Proper Wine Etiquette For Being Served, Serving And Tasting

When the bottle of wine is presented, it is proper wine etiquette to examine the label to be sure the producer and vintage match what you ordered. The restaurant might be out of a particular vintage and substitute a different year. It may not make a difference to you. However, if you wanted to enjoy a wine you have experienced previously and a substitution was made, there will certainly be a difference. In such case, you may wish to order a different wine. A different vintage could be trivial if it’s a simple Cotes du Rhone but significant if you were ordering a 2000 Bordeaux and received a 2002 instead.


Check that temperature is satisfactory. White and rose wines are best slightly chilled, at 50 degrees. Better to be too cold than too warm for either red or white. It isn’t improper wine etiquette to request an ice bucket to chill both whites and reds; and don’t hesitate to do so if that is what you would prefer. However, the conventional wine etiquette of placing the bottle in an ice bucket can compromise your experience; fine white wines will release more texture and bouquet as they warm up in the glass; try it. The exception to this would be when drinking a modest wine on a hot day. A red wine brought to the table slightly chilled indicates good storage; you can always warm up the wine by cupping the glass in your hands and swirling.


When the bottle of wine is opened, it is proper wine etiquette for the sommelier to present the cork to the person who requested the wine. The vintage on the cork should match the vintage on the bottle. Visual inspection of the cork often reveals little; a pristine looking cork can stopper a bad wine and a delicious wine can come from a cork that disintegrates as it’s removed.

Sniffing the cork may reveal earthy aromas but keep in mind you’re smelling the bark of a tree. Many a bottle has been mistakenly returned because there is mold on the top end of the cork. This has no effect on the wine; it simply means the bottle was aged in the producer’s damp cellar prior to release, which is a good thing.

Swirl & Sniff

The proper wine etiquette procedure will dictate that the sommelier will then look to pour a small amount of wine for the person ordering the wine. Gently swirl the wine in the glass to release the aroma, give it a sniff, and then taste it. If there is an objectionable or unexpected aroma, the sommelier should recommend further aerating the wine in which case the “off odor” will dissipate, or replacing the bottle. Unfortunately, it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between funky aromas that are inherent in certain wines and similar smells that are symptoms of a defect. Proper wine etiquette is to consult with the sommelier. If you smell a moldy aroma reminiscent of a “wet basement” the wine is “corked”, meaning that it has been tainted by a moldy cork. Unfortuantely, the mold is not visible nor does the cork necessarily smell moldy. Since there are varying levels of cork taint, a corked wine can be overtly stinky or the fruit character is slightly muted. If you perceive this to be the situation, send the bottle back immediately. If you’re not quite sure, politely ask the sommelier for an opinion, all in keeping with proper wine etiquette.


There are two reasons to decant a wine: (1) to separate the wine from the sediment in the case of a 20 year old port or red wine; or (2) to open up and soften the tannins of a young red wine. Decanting and swirling the wine in the glass will do a far better job than opening the wine two hours prior and letting the wine “breathe”, which is not practical in most restaurant settings. White and sparkling wines rarely need extras breathing time. It is not proper etiquette or an acceptable practice to return a wine simply because you do not like it as much as you thought you might.

After you have taken a sip, the proper etiquette is to nod, say “thank you”, “it’s fine” or some signal for the sommelier to begin pouring. Wine etiquette dictates that the glass is filled about one third full to allow enough space to swirl the wine. Sparkling wines pour along or against the side of the glass to preserve the bubbles.

Wine etiquette may seem unnecessary, but following the proper wine etiquette will enhance the overall wine drinking experience. Wine etiquette and all its subtleties are intended to slow the experience so that the product before you can be fully appreciated and enjoyed.

The Cork, Screw Cap Debate

For a very long time, cork was the preferred method to seal a bottle of wine. There has been much debate over the past few years as to what the best method is for sealing off a bottle, cork, plastic cork or screw caps.

Current estimates predict that roughly 6 percent of all wine bottled with a traditional cork will fall victim to TCA (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole), a bacteria that thrives in cork. Some of you might have even had a spoilt bottle of wine and not really noticed it. Even a very small amount of TCA in a bottle of wine can ruin it. Most become aware of TCA in quantities as small as 5 parts per trillion. When TCA is present in quantities high enough to be evident to a person, it comes across as ‘musty’ aromas and flavors. TCA in wine is not toxic, but the taste and aromas can be quite unsettling.

Another issue that seems to have people leaning away from traditional cork is the fact that cork can dry out and allow air to oxidize a bottle of wine. This can happen if a bottle is not stored correctly. Storing a bottle of wine on its side helps a cork remain moist and a moist cork expands better to seal the inside of the bottle. A dry cork shrinks allowing air to enter spoiling the wine.

