Whether you are entertaining a client over a meal, celebrating a special anniversary or hosting a Valentine’s wine tasting party at your home, serving wine is much easier when you are comfortable with the protocol. Here are a few wine tasting tips that will dazzle your Valentine and you can use all year around:
Bringing a Bottle of Wine as a Valentine Hostess Gift
A bottle of wine makes a great hostess gift, but avoid bringing a chilled bottle as it will send the impression that you expect it to be opened and consumed at the party. A savvy host has already selected the appropriate wine for the evening menu. The exception to this rule is when a guest calls ahead and asks if he or she may share a special bottle of wine that would complement the menu.
When in doubt as to the type of wine to purchase as a hostess gift, choose a red wine in the winter and a fresh white wine during the summer months. Your wine contribution, whether your host shares it or saves it for later is always appreciated.
Serving Wine at a Dinner Party
Presentation is important and a beautiful wine glass need not be expensive. Mix and match, serving wine in a variety of different wine glasses. The only rule is to serve wine in a glass best suited for flavor. Red wine should be served in a wine glass with a larger bowl while white wine is best enjoyed in a wine glass with a narrower bottom. When pouring, fill the glass only 1/2 full. Let the wine "breathe" before serving by decanting or letting it sit in the glass for a brief period.
Wine at a Restaurant
Feel free to use the restaurant sommelier (an employee with extensive wine knowledge) to assist in your wine selection. A sommelier has been specially trained to work within the taste preference and budget limits of guests and is adept at offering appropriate wine suggestions.
The sommelier, or waiter, will deliver your wine order to the table and offer you a tasting before you commit to the purchase. If you are not happy with the wine you may send it back and ask the sommelier for another suggestion.
When the Wine Arrives at the Table
It is standard procedure to look at the label to make sure it is the wine that you ordered and not your neighbor's bottle of Lafite Rothschild. Observe the cork for evidence of decay and then take a drink to ensure you are happy with the flavor. Acknowledge your satisfaction by giving the server a quick glance, a smile and a nod of approval. This confirms that you are pleased with the choice.
When dining out, you may be allowed to bring your own bottle. Check with the owner of the restaurant in advance and review state regulations. Anticipate a "corkage fee," which can average between $5.00 to $20.00 per bottle, and upwards. It’s a nice gesture to offer the sommelier a taste of the wine after it has been opened or leave enough wine for them to enjoy when you leave.
Tipping the sommelier is optional as the tip is generally factored into the wait service. It is, however, a nice touch to hand the sommelier an additional tip for an exceptional wine suggestion, thoughtful answers to your questions and future good service.
Wine Tasting at a Winery
You don't need a sophisticated palate to host or enjoy a wine tasting event. You may be surprised at some wine tasting customs. For instance, you would never think of spitting at the dinner table, but it is not uncommon (although some people still loathe this) to spit out a small taste of wine between samplings. Others may prefer to take a sip and throw the remains of the sample wine in the provided tasting containers. The gurgling, guttural sounds you may encounter by fellow guests may seem appalling, but in fact are normal to someone attempting to draw air into their mouth, enhancing their ability to fully taste the wine. It may or may not be your behavior of choice but, "forewarned is forearmed."
By all means, eat the crackers served and use the water offered to cleanse your palate between tastings. You may also rinse your glass to eliminate the residue left behind from the last wine sample. Asking for a second taste of wine is acceptable when you are seriously considering purchasing an additional glass, bottle or case.
This is simply an introduction into the world of wine etiquette. There is much more to learn and enjoy, buy remember, above all else drink with respect, caution and regard for others.
Cheers and Happy Valentine’s Day!
Diane Gottsman, a nationally recognized etiquette expert, is the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in etiquette training for corporations, universities and individuals, striving to polish their interpersonal skills. You can reach Diane at 877-490-1077 or www.dianegottsman.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @DianeGottsman.