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Wine Etiquette

Events Calendar with Wine Dinners

How to Serve Wines

The proper etiquette of wine serving and drinking should be one of complete informality and ease. It does not require long planning and great care of execution, except, of course, in the case of great and old wines.  Some general rules to follow would be:

Serving temperatures:

(a) Red table wines should be left standing in the dining room approximately 24 hours before the meal for allowing any sediment to settle, and then brought to room temperature.

(b) White and Rose wines are served slightly chilled (around 50'F.), and one hour on the shelf of a refrigerator will bring them to the right temperature.

(c) Champagnes and other sparkling wines take longer to chill and should be left in the refrigerator for a few hours.


(a) Red wine is improved if the bottle is uncorked about one hour before the meal. Wine is a living body. It is dormant in the bottle, and, as soon as the bottle is uncorked, the wine is "awakened" and starts "breathing." It absorbs oxygen from the air, and this oxidation activates the development of the "bouquet" and the aroma. One hour or so of "breathing" gives depth and smoothness to red wine.

(b) White and Rose wines have a very delicate fragrance which would lose its freshness if it were exposed to air for too long a time. Therefore, the bottles are opened just before serving.

All experts agree that one type of wine glass is perfect for all wines, including Champagne. The perfect glass is long stemmed and tulip-shaped, with a bowl the size of an orange. It is clear and thin, without heavy ornamentation. As a matter of fact, any large glass or goblet is better than the small, so-called "wine glass" that is in use in many homes and restaurants. Serving wine in a water goblet is a good idea when no regular wine glass is available.


Wine is poured as soon as food is brought to the table. It is the host, rather than the hostess, who serves  the wine and sees to it that glasses are replenished all during the meal. The glasses are never filled. They are served only half-full.

On Tasting Wine

"There are no standards of taste in wine, cigars, poetry, prose, etc. Each man's own taste is the standard, and a majority vote cannot decide for him or in any slightest degree affect the supremacy of his own standard." -Mark Twain, 1895

The following are the necessary steps for tasting wine. You may wish to follow them with a glass of wine in hand. Wine tasting can be broken down into five basic steps: Color, Swirl, Smell, Taste, and Savor.


The best way to get an idea of the color of the wine is to get a white background and hold the glass of wine in front of it. The range of colors that you may see depends, of course, on whether you're tasting a white or red wine. Here are the colors for both, beginning with the youngest wine and moving to an older wine:

WHITE WINE :  pale yellow-green, straw yellow, yellow-gold, old gold, yellow-brown, maderized, brown

RED WINE:   purple, ruby, red, red brick, red-brown, brown

Color tells you a lot about the wine. There three main reasons why a  wine may have more color:

  1. It's older.
  2. Different grape varieties give different color. (For example, Chardonnay usually gives off a deeper color than does Riesling.)
  3. The wine was aged in wood.


Why do we swirl wine? To allow oxygen to get into the wine: Swirling releases the esters, ethers, and aldehydes that combine with oxygen to yield the bouquet of the wine. In other words, swirling aerates the wine and gives you a better smell.


This is the most important part of wine tasting. You can only perceive four tastes-sweet, sour, bitter, and salt-but the average person can smell over 2,000 different scents, and wine has over 200 of its own. Now that you've swirled the wine and released the bouquet, you should smell the wine at least three times. You will find that the third smell will give you more information than the first smell did. What does the wine smell like? What type of nose does it have? Smell is a very important step in the tasting process and most people simply don't spend enough time on it.

Pinpointing the nose of the wine helps you to identify certain characteristics. The best way to learn what your own preferences are for styles of wine is to "memorize" the smell of the individual grape varieties. For white, just try to memorize the three major grape varieties: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling. Keep smelling them, and smelling them, and smelling them until you can identify the differences, one from the other.  For the reds it's a little more difficult, but you still can take three major grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  


To many people, tasting wine means taking a sip and swallowing immediately. This isn't tasting. Tasting is something you do with your taste buds. You have taste buds all over your mouth-on both sides of the tongue, underneath, on the tip, and extending to the back of your throat. If you do what many people do, you take a gulp of wine and bypass all of those important taste buds.

What should you think about when tasting wine?

Be aware of the most important sensations of taste and where they occur on your tongue and in your mouth. One can only perceive four tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, and salt (but there's no salt in wine, so we're down to three). Bitterness in wine is usually created by high alcohol and high tannin. Sweetness only occurs in wines that have some residual sugar left over after fermentation. Sour (sometimes called "tart") indicates the acidity in wine.

Sweetness-Found on the tip of the tongue. If there's any sweetness in a wine whatsoever, you'll get it right away.

Fruit and Varietals Characteristics-Found in the middle of the tongue.

Acidity-Found at the sides of the tongue, the cheek area, and the back of the throat. White wines and some lighter-style red wines usually contain a higher degree of acidity.

Tannin-The sensation of tannin begins in the middle of the tongue.

Tannin frequently exists in red wines or wood-aged white wines. When the wines are too young, tannin dries the palate to excess. If there's a lot of tannin in the wine, the tannin can actually coat your whole mouth, blocking the fruit. Remember, tannin is not a taste. It is a tactile sensation.

Aftertaste-The overall taste and balance of the components of the wine that lingers in our mouth. How long does the balance last? Usually a sign of a high-quality wine is a long, pleasing aftertaste. The taste of many of the great wines lasts anywhere from one minute to three minutes, with all their components in harmony.


After you've had a chance to taste the wine, sit back for a few moments and savor it. Think about what you just experienced, and ask yourself the following questions to help focus your impressions. Was the wine:

Light, medium, or full-bodied?  For a white wine: How was the acidity? Very little, just right, or too much?  For a red wine: Is the tannin in the wine too strong or astringent? Is it pleasing?   Or is it missing?  What is the strongest component (residual sugar, fruit, acid, tannin)?

How do you know if a wine is good or not?

The definition of a good wine is one that you enjoy. Do not let others dictate taste to you!


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Recommended wine/food pairings


Champagne, Calif. sparkling wine, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc

Grilled fish  

Sauvignon Blanca, Pinot Blanc, Loire Valley whites, Riesling, champagne


Pinot Noir, red Burgundy, Chianti, Dolcetto


Cabernet, Merlot, red Bordeaux red Rhinos, Barolo, Rioja Reservas

Roast chicken  

Pinot Noir, red Burgundy, Chianti, Zinfandel, Spanish reds


Cabernet, Merlot, red Bordeaux, red Rhones, Chilean


Sauvignon Blanc, Loire Valley whites

Individual Bottle Recommendations
local Wine Stewards
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