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Wine Basics: Drinking, Serving, and Tasting Wines

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A general understanding of the art of drinking, serving, and tasting will add greatly to your enjoyment of this alcoholic beverage. Like most things, the more you learn about wine, the more fascinating the subject becomes. Narsai David, vintner (www.narsaiwine.com), and food and wine editor at KCBS Radio Station in San Francisco, remarks, "The objective remains the same: to share the simple pleasures of cooking, food and wine through education." Rick Walker, grammy award winning music producer and founder of Napa Valley's Festival Del Sole (www.festivaldelsole.com), an annual food, music, and wine festival adds, "It's the simple pleasures in life that bring joy. As Robert Louis Stevenson said, wine is bottled poetry."

Here are some basic rules for enjoying wine in restaurants, at home, and at wineries.

Restaurant Etiquette

Wine service at restaurants may seem complicated, but the following tips will allow you to order with ease and confidence:
• When choosing a wine from a wine list, the main goal is to find a suitable pairing with your meal. If the individual food orders for two people are too different to match with one wine, consider purchasing splits (half bottles).
• Waiters and sommeliers (trained and knowledgeable wine professionals) are there to answer your questions, so use their services.
• After you order, the waiter or sommelier will retrieve your selection and then present it, label forward, to the host of the party. This is merely to verify that it is the correct wine.
• A small amount or wine is poured for the host, who should swirl the wine in the glass, smell it, and then taste it. This is to make sure the wine is not spoiled.
• After being approved, the wine will be poured for the other guests, ladies first. The host's glass will be topped off last.

Corkage

It is customary in many parts of the country for restaurants to have a corkage policy for patrons who wish to bring their own wine. Here are some tips on this practice:
• Always call the restaurant in advance to verify that corkage is allowed and ask what the fee is to avoid any surprises. Corkage fees may range from $15 to $25. Some restaurants will waive this fee if an additional bottle is purchased from the restaurant, but you should phone ahead just to be sure.
• Ask if the wine you plan to bring is on the menu. If so, corkage will most likely not be allowed. Wine brought to a restaurant should be relatively unique or rare; reserved for special occasions.

Serving Wine at Home

Stemware
2010-07-12-Robert_Mondavi.jpg
Robert Mondavi

You may use an all-purpose wine glass for both red and white wines, but it will add to the pleasure of your guests to have the proper glass for each course.

The White-Wine Glass. This glass is smaller than a red-wine glass, as white wine doesn't need room to breathe. White wine is most often poured with the first course: appetizer, salad, or a fish course. Hold the glass by the stem so as not to warm the wine, which is served chilled.
The Red-Wine Glass. Smaller than the water goblet but larger than the white-wine glass, the red-wine glass is shaped to allow the maximum amount of air for the wine to breathe. It is also held by the stem. It most often poured with the main course and is served at room temperature.
The Champagne Glass. Champagne is often served with dessert, but also during cocktails. The flute shape allows for more bubbles than the old-fashioned coupe shape. Champagne refers only to wine from the Champagne region of France. Otherwise, it's considered "sparkling wine."

Golden Rules of Serving Wine

• When serving more than one wine, follow these rules: white before red; light before dark; dry before sweet; and simple before complex.
• At a dinner party, women should be served first, then men, and lastly the host.
• Always uncork red wine ahead of time to give it time to breathe.
• Taste all wine before serving to make sure that it is not spoiled.
• Always serve wine in spotless glasses, and use the correct glass per color of wine.
• If more than one wine is served, make sure that they are poured in a logical progression: whites first, then reds. Each pouring requires a fresh wineglass.
• It may be necessary to decant an aged red wine, either to remove sediment or to expose the wine to oxygen.
• Serve the wine at the correct temperature.

Tasting Room Etiquette

Correct wine-tasting etiquette makes the tasting experience much more enjoyable. Here is the protocol that most wine-lovers adhere to when visiting wineries:

• Many wineries charge tasting fees that are generally applied to the purchase. It is not mandatory that you buy wine, and you should purchase only what you desire. At boutique wineries (small, family-owned) where appointments are often required, it's nice to buy at least one bottle.
• White wines are generally offered first, followed by reds and then dessert wines. Within these categories, lighter-bodied wines precede fuller-bodied ones. Water and crackers may be offered to cleanse the palate between each pouring.
• Do not feel that you need to sample every wine offered; taste only what appeals to you.
• Correct wine etiquette does not dictate that you must finish every glass. Winery tasting rooms provide jars, known as "spittoons," for emptying your glass. They are not for tipping, just wine!

Lisa Mirza Grotts is a recognized etiquette expert and the author of A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette. She is a former director of protocol for the City & County of San Francisco and the founder of The AML Group (www.AMLGroup.com), certified etiquette and protocol consultants. Her clients range from Cornell University and Microsoft to Nordstrom, KPMG and Stanford Hospital. She has been quoted by The Sunday Times, InStyle Magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times. She has appeared on various radio and television stations, such as ABC, CBS, and Fox News. To learn more about Lisa, follow her on www.Twitter.com/LisaGrotts and www.Facebook.com/LisaGrotts.

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