The Worst Wine Mistakes Not to Make: Wine Etiquette

The hosts of CTV’s The Social love their wine. We shared a few good glasses together as well as some laughs on wine etiquette — how to avoid being low-classy with wine ;) Click the arrow above to watch the video.

You can also read my story on The Grapes of Gaffe.

Find out the answers to these “pressing” wine questions:

How do I hold a wine glass, by the stem or the bowl?

Hold your glass by stem—otherwise your hands will warm the bowl and the wine, and leave unsightly fingerprints. Your wine glass should never be poured more than a third full.

Pour the wine to no more than one-third level of the glass. This will give you room to swirl your glass in order to appreciate the aromas.

What about stemless wine glasses?

Stemless glasses are trendy and it’s usually not a problem when you’re drinking red wine as your hands will warm the wine and make the aromas more airborne.

They do pose a problem with white wines, however, because you don’t want to warm a white wine.

As well, stemless glasses do create the impression that there’s been a finger-painting party at the end of the meal with all those fingerprints covering them.

What happens if I bring an expensive bottle of wine to a friend’s house and they serve me plonk?

If you want to drink your wine, make it obvious by calling ahead to ask your host which wines you can contribute to complement what is being served for dinner.

Of course, if you know that they’re the people who consistently open their own stock, don’t bother bringing a bottle you want to drink.

How do I handle being offered my friend’s awful homemade wine?

You could grit your teeth and say it’s unlike anything you’ve tasted.

As a last resort, you can drink up, recognizing the act as a testament to your friendship.

What if I want to bring my own bottle of wine to a restaurant?

Call ahead to see if customers can bring their own stock. Some refuse, while others permit it only on special occasions, particularly since much of the meal’s profit may be in the wine’s price.

There may be a corkage fee, but that’s usually small change compared to ordering the same wine from the restaurant list.

Make sure you tip well, as though you bought the wine your brought from the restaurant’s wine list.

What do I say to a cranky sommelier when the wine is bad?

For some sommeliers, a simple explanation of “I think this bottle is a bit off” will suffice; for others you must be ready to do verbal hand-to-hand combat.

If I’m attending a dinner party and I’m enjoying my wine a little faster than the host, can I help myself and refill my glass, or do I need to wait for the host?

If the dinner party is informal and you have a close relationship with your friends, then go for it.

If you’re in a more formal setting, wait for the host, though you can make it more obvious that you’ve run out of wine by lifting your empty glass and almost drinking then saying “Oh my goodness, that was good!”

I know that a wine’s bouquet is nearly as important as its taste. Let’s say I’m in a restaurant and all I can smell of perfume from the woman sitting next to me?

Short of diluting the woman’s essence with your table water, there aren’t many options in this situation.

You could put up with it, but strong smells ruin a fine wine since most of its nuances are in its bouquet.

Your best bet is to ask to be seated elsewhere in the restaurant.

Here’s the wine etiquette video. Posted with permission of CTV.

Melissa: Welcome back everybody. Well, wine is often considered a sophisticated drink but it can get pretty unsophisticated pretty quickly if you don’t follow the proper etiquette or if you’re at my house on a Saturday night.

Lainey: Or if I’m there.

Melissa: And if Ms. Lainey is there.

Lainey: Yeah. So here to give us a lesson in the dos and don’ts of a civilized wine drinking is the editor of Canada’s largest wine review site, Sommelier, Natalie MacLean. Welcome back. OK. So Natalie, I feel like people get really judgy with wine. So I’m going to start with a basic question. How do you hold the wine glass, by the stem or by the bowl?

Natalie: Right. Well, by the bowl, Lainey is a little bit low classy. I just got to tell you that. There are three reasons why we hold it by the stem. And go ahead ladies if you like.

Cynthia: OK. Oh please. You don’t mean like this, right, though?

Natalie: No. Not like someone is going to take it away from you.

Cynthia: All right. All right.

