It’s that time of year when your social calendar goes into high gear and indulging in fine wines is part of many celebratory moments. Since holiday events and outings can tend to be more formal, less casual affairs, it’s prime time to take your wine savviness to the next level. Even if you have it down pat with the basics of wine etiquette, this list of expert tips will guarantee an impeccable wine experience in social settings.
Approving the Bottle
When ordering a bottle of wine in a restaurant and the bottle arrives, the steward or sommelier pours a tasting, usually to the person who selected the wine. At this moment, you are expected to give the wine a swirl and a sniff to ensure it isn’t flawed and meets your expectations. Some experts say it’s also acceptable to taste the wine but, for the most part, you should be able to tell from smelling the wine if there’s a problem.
Things to Know About Swirling
Swirling is almost an unconscious habit of all wine aficionados. When you spend enough time with one, you’ll notice they immediately swirl when their glass is poured, stick their nose in the bowl and then take a sip. In this process, swirling aerates the wine, or in simpler terms, gives it a quick bath of oxygen to release more aromatics and flavors. It isn’t actually necessary to swirl. The wine will smell and taste perfectly fine without an immediate dose of oxygen, especially after a bit of time in the glass. But, if you want to catch as many aromas and flavors as possible, give the glass a little whip and see what else you can discover.
Not Much to Do with the Cork
To debunk a myth that holds on in some circles, there’s actually not much that needs to be done with the cork (except for taking it out of the bottle). Maybe, and this is a maybe, you’re a crafty one with an Etsy shop and cork can be a raw material for a lovely gifty thing, in which case, snatch that cork! But, when it comes to wine etiquette, there’s absolutely no need to sniff or inspect the cork since the approval mentioned earlier is when you find out if there’s a problem with the wine.
Making the Right Choice
What if, after a taste, you’re not happy with the wine you’ve chosen? The correct move would be to accept responsibility for your choice. In other words, don’t send it back. Experts recommend asking the waiter or sommelier for help in choosing a wine if you’re having difficulty navigating your way around the wine list. It’s the failsafe way of avoiding the awkwardness around sending a bottle back, and it’s an opportunity to discover something special about the wine program. Restaurant, bar and tasting room professionals are pleased to share their expertise and help you make a great choice.
Sidebar piece of advice: At a wine tasting, you certainly don’t have to like every wine in the flight, nor do you have to pretend you like it. It’s perfectly acceptable to dump or leave that glass behind.
Learning How to Use Wine Terms
There’s a thin line between wine snob and wine enthusiast. If the latter is your comfort zone, don’t be shy about asking questions of your wine steward and engaging in wine conversation. It’s good to share your knowledge and preferences so they can guide you in the right direction. They’re more than willing to help you choose a wine you’ll enjoy and typically happy to give advice on wine lingo and how to use terms correctly. Keep in mind, there’s nothing more embarrassing than bumbling your way through wine lingo you’ve heard in passing, but not actually having confidence in what you’re trying to articulate.
BYOB at a Restaurant
If a restaurant allows BYOB, then you should feel absolutely comfortable bringing your own wine to a restaurant, though it is good to inquire about corkage so there aren’t any surprises. Etiquette also comes into play when you think about the restaurant’s wine list as it’s not ideal to bring a wine that is on their wine list. Experts recommend calling the restaurant to ask about their wine selection before bringing your own wine, unless you’re extremely confident it won’t be on the list. If you’re bringing a very special aged wine, it’s also a good idea to give the restaurant a heads up that you would like the wine decanted.
Can’t Finish the Bottle?
If you order pricier bottles of wine and can’t finish them, do not push yourself and your company to do so. A nice bottle of wine should be sipped and enjoyed, not chugged. Many restaurants will happily recork the bottle so you can take it home.
Curiosity is key to appreciating the careful expertise that goes into producing fine wine. The more you learn about wine and etiquette, the more you’ll enjoy it. And remember, it’s important to have fun with it! Wine is meant to be bring joy and create conversation—leave the deductive analysis to the experts.