The Basics of Wine Etiquette at a Private Dinner Party

There are only a few beverages in the world that have as many “rules of etiquette” associated with them as wine does. There is tea in Japan, whisky in Scotland, and wine.

Understanding wine etiquette can help to avoid embarrassment. But, before we get too far into this brief look at etiquette let’s remember: Wine is just grape juice with attitude. Don’t stress too much.

If you are drinking with a loved one, anything goes. Have fun. It’s meant to be fun.

Pick A Colour

If you are serving wine for a dinner party, try to make the wine complement the meal. This can be a bit difficult if you are serving different entrees, but there are a few simple guidelines:

Red wines tend to pair well with boldly flavoured foods – Typically you will hear people say red meat, but a Jamaican jerk chicken will work well with a red.

White wines work with softer flavours – Traditional Northern European foods aren’t necessarily strongly spiced, so a lighter wine will still be able to hold its own.

Rosés are nice for a midpoint – Many rosés are sweet so be careful. Very sweet wines aren’t really great with most foods. Nonetheless, a dry white Merlot or white Shiraz can be an excellent middle of the road wine that will please everyone.

The Glass

Try to serve wine in an appropriate glass. This can get a bit taxing on your dishwashing machine, but a large bowled red wine glass will allow a red wine to explode. The reason that different wines have their own glasses is that the shape allows for more surface area, therefore more air makes contact with the wine. Also, some are designed to hold the smell of the wine in the glass to increase the power of the experience. Try to avoid plastic or paper cups, but for larger parties this might be unavoidable.

If you can have several different wines available, you might find that your guests will enjoy having a choice. For example, some people like a powerful red, like a Chianti, with a light fish meal. Conversely, a dry white can be a great palate cleanser for a spicy Mexican dish.

Try to plan a different wine for each course. Alternating your wines between white and red can be a wonderful way to taste several different wines in a single evening. Simply plan each wine with its course separately and then put the meal together.


When pouring a glass of wine never fill it all the way. Most wine glasses are designed to be filled 1/2 to 2/3 of the way. One of the simplest rules is to fill the glass up to the widest, or fattest, point. This is the point where the bulb is the largest. This will ensure that there is plenty of air in the glass to allow the wine to breathe.

Before dinner, a light white wine or a sparkling wine can be a great way to start. Use Champagne flutes, preferably tall and skinny glasses, to give those bubbles a long, lovely way to go.

If you are having dinner at someone else’s home, let them pour the wine. Even if you have had an empty glass for a while, it is poor etiquette to pour more for yourself. If, however, they tell you pour for yourself, feel free.

Finally, remember where we started: Wine is grape juice with attitude. Enjoy the company and have fun. Don’t worry too much about the etiquette; make a good impression, but don’t ruin your night.

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