Natalie: OK. So one is, we don’t want to warm up the wine by cupping it like this.

Melissa: OK.

Natalie: Secondly, we don’t want all kinds of unsightly fingerprints all over the bowl. And thirdly, we want to be able to swirl. Now, if you want to do the training wheels version of this, do it on the table. Get a good swirl going because the beauty of wine, its complexity is all in the nose. Sure, it’s great on the palette and you can try that too.

Lainey: Can we drink now?

Natalie: Yeah, yeah. Too much talking, not enough wine drinking. Do you like that? Yeah?

Lainey: But what about stemless glasses then?

Natalie: Right. I wish they would go off trend really, really soon.

Jess: Really?

Natalie: Yeah, because after a dinner party, it looks like there has been a finger painting party.

Jess: It is true.

Natalie: It is. And you’re heating up the wine. Red wine maybe not so much a concern. White wine, I think if I had one, I would probably hold it like that.

Cynthia: OK. With the stemless glass.

Natalie: Exactly, with the stemless. Yes.

Cynthia: I sometimes do that with these. I’m not going to do it anymore. OK. If it got stem, all right.

Melissa: Give it up.

Cynthia: Yeah.

Jess: Natalie, I’m curious about something. I worked in restaurants where it was part of my job to drink a lot of wine. It was a fantastic job. But as a result of that, I sort of acquired maybe some more, I don’t want to say elevated, but I like a good bottle of wine. And sometimes, that means spending a little more money. So what if I’m going to a friend’s place for dinner and I bring a really special bottle of Burgundy.

Natalie: Right.

Jess: And they kind of put it aside and don’t open it up and end up sort of bringing out an $8 bottle of plonk and serve it to me. I need to keep my mouth shut, right? Like I can’t …

Natalie: And you need to leave actually. You shouldn’t be friends. No. What you want to do is plan ahead so let’s back up that scenario.

Jess: OK.

Natalie: Call ahead.

Jess: Really?

Natalie: Oh yes. This is where we get the assumptive closing sales technique when it comes to wine. So call ahead and say, “What are you serving for dinner because I would love to bring a bottle of wine to pair with it?” So first of all, you’re locking that in.

Jess: Yeah.

Natalie: Then you arrive on the doorstep and you say, “Here’s the wine I brought.”

Jess: Right.

Natalie: “Should I decant it in the dining room or the kitchen.” And keep moving. So, you can do that.

Jess: It’s not so presumptuous because you’ve made the – you’ve let them know already so it doesn’t seem …

Natalie: Exactly.

Jess: OK.

Natalie: Well, that’s a little presumptuous I guess. But let’s say they just ignore all those cues and that sort of thing and they just insist on serving you the plonk. Then bring a decoy wine.

Jess: OK.

Natalie: So, decoy wine has a fancy label, tastes all right, but is low priced like under $15.

Cynthia: So on that note, what about homemade wine? Like let’s say, I share a coveted bottle of vintage with a friend and she counters with a bottle of wine that she has made herself. Is it my responsibility, do I have to drink it?

Natalie: Well, how good is the friendship? How close?

Cynthia: Yeah. I don’t know.

Natalie: Well, I’ve been presented with homemade wine previously because I’m a wine writer and they want an opinion. And my comment is, “Wow! I’ve never tasted anything quite like this.”

Cynthia: That’s good, very good.

Natalie: How surprising.

Cynthia: OK.

Natalie: But you could say, “Oh my goodness!” Say she served you a red wine, her homemade red, say, “You know what? Lately, red wines have been giving me a headache. Do you mind if I switch to white tonight?”

Cynthia: OK.

Natalie: You’re out of luck if she has got both made.

Cynthia: Right. All right. Good point.

Natalie: Can’t help you there.

Lainey: But is that a sweeping gen – like should people just stop making their own wine?

Natalie: It depends. There’s all manner of homemade wines from the kits, almost like a tang crystals of wine, to actually – some people would go and source fresh grapes from Niagara, take it quite seriously beyond hobby and a lot of pride in their wine. So it really does depend on the quality.