Plastic corks have been created to help combat the problems being seen with real cork. Plastic does eliminate the problem of TCA, but plastic corks can have leaky seals which cause oxidation. Personally I have never had a problem with a leaky plastic cork, but it does happen. Another problem with plastic is that they can be very difficult to remove from a bottle compared to cork. Though this is not as detrimental as having a bottle of wine ruined with TCA, it can be very frustrating if you were looking forward to a lovely glass of Chardonnay and the plastic cork won’t budge.

In an almost last ditch attempt at preventing wine from spoiling, some wine makers have resorted to screw caps for their bottles of wine. Not nearly as romantic as the popping sound a corked bottle makes, screw caps nonetheless are very effective in preventing wine from spoiling. Most Australian wines are no longer made with cork and have opted for this screw cap method because it’s better at maintaining the taste of wine in the way the wine maker intended.

Screw cap bottles of wine are becoming more and more popular, and yes, while they are not as aesthetically pleasing and continue to hold the connotation of a cheap bottle of wine, a greater number of higher quality wines are opting for the screw cap to prevent spoilage. So the next time you are served a bottle of wine with a screw cap, think twice before brushing it off as a cheap wine.

How to Properly Open Wine and Champagne Bottles

You thought you knew how to open wine and champagne bottles? Well think again. You do not simply pop off the cork and fill up the glass. You have to go about a little more graciously than that if you are to impress anyone and to please customers if you are to have a job as a bartender. Here you will learn how to open these drinks the right way.

How To Open Wine Bottles
To open a wine bottle, you will need a waiter’s opener. This can be had at most liquor stores or you could find a fancy one online.

You start by using the blade on the top of the bottle to cut away the foil or capsule that seals the cork in the bottle neck and remove it. Remember to wipe the area that you did that, as to make sure foreign objects don’t get into the drink.

You then line up the screw on the opener straight over the cork and with gentle pressure you start to screw clockwise into the bottle. Screw just the right amount to be able to take out the cork and don’t go through the end.

Now you must attach the lever and slowly, but firmly lift the cork straight up. Wipe the neck of the bottle again, present the cork to your guest and pour one ounce of wine into their glass and let them taste it. If they like it, pour some more and remember to wipe it after its time you have poured with a towel.

How To Open Champagne Bottles
Champagne does not get opened by using a corkscrew and needs to be dealt with in a more special, but fun way.

Remove the top foil capsule to get to the place you open the bottle. Remember to hold the bottle at an angle and point it away from people and anything that is valuable. Now you hold the cork and start to twist the bottle around. Just before the cork is about to pop, place a bar towel over the cork and bottle and loosen the last bit (if you don’t prefer to shoot of the cork and make a little ruccus)

Having a spare towel is smart here as sometimes it will make a lot of mess the sparkling water, so to avoid this, you must refrain from shaking the bottle before opening it.

Oenophile – Screw Cap Or Cork?

It’s been several years since we saw the first marketed premium wine with screw caps. Though it’s not the norm, in an industry still very affectionate for the traditional cork top, the sale of screw capped wines is increasing, while the little darling of the wine world, the cork, holds greatest court.

Do you remember cheap twist cap jug wines sold in the 1970’s? That’s one of the problems. Unfortunately, too many of us still associate screw capped wines with the cheap, undrinkable wine from an era long gone. Fast forward to 2008, and the bad taste in our mouth is starting to diminish, at least for some of us.

To the screw caps advantage, a bottle of wine sealed in this sterile manner, relieves the ever-present threat of opening a corked bottle of wine. This happens when bacteria Trichloroanisole, or TCA, carried by the cork itself infects the wine and causes it to develop a mild off-taste or downright unpalatable flavor (do you smell grandma’s basement in that bottle?).

Many restaurants have begun including screw capped wine citing that corked wine is a nagging and expensive problem. For both the industry and consumer greater acceptance of wine with screw tops is taking hold. Some vineyards, like Bonny Doon, make nearly all their wines with screw capped closures.

Where does that leave wine with corks? For now, don’t toss aside your corkscrew. In fact, the enjoyable aspect of cork is that it is derived from nature and harvested from the bark of the cork oak. More pleasure indeed can be found upon opening the bottle. For good pop and sound, there is nothing better than the traditional cork screw, the kind that folds up and has the squiggly metal piece designed to pierce and tug the cork out of the bottle. Though this one takes brute strength and adds time to the process, higher-tech corkscrews made with lever pulls streamline the process making both brute strength and time a thing of the past.