Demystifying Wine Etiquette: Why Less is More

This story originally appeared on the Gents Cafe Newsletter. You can subscribe here.

There was a young man who was visually debonair and moved as sleekly as his well-greased hair. He invited a lady out on a date and they sat down in nothing but grace and elegance. When the waiter approached the table the young man took it upon himself to impress his second date to be. He asks, ‘May we order a bottle of the house red?’, only for the waiter to return minutes later with a bottle of tomato ketchup and says, ‘This is our finest brand of red, Sir’.

The moral of the story is that it is seldom impressive to be a wine snob so publicly and so off the bat. Is there ever a time for it? Absolutely. Going for a wine tasting in the Napa Valley? Go for it. The snobbier, the better. A weekend country retreat in Bordeaux with incomprehensible French dialogue in the dusty and wealthy spider-web-ridden cellars? The poncier, the better.

However, most people don’t like it when you overdo the wine-snob role, it comes back to bite one on the backside should you try too hard on dates or work lunches. For what is this attempt at elitism? The idea that wine is this elitist drink is a modern myth. For much of the medieval era and now still in much of France and similar places, wine was the drink of the common people. In equally refreshing fashion, I’ve been greatly enjoying the content from Georgie Fenn (@winingawaytheweekend) whose passionate no-nonsense approach to the wine world is one to learn from.

So what do I find acceptable wine etiquette? It is still the case, though less so nowadays, the waiter will bring over the bottle for you to note the label and pour a small amount into the glass for you to do two things: check it is the bottle you wanted and that it is not corked. This can be achieved modestly by a quick glance and a sniff of the wine. No ceremonious tasting.

Avoiding words like ‘tannins’, ‘full-bodied’, and phrases like ‘I’m getting…’ followed by made-up tasting notes that you know you cannot truly identify will keep you on the right side of things. As long as you are holding the glass by the stem (not the bowl), then that is about seventy per cent of wine etiquette sorted.

Like most things: the simpler, the better. The complicated young man with whom we began this article is exactly the type of person Oscar Wilde in his Epigrams described when he said ‘[the English] have the miraculous power of turning wine into water.’

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