Wine Etiquette


I managed to swim laps in the Adelaide Olympic sized pool while in Australia supporting the Australasia MW study programme. Like all swimming pools I have visited, this one also had signs asking people to refrain from spitting.

Image credit: Oregon International Pinot Noir Festival
Image credit: Oregon International Pinot Noir Festival

Vancouver, New York, London and Hong Kong have similar public notices. What I was taught, and believe to be good sense, to contain bodily fluids while in plain view, is not universal. As my column covers wine basics, I took this as a sign to cover wine etiquette, something I had to learn when I first became interested in wine.

The purpose of etiquette is to show consideration and respect for others by making them feel comfortable. That is a wonderful concept, which should make the following pointers easy to understand and hopefully remember.

• Open Champagne and sparkling wine bottles quietly so that they hiss rather than pop. I learned this the hard way and was reprimanded when I made a pop opening Champagne in a restaurant as a server in London. The pop is considered noise rather than music. I personally think there is a time and a place for a pop, especially to ring in the New Year or if I ever win a Formula 1 race.

The slight issue with a pop is that is often followed by a gush. While that may be acceptable for winning a race, it may not be acceptable on New Year’s Eve when all the stores are closed and you have but one bottle because you drank the rest in the lead up to midnight.

• Cut the foil or capsule to access the cork under the bottle lip so that wine does not contact the cut edge, this will help with drips. Having a napkin to catch those drips and turning the bottle slightly while pouring also helps. I still have anxiety pouring red wine for people especially if they are wearing pale colours or sitting at tables with white tablecloths because I can be quite clumsy.

• Hold the wine glass by the stem or base to prevent unsightly fingerprints from marring the glass. This also allows one to swirl the wine with ease and prevents your hands from changing the temperature of the wine.

• Fill the glass no more than halfway, it facilitates swirling so you can release and smell the wine’s lovely aromas. It also ensures that there is enough wine to be shared with your companions.

• Pour for others first before you pour for yourself. Try to pour evenly so that everyone receives a similar sized pour. I am eagle eyed when Champagne is being poured because I love Champagne and secretly feel a mild disappointment when the person next to me receives anything over half an inch more than me. Others may feel the same.

Dinner at Fete de la Fleur 2015, Chateau Montrose
Dinner at Fete de la Fleur 2015, Chateau Montrose

• Mind your lip marks on the glass; I am particularly obsessive about my lipstick on the rim and periodically wipe it away with a napkin. If I cannot stand the look of my own lipstick smeared glass, I doubt others would too. I am particularly conscious during group tastings or smart dinners where wine is being poured around from glass to glass. I do not want others to think the bottle touched my messy glass and then could touch theirs, which is why I keep my glass clean.

• Unless at a Paulée style ‘bring your own’ event, sip rather than empty your glass in one gulp. I find it nearly impossible to try all the wines that are circulating without emptying my glass swiftly at Paulée style events, therefore I give myself special dispensation to take a larger sip than usual, but that is my own rule. My excuse for this barbaric behaviour is that I am being considerate of the hard work of the producer and it is my duty to show my appreciation through ingestion. My liver may disagree.

• When toasting others clink glasses gently and look them in the eye. The French and Germans have the threat of seven years bad sex if eye contact is not made when toasting. Seven years bad sex is not something that I want to risk!

• When attending dinner parties, the bottle that you have brought for your host is theirs to keep. Hosts are under no obligation to open your bottle. Enjoy the wine that they are serving. It took me a long time to get over this. If there is a bottle that you would like to share, save it for an occasion when you are the host.


Image: Decanter Italy Fine Wine Encounter
Image: Decanter Italy Fine Wine Encounter

• When you are tasting, draw in air and spit quietly. This is especially pertinent when sitting silent exams, loud sucking and spitting noises are very distracting. Spit in a neat stream or close enough to the spittoon as to not splash others. Practice in your own shower or bath.

• Avoid applying anything with a strong scent because they overpower, in comparison, to the delicate aromas of wine. Wine focused events and venues should also consider their hand soap selection, some are so pungent that I cannot smell the wine after washing my hands.

• Take time to appreciate all of the wines in a producer’s range, rather than going straight in for their top cuvée. Producers have often spent more than half the year of their lives producing a bottle of wine despite the whims of the weather. Demonstrate your respect by tasting the selection they have on show. Feel free to engage and ask questions about their wines.

• Stay sober at professional tastings - that is what the spittoons are there for.

Last but not least, be confident. If you are ever unsure of how to act in a formal situation, watch the host and bring a smile. A sincere smile IS a universally recognised expression that transcends culture and language.

Translated by Sylvia Wu / 吴嘉溦

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