When you say the words "wine etiquette" many people immediately think of avoiding drunkenness particularly to avoid dinner etiquette faux pas or wedding etiquette embarrassment. However, there's much more to this picture from the right temperature for serving wine to what type of wine to choose for various foods. All of these guidelines make a difference in how enjoyable the wine is at the end of the day. You want to savor and appreciate the wine, but it shouldn't overwhelm the meal.
Begin with the basics of wine and food pairings. People have different tastes, and not everyone agrees with what wine is best for any particular meal. However, some basic frameworks will help you be more successful. In planning a meal start with a light colored wine or champagne for your appetizers. They don’t sit heavily in the stomach, yet open the pallet. Move on to red wine for steaks or saucy meals, and enjoy a port or dessert wine at the end.
By the way, wine and cheese goes together like bread and butter. If you can go to a store where you can try different sample combinations, you'll be much happier with the results you present to guests. Generally use white wine with soft cheeses and red wine with hard cheese. The red can stand up to the stronger flavors of the hard cheese. Similarly, pair fish, white meats or delicate recipes with white wines and red wines with hardier meals. Note that Zinfandels fall in the middle for surf and turf.
Next, wine etiquette dictates serving different types of wine at different temperatures. The flavor of wine changes dramatically depending on when it’s opened and the temperature. Red wine should breathe for an hour before serving at room temperature (around sixty degrees). By comparison, white wines should chill for two hours and open just prior to serving (45 degrees). Throughout your dinner remember that it’s the host’s job to refill guests’ glass unless you’ve indicated that they should feel free to help themselves.
For practical dinner etiquette, remember that red wines enjoy decanting. Vintage wines particularly have some sediment in the bottom that decanters keep out of the glass. Additionally the decanter provides a different way to "breathe" the wine. Let it rest in the decanter for an hour for best results.
When you're ready to pour your wine there are two distinct approaches. Wine with bubbles needs to pour down the side of the glass. This keeps it from fizzing over and also protects the bubbles. Pour flat wines into the center of the glass. In both cases only fill the glass 2/3 of the way full, and less if you’re having a wine sampling.
Take care that you use the right kind of wine glass. Bowl shaped glasses work best for red wines as they expose the wine to oxygen. This is also true with brandy and cognac. This lets you fully experience the flavor and aroma of the wine. The exact opposite is true with white wines. You'll find the taste and characteristics shine with thin, tall glasses.
As far as how to hold your wine glass, wine etiquette experts have two distinct schools of thought. Some say you should hold the glass by the bowl so you decrease the chance of spilling your beverage (particularly on a white rug). Others say you should hold the wine by the stem so you don’t change its temperature. Both approaches have merit. The first shows practical etiquettes rule of consideration. Thoughtfulness matters. The second honors the spirit of the wine and the delicate flavor changes that temperature makes.
My opinion is that the more crowded the party – the more likely it is that spills occur. Secure your glass accordingly. When you're having a sampling of fine wine among a few friends, move to holding the stem particularly for champagne.
There is nothing like a good bottle of wine. Let wine etiquette help you choose the right bottle for the occasion.
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