Etiquette: Wine Time

You may have noticed that I talk about wine a lot. It’s a situation smoother, a conversation starter, and a clever agent of relaxation, among other roles. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, or you are VERY new here, I love wine. It’s rare that I don’t have a bottle sitting around. With all of my love for this grapey beverage however, it may surprise you to know that I know nothing at all about wine. 

Much like my television hero, Leslie Knope, “I’m gonna be direct and honest with you, I would like a glass of red wine and I’ll take the cheapest one you have because I can’t tell the difference.” (Parks and Recreation, 4×1: “I’m Leslie Knope”) And, honestly, I’m fine with having an underdeveloped palate. I like some things, I don’t like other things, and I can usually tell the difference. What I’m not fine with, however, is not knowing the etiquette of wine ordering. (You were wondering when I would get there, weren’t you?)

Ordering wine by the bottle or by the glass is great, but when the sommelier or server lets you taste it first to make sure you like it? I have no earthly clue what I’m supposed to be checking for, or what I’m supposed to do in case of a mistake. So I learned, and I thought I’d share part of it with you this week, and part next week.


First, know that it is okay to send wine back. It’s just like food. If a mistake is made, you get to send back the mistake. Here is what you check for when the wine is brought to you:

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  • Check the bottle. Does the label match the bottle you ordered? If it does not, simply point out the mistake. This is easy to correct.
  • Look at the cork. Is it really dry? This means air may have gotten into the bottle, tainting the wine. Is it drenched in wine or obviously deteriorated? Your wine may have “cork taint.” You’ll be able to tell if there is a problem when you actually smell/taste the wine.
  • Smell or taste the wine. Experts say you should be able to tell if there are any problems by smelling it. But tasting is where the fun is at! Really, you’re just making sure it tastes “right,” not cardboardy or moldy. If your wine does smell like musty cardboard, that’s a sign of cork taint, and you should send it back.


Do not send your wine back just because you don’t like it. While some restaurants are so interested in maintaining their customer relationships they might take the wine back, most will grumble about doing so. If you are unsure if you will like a particular wine, ask the server or sommelier about it first. Chances are they, or someone else, have an opinion on that particular type.

One trend I am in love with is the BYOB restaurants that are popping up more and more often. There were a ton in Chicago, and the idea behind it is great. The restaurant doesn’t have to have a liquor license, and they can pass that savings on to you by letting you bring your own booze. (Yay!) Some quick tips:

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  • Call ahead (or check the website) to find out what you can bring in. They may only wine or only beer. You don’t want to hit the package store on the corner only to find out you can’t bring your bottle with you.
  • Prepare to pay a corkage fee. Not all places charge a corkage fee, but some do. This can be as much as $20 or as little as nothing. If you’re not sure what the corkage fee is, check ahead of time!
  • Most BYOB places will provide stemware and some will insist on uncorking the bottle themselves. (See corkage fee, above.) They will probably take the cork, forcing you to finish the wine on the premises. (Oh NO! I have to drink ALL the wine! Say it ain’t so!)


Other tips for drinking wine politely?

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  • Hold your glass by the stem. Holding it by the bowl increases smudges, which makes the wine less pretty. Remember, we taste with our eyes, too! Holding the glass by the bowl may also warm up white wine, which you don’t want. Disclaimer: I have every intention of holding my glass by the bowl, etiquette be damned, because I am very clumsy.
  • When drinking, look down into your glass, even if you are talking to someone.
  • Don’t drink the whole bottle by yourself when drinking with friends. Feel free to bogart the bottle when drinking alone.


Come back next week for some etiquette tips on serving wine in your own home! Now where was that bottle of white?

By amandamarieg

Amandamarieg is a lawyer who does not work as a lawyer. She once wrote up a plan to take over the world and turned it in as a paper for a college course. She only received an A-, because she forgot that she would need tech geeks to pull off her scheme.

9 replies on “Etiquette: Wine Time”

Regarding the “dry” cork, if a wine bottle is stored on its side which a lot of restaurants do, the bottom of the cork will be saturated by the wine. That doesn’t mean the wine is bad, just that it was stored on its side. I have always thought that a purchaser should only be concerned if the cork is saturated all the way to the top.

I don’t know if this is precisely an etiquette problem, but it is a problem I have when drinking (red) wine in polite company: Wine mouth! What do you do about the red stain on your lips? I can wipe my lips very often, but that makes them super chapped and I am ALWAYS wiping my mouth. So far I have come up with no other solution. Does anybody have any suggestions/tips/tricks?

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