Wine Tasting Etiquette 101

So…I have a confession. I dabble in the art of wine tasting and the truth is that I know NOTHING about the affinity surrounding the color selection, smells, shakes, swishes, or swirls. There, I said it. I should be arrested for impersonating a wine connoisseur. After interrogating close friends recently, I found that MANY of my peers also have little to no knowledge about wine what-so-ever! For those of you who are clueless on the art of wine tasting and etiquette, this article is for you. Class is in session – for those 21 years of age and older, of course. 😉


Red Wine | Red wines are made from black or red grapes with skins. When grapes are fermented, tannins (astringent, bitter plant) and colors are released which contributes to the deep color and flavor of the wine. Red wines taste better with heavier foods and often tend to be less sweet. Popular red wines include: Beaujolais Nouveau, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chianti, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, and Zinfandel.

White Wine | White wines are made from white grapes without the skin or seeds. The grapes are put into a crushing machine with yeast until the wine becomes white. White wines can be sweet or dry and have crisp flavors and aromas. This wine tastes better with lighter foods and often tends to be sweet. Popular white wines include: Albarino, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Dry Wine vs. Sweet Wine | Sometimes called table wine, dry wine is the opposite of sweet wine and refers to any wine with essentially zero residual sugar present in the finished, bottled wine. Sweet wines (also referred to as dessert wine) are sometimes produced by picking the grapes before they are fully matured (to preserve acidity) and then dying them in the sun (to produce sweetness). The concept of a “seasonal” wine is debatable because winemakers don’t have the flexibility of brewers to create seasonal wines. Use your food selection to determine your personal “seasonal” taste.

Essentially, due to the fact that wine is a seasonal product, the quality of wine is based upon the condition of where the grapes are grown and how the bottles are handled.

Now that we’ve got that covered, let’s explore what I like to call Wine & Dine 101. As you view both scenarios, take notes. The things you learn could possibly save your life! Okay, maybe not your life, but you’ll be impressive!

Scenario 1: You go out to dinner with your boss and he suggests that you select the wine. What do you do?

In most fine restaurants there will be a sommelier there to assist you with the wine selection process. Once the waiter brings the wine, check the label to make sure you have the correct wine. (Before wine bottles had labels there was no way to prove where the wine came from. During that time the Chateaus were known for having the best wine and maintained their reputation by branding the corks). When the waiter removes the cork he will place it on the table in front of you. You will then smell the cork for signs of spoiled wine. The waiter will pour a small amount in your glass. Place your tablecloth against your wine glass and tilt it in order to see the variance of colors in the wine. Once you approve the wine, the waiter will serve to the rest of your party.

Scenario 2: You have been asked to attend a wine tasting with a friend. What is the proper etiquette?

When attending a wine tasting, white wines are usually tasted first. You will first look at the hue of the wine for color and clarity. You can hold the glass towards the light to view the variance in color. Before smelling the wine, swirl to release the wine’s aromas. Smell the wine by sticking your nose into the glass and breathing deeply. You can inhale deep whiffs or take short, quick sniffs. Take note of the aroma. Sip the wine and hold in your mouth. Roll it around your tongue before you swallow. Your taste buds will detect sweet, sour, or bitter. You can gurgle or swish the wine around to gain a better appreciation for the taste, but this is not necessary. The last step is to either swallow the wine or spit it out. The idea of spitting out wine may seem uncouth, but it will prevent you from getting tipsy.

Critical Notes:

No smoking during a wine tasting and leave the perfume and cologne at home as to not confuse your sense of smell. Also, if you are a beginner, let others express their opinion about the wines before you do.

Drink well! Class is dismissed. 🙂

Article by Avis Foley

Co-Publisher, Purpose Weekly

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