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Wine Etiquette Gone Horribly Wrong

Written by Madeline Puckette

There are a million websites that can tell you about etiquette, but they all require for you to be astonishingly sober. We asked real drinkers and sommeliers about some of their funniest and most regrettable wine etiquette moments.

Ronan Sayburn, Master Sommelier

I had an old couple come into a 3 star restaurant I worked in. They had a ’57 Lafite in a plastic bag, from the year they were married and wanted to drink it. Of course we said it was OK and I opened and decanted it. It was very low in the neck and tasted of vinegar.
They loved it! Sentimental value. They drank all of it and left happy. 2 hours later they rang saying that they were feeling unwell and thought they had food poisoning!
Ronan Saybourn, Master Sommelier, The RS Wine Academy


“It’s perfectly OK to get intoxicated by wine. Without alcohol, nobody would drink this shit. But if you’re a mean drunk, find another hobby.”
—Ilkka Sirén, Wine Educator, Helsinki, Finland


Stay Hydrated

Your friends will laugh and tell you that wine is water but it’s the wine talking. Be sure to drink at least one glass of water with every glass of wine. Most drinkers who hydrate properly don’t get hangovers or wine headaches.


Defeat Purple Teeth

I was at a large Italian wine tasting of bold red wines. I gave a friend a toothsome grin and their expression abruptly changed. Oh no! Purple teeth! In a moment of desperation I went to the restrooms, took a paper hand towel, doused it with soap and water and then scrubbed my teeth. It actually worked surprisingly well. All the wines afterward had a distinct soapy undertone. Perhaps invest in some Wine Wipes if you want to keep your pearlies white. I still use soap.
Madeline Puckette, Cofounder, Wine Folly


Practice Swirling

Etty is now a master swirler. at Bestia DTLA

I was tasting once with a very prominent sommelier at an NYC celebrity chef-owned restaurant that will remain unnamed, and I got a little swirl happy while we were chatting. Next thing I knew I had wine all over my shirt. Note to newbies: swirl all you want but keep the wine in your glass!Etty Lewensztain, Owner of Plonk Wine Merchants

Watch a 2 minute video on swirling wine. It actually helps aerate your wine by releasing volatile aromas into the bell of the glass.

Don’t be a show-off

I had a customer, a businessman, who would always come in with his clients. He would make a big show of shaking all the hands of the staff, talking to the chef, etc. For his first wine he would say – ‘Bring me the best, your recommendation.’ so I would get a Batard, Chevalier, etc.
He always said he disliked it. He came in a few times and each time I get him an amazing wine but he always sent it back. Then I realized he always sent the first wine back just to impress his clients! After that I always recommended Muscadet and when he sent that back I would recommend the Montrachet, which he loved!

Ronan Saybourn, Master Sommelier, The RS Wine Academy


Drink What Your Friends Like

Baby Beer Aaron Epstein
You might not like this yet… —Aaron Epstein.

When we still lived in New York, my wife and I took a couple of friends visiting from LA to Balthazar. I decided to delve into the restaurant’s deep French wine list to expand the ladies’ horizons, as well as my own, and selected a bottle of Bourgueil that I was unfamiliar with. “Herbaceous” is an understatement; it might as well have been straight Fernet. Nothing was wrong with it, per se, but it was totally inappropriate for the company I was with. Luckily, the genteel sommelier saved the day and whisked away the guilty bottle. Lesson learned. In the words of my buddy Steve Morgan (sommelier at Alinea Restaurant in Chicago),
“There is no better pairing than to the person who you are dining with.”
Aaron Epstein, Wine Curator, LeMetro Wine

Sharing is caring

If you want the last bite or the last pour of wine, all you have to do is offer it to your friends first. If they’re polite, they’ll let you have it. If they aren’t, well now you know a lot more about them.


Tip Very Well

If you’re out on the town, pay it forward and tip your server well. They will never forget your last impression. Salut!

Special thanks to everyone who contributed a story. Without you, the world would be bland. And to The Illustrated Wine for the awesome drawings.

Written byMadeline Puckette

James Beard Award-winning author and Wine Communicator of the Year. I co-founded Wine Folly to help people learn about wine. @WineFolly

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