Melissa: OK. So I’m attending a party and I’m going through my glass a little bit more quickly than the host is. So, do I help myself for the refill or should be holding back in waiting for the host?

Lainey: Great question.

Natalie: Great question.

Cynthia: Yes. And screw your friends if they don’t like it.

Natalie: Exactly. I would treat wine as I treat food. So if you are over to this friend’s house, if you needed second helpings of the food, would you go help yourself? Is it informal? Is the relationship close? If not or if it’s a bit of a formal dinner party, then what you can do is, let’s say, you’ve finished your glass, you can raise it up and go … That’s option three.

Cynthia: OK.

Natalie: This is the middle ground.

Cynthia: All right.

Natalie: Hang on. So you can raise your empty glass and go, “Oh my goodness! That was good. That went quickly.”

Lainey: A very subtle …

Natalie: Like you’re surprised by your own glass.

Cynthia: Oh, OK. All right.

Melissa: A bit like that. That’s good.

Jess: So, we all know if we’re in a restaurant and we get a bottle of wine and it happens to be off, you can send it back and you can generally feel not uncomfortable about that. But what if you’re at your friend’s house and this has happened to me, where the bottle of wine is clearly off but everyone else is enjoying it, so would you be that sort of jerk who sort of says, “Guys, this bottle is off.”

Natalie: Right. It looks like [0:05:50] [Indiscernible] yourself.

Jess: Or do you just suck it back?

Natalie: Well, I wouldn’t do either. So, I would say something like, especially where everybody is drinking it, “Wow! I used to really enjoy this style of wine.” In your mind, “Before I knew anything about wine.” And then you could say, “But again lately, this style of wine is giving me a real headache.”

Jess: OK.

Natalie: Where you could pull out like a bottle of Smarties or something, a pill prop. “It’s going to cause me to have allergies.”

Jess: Exactly.

Natalie: “Do you mind if I switch to …”

Jess: Right.

Natalie: … or something like that.

Melissa: To get off the hook from drinking from that bottle.

Natalie: Exactly.

Melissa: OK, yeah, very, very smart. My husband and I, we want to celebrate our anniversary. And we think, “You know what? It would be great to enjoy a bottle of wine from that year.” So how would we handle that?

Natalie: Sure. So if you’re going to a restaurant, you want to call ahead and find out what is their policy because bringing your own bottle of wine is legal but not mandated. So, the adage in the restaurant industry is that customers will eat you poor and drink you rich. All the margin is in the liquor, the water, the coffee, and the tea. So you want to be respectful of that because some restaurants just can’t afford, their margins are so small. So call ahead.

Some will have it on a Monday or a Sunday, slow traffic nights. Bring on the foodies. Bring on the wine. And others have different policies. You’ll likely be charged a corkage fee just to open the wine but still, your bill will be lower.

My last tip though is, tip based on having paid for the wine off the list because the service is the same.

Jess: Oh wow!

Melissa: Good call, very good call.

Lainey: Yeah. So we’re going to taste – toast to say goodbye. But before we do say goodbye, I mean we’ve talked about etiquette.

Natalie: Sure.

Lainey: But the most important thing though is to just enjoy yourself.

Natalie: Exactly, exactly. That’s the only rule, really, when it comes down to it. It’s just drink what you like, enjoy it, and always drink with good friends.

Lainey: And we clink? Can we clink? Is that allowed?

Natalie: Absolutely. You know, this whole clinking thing, the history of that is that you would spill a little bit of wine into each other’s glass. This goes back to ancient history because you weren’t sure if there was poison in yours. So, if you’re going to a dinner party, don’t know the folks well, clink.

Cynthia: Oh, amazing.

Lainey: Natalie, thank you so much for teaching us how not to be low classy. And we’ll have all of these great tips available to you at Don’t go anywhere. We’ll be back.

The Social Wine Etiquette




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