assist you. Don’t hesitate to let them know if you 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 and teach wine etiquette to you.

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 into that you do not like. It is also acceptable to ask for another small taste of a wine you are more interested in. It is not good wine etiquette to ask for a second pour on every wine you are sampling. If you find a wine you really like, it is good wine etiquette to purchase a full glass (or bottle) of that wine.

Serving Wine at Home

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If you are serving wine at home during your own dinner party, basic wine etiquette would be for you to serve a wine that pairs well with your food. If your guests would like to enjoy a glass of wine before dinner, try a lighter white wine or even a sparkling wine would be appropriate. If you know your guests well enough, you can be comfortable in serving them their favorite wine, no matter what style of wine it is.

When you serve your guests, it is good wine etiquette to try and use the appropriate wine glasses. Try not to serve wine in plastic or paper if at all possible. When filling the wine glasses, fill them between one-half to two-thirds full. It is good wine etiquette to not fill the wine glass to the very top.

When you are a guest at someone else’s home, it is good wine etiquette to allow your host or 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 else’s home for dinner, it is always suitable and good wine etiquette to bring a bottle of wine.

It is not good wine etiquette to expect your wine will be opened that evening. Do not bring a bottle of wine already chilled, as this assumes you expect your host or hostess to open and serve the immediately. Most hosts and hostesses will have their wine planned out ahead of time to pair with their meal.

Giving Wine as a Gift

You may want to give a bottle of wine as a gift. If you are buying the wine for someone you know well, then it might be best to choose a selection you know they will enjoy. If they are open to new wine styles, another suggestion would be to get them a bottle they may not be familiar with, but you know they would enjoy trying.

If you are buying wine for someone you don’t know well then try and stay neutral. Buy a medium priced wine of medium body, such as bottle of Sauvignon Blanc if it is warm outside or a bottle of Merlot or Zinfandel if the weather is cool.

You can also try shopping at a wine specialty shop and ask the expert there for suggestions or recommendations.

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