There’s no need for wine snobbery, but we’d like to share a few pieces of wine etiquette to help you become a more confident wine drinker. There are often reasons behind the formalities and manners, and understanding these reasons can help make drinking wine all the more enjoyable.
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Don’t Put Down Other People’s Preferences
The world of wine is vast and there is something for everyone. Therefore, there’s no need to slam other people’s wine choices. If you strongly prefer a big, bold Cabernet Sauvignon to a lighter Pinot Noir, or a crisp Sauvignon Blanc to an oaked Chardonnay, that’s great. You do you and order what you like. At the same time, though, let others enjoy their wine of choice without judgment.
Do Hold the Glass by the Stem
The stem on a wine glass isn’t just there to look pretty—it’s there for a reason. Our hands give off heat, so if you hold the glass by the bowl, you wind up warming up the wine inside, which changes how it expresses its flavor. Additionally, holding the glass by the stem allows you to swirl the wine more easily, which also helps to release flavor aromas.
Don’t Add Ice
It can be so tempting to add a cube of ice or two to a glass of white wine or rosé on a hot day, but the ice will dilute the flavor of the wine. Generally speaking, unless you’re making a wine cocktail like sangria, skip the cubes in the glass. The fastest way to chill a bottle is to submerge it in an ice bucket filled with salted ice water for 10 to 15 minutes, turning the bottle in the water occasionally. (Skip the agitating if you’re dealing with bubbly as you might cause a wine eruption.) In a pinch, you can also chill a bottle in the freezer at home, just don’t forget you put it in there. If you find yourself itching to reach for ice cubes often, consider investing in reusable ice cubes made from other materials like stainless steel or plastic that won’t dilute the wine.
This one is often hard for people to get used to because it goes against what Miss Manners normally dictates. However, if you’re planning to taste a lot of wines in one day while touring multiple wineries or at a wine tasting, get comfortable with using the spit bucket. Alternatively, feel free to take a couple of sips of a sample, then pour out the rest in the bucket. The person pouring will not be offended. Spitting or dumping allows you to taste more wines responsibly, without overindulging. It’s also never a bad idea to drink water in between as well.
Don’t Pop the Cork with a Bang
We know that popping open a bottle of bubbly with a loud bang feels really festive, but it’s actually quite dangerous. Once you see one cork go wild and nearly take someone’s eye out, you’ll cringe every time you see someone open a bottle incorrectly. The pressure built up behind a cork can cause a lot of damage. To open a bottle of sparkling wine correctly, start by removing the foil. Place a serviette or dishcloth between your hand and the cage on the bottle with your dominant hand, then twist open the closure on the cage with your other hand. Once the cage is open, DO NOT remove your hand. Point the bottle away from any other people that might be nearby, then maintain as much pressure as you can with your hand on top of the cork while you twist the bottle with your other hand until the cork loosens and opens. Rather than a loud pop, aim to open the bottle with the delicate hiss of a “queen’s fart.” While they don’t carry the same dangers as the corks in sparkling bottles, try to open bottles of still wine quietly as well.
Do Ask Questions
There is something about wine that brings out a side of certain people where they feel compelled to demonstrate everything they know about wine as they order a bottle as if showing any cracks in wine knowledge demonstrates some kind of weakness. (It doesn’t.) These people are missing out on using the valuable resource that is the sommelier or wine shop salesperson. They know all kinds of details about the wines on their lists and shelves and they’ll probably be very excited to talk about them. Go ahead and ask questions about the wines and you might find a new favorite grape, information on a technique you didn’t know about, the backstory to a beloved producer, or a fabulous pairing to go with your dinner that you would have never considered.
Don’t Send a Wine Back Just Because You Don’t Like It
There are specific reasons for the tableside ritual in which a sommelier presents you with a bottle at a restaurant and pours you a taste before pouring for the table, but it might not be for the reasons you think. The purpose actually isn’t to see if you like the wine, but to make sure you receive the correct bottle and that the wine is sound. Be sure to look carefully at the bottle when the sommelier presents it to you to make sure it’s the bottle you ordered. Make sure to check the vintage if there were multiple available, as the prices can vary and mistakes do happen.
When the sommelier pours you a taste, take a moment to swirl the wine and taste it carefully. This is your chance to check for wine faults such as cork taint which can make a wine taste like cardboard, mold, or like a wet dog. (Not pleasant, no matter how you cut it.) This is caused by a compound called Trichloroanisole, or ‘TCA’ for short, that gets into a bottle and infects the wine. If you think a bottle is corked, politely tell the server, or ask them to check you if you’re unsure. If it is corked, they will bring you a new bottle or recommend another bottle. Many restaurants and wine bars might be willing to take a bottle back if it turns out you don’t like it or it’s not what you were expecting, but please note that this is up to their discretion.
Do Experiment and Be Open to New Things
Taste a wide range and experiment with wines from different grapes and places. You might find that while you don’t care for a grape made in a particular style or from a certain region, you do like other versions. Moreover, every wine style has its place to shine. A wine that’s typically not your thing, might be delicious when enjoyed in a particular pairing. For example, perhaps oaky Chardonnays aren’t what you normally reach for, but you might find they’re wonderful paired with roasted chicken. Or maybe you don’t typically like off-dry wines, but you might discover they’re fantastic with your favorite spicy dish. Trying new things is a huge part of the fun of being a wine lover.
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