The Top 5 Do's and Don'ts of Drinking Wine

October 29, 2015

As various beverages have adopted "craft" or "artisan" as their defining prefix, each has cultivated an aura of pomp and a set of boxes to tick to determine whether you're "doing it" right or wrong.

With craft beer has come beer snobs, proper glassware, and beer cellaring. With craft cocktails have come vested bartenders with sleeve tattoos that peer at you over dramatic moustaches, scrutinizing whether you know the difference between Amaro Nonino and Amaro Ciociaro. Even coffee (and tea for that matter) has developed its own cult of execution and drive for propriety.

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But, good old wine is the granddaddy of them all. Can any of us remember a time when the proper drinking and appreciation of fine wine was not surrounded by a shroud of symbolism, with a certain ability to make people terrified that they’re doing something wrong?  

We’re all becoming more casual and less concerned with arcane rules handed out by the academy of wine, but still, no one wants to be the person who pronounces the “t” in Merlot or puts ice cubes in our wine (or do we?).

There are few rules that all the wine experts agree on as dictating incontrovertible faux pas or must-do’s, but there are some that are more widely acknowledged than others. And, at the risk of sounding negative, most of them are no-no’s. This is etiquette after all; you must expect good posture and admonishment, not gold stars for everyone.

Here are the wine guidelines I personally abide by:

  1. Do grab and hold your wine glass by the stem, not the bowl. The design of a wine glass exists for a reason. Hold the stem of the glass so that you can see the wine’s clarity, so you don’t smudge up the bowl of the glass, and so that you don’t change the temperature of the wine.

    This applies especially to white wine and Champagne, which are chilled, but you don’t want to warm up red wine either, unless it’s cold, in which case common wisdom allows you to cup the bowl of your wine in your hands. But really, it’s preferable to try to get a wine to the proper temperature while it’s in the bottle. And most sommeliers would advise that red wine should actually be served slightly cooler than room temperature, in the 62 to 68° F range.

  2. Don’t overfill your glass. Firstly, you’ll look like you’re trying to hog the wine! And secondly, if your glass is too full, it's much harder to appreciate the aromas properly, and you’ll almost certainly spill if you try to swirl your glass. One-third to 1/2 full is considered proper glass filling. Then again, if you’re hanging out on the couch by yourself or with friends watching old episodes of "Gilmore Girls," fill your glass however much you damn well please.

  3. Don’t swirl your glass like a little hurricane! You will spill. And then you’ll have to run and get salt and seltzer and foot a dry cleaning bill. Swirling wine serves a number of useful purposes: The main one is that it allows the smells in the wine to volatilize and be released up toward your nose, where you can inhale and appreciate them, as well as experience a more complex flavor. But you don’t need to swirl hard to release the scents, and I always feel like a hard swirl bruises the poor wine somehow. Instead, swirl the wine gently in the bottom of your glass, or even roll the contents of the glass around inside instead of swirling.

  4. Do trust your own senses. Wine descriptions and tasting notes are useful, and the guidance of the opinions and sensations of someone who has trained for years specifically to pick up on different characteristics in wine is incredibly valuable and should be given credit. But any sensory experience is also subjective. So, if you smell and taste a wine and pick up notes of strawberries and the biscuits your grandma gave you for snack when you used to visit her as a child, that’s what you smell and taste!

    And, while it is a great idea to learn about quality and complexity and balance in wine so you can appreciate a really good wine, if you don’t like notes of tobacco and cedar chest in your wine, no one can force you to like those flavors even if the wine you’re tasting costs $150.

    But, um, please don’t make faces or say bad things if someone else bought the wine and is proudly sharing it with you. Just observe that you’re incredibly impressed with the complexity or balance or some other characteristic, even if it’s not your favorite varietal.

  5. Don’t put ice cubes in your wine. Or do. Depending on the circumstances. For some reason, ice in white wine always comes up in discussions of wine faux pas. Obviously it’s preferable if a white wine is properly chilled. And with a fine wine, the winemaker has worked and worked to achieve the balance he or she is striving for and adding ice will change this considerably. 

    But, again, if you’re at a casual backyard party with people you’re close to and the wine is not fancy and you want to chill it down a little more and nobody really cares what anyone else’s manners are at this party because you’re with friends having a good time, ice away.

    More: Or, avoid any questionable behavior and cool down your drink with wine pearls.

And lastly, don’t worry about wine etiquette so much that you can’t enjoy your wine! I couldn’t help it. Gold stars for everyone!

What's the most embarrassing wine faux pas you've made? Divulge in the comments, s'il vous plaît. 


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  • galsmu
  • ChefJune
  • fiveandspice
I like to say I'm a lazy iron chef (I just cook with what I have around), renegade nutritionist, food policy wonk, and inveterate butter and cream enthusiast! My husband and I own a craft distillery in Northern Minnesota called Vikre Distillery (, where I claimed the title, "arbiter of taste." I also have a doctorate in food policy, for which I studied the changes in diet and health of new immigrants after they come to the United States. I myself am a Norwegian-American dual citizen. So I have a lot of Scandinavian pride, which especially shines through in my cooking on special holidays. Beyond loving all facets of food, I'm a Renaissance woman (translation: bad at focusing), dabbling in a variety of artistic and scientific endeavors.


galsmu October 31, 2015
How about glasses with no stems, as in most of the photos? Hard to hold it by the stem as recommended ;)
fiveandspice November 1, 2015
This is something I'm often puzzled by myself! I usually wind up grabbing stemless glasses from near the top,
So my hand isn't surrounding the wine and warming it up. But quite honestly, I don't know if that's the proper thing to do. The one lucky thing is most often a situation with stemless glasses will be less formal, but I guess as the popularity of this style increases that may not be the case. The. We might just all be doomed! ;)
ChefJune October 30, 2015
Nice article 5&S! Don't know how I missed it yesterday. too bad the photog /stylist overpoured the wine in the Rioja photo. I hope no one thinks that's the best "filling height."
fiveandspice November 1, 2015