Part 5: Please note: this article will be released in several sections. Each part will be a new FOR THE VIN blog post, and all the sections will be combined in their entirety as a booklet. It will be available to read online or download in Wine-A-Reads bookshop at wineville.net after all sections have been released.
The rules on wine etiquette are long standing traditions that are accepted without question in some areas of society, but may be becoming outdated in others. I am not in charge of what the future holds, so can only relay the protocols as they have been. I am making this point in advance of releasing the chapter on wine pouring rules, because several of them are based around gender. The more modern view of gender is to accommodate a broader spectrum than the once unquestioned two-party system. I strongly believe in a live and let live society so the gender specific rules as they have been may require some tweaking, or perhaps should no longer exist at all. This article, however, is about traditional etiquette of wine service, so I am simply stating the wine pouring rules as I have long known them. I thus pass the decision of following all these rules, or some, or none, on to you. Use them at your own discretion. I don't like to tell anyone what to do, but I suggest being accepting of other people. Try questioning your own beliefs instead of someone else's, and you will undoubtedly expand your horizons.
Chapter 8: The Pour
CHOICE OF GLASS
There are many different shapes and sizes of wine glass. It is an equal mix of science and tradition which determines the most appropriate glass for each style of wine. For example, an aromatic white is usually served in a narrow rimmed glass, to preserve the aromatic qualities within the bowl. A tannic red, on the other hand, will benefit from being served in a large bowl with a more open rim, to allow oxygen integration, and unlock the flavors and aromas. (See Fig. 8-1)
The rules on pouring are based around several key points. The first, is that the server/pourer does not interfere with the guest anymore than is necessary. Attempting not to touch the guest, reach across the table, put an elbow in front of their face, or disrupt conversation, is part of the basic rules of service, wine or otherwise. To accomplish the feat of non-interference pouring, several key steps of preparation are necessary.
The placement of the glass on the table is dependent on the type of event. For a wine tasting, there are usually several glasses per person, and they are arranged from left to right, as they will be poured and tasted. For a dinner situation, the glass is positioned on the right side of each guest, approximately level with their right arm. If there are more than one glass, for example a white and a red glass, the white should be on the right with subsequent glasses positioned right to left. I will assume the dinner set-up for the remainder of this article.
FREE STANDING TABLE vs. BOOTH
Many restaurants have booths along one or several of their walls. They are a logical use of space and provide a level of seclusion that a free standing table does not. It is not possible to follow ‘proper’ wine pouring techniques in a booth, since it is necessary to reach across the table to serve the guests. Other table set-ups will create situations that inhibit the servers ability to serve as protocol dictates. The server will have to figure out the most appropriate method based on the table or booth set-up. For the remainder of the article, I will assume the classic free standing table, with room enough to maneuver behind each seat.
ORDER OF POUR
The guest who ordered the wine, henceforth referred to as the host, may or may not have had a sample pour. Regardless of this, they will get the last pour, not the first. The order of pouring is traditionally clockwise. The ladies at the table will be offered wine before the men. Thus, the server should offer the first pour to the woman sitting left of the host, then continue clockwise to all the other women. Once all the ladies are served, then the first man clockwise of the host is served and around until finishing at the host. Pay close attention to the amount in the bottle and the number of guests, as there should be enough left to pour for the host.
How much wine you pour into each glass depends on three factors. The first is how large the glass is. Varying glasses hold differing volumes, and the total amount of alcohol consumed must be monitored. The second factor is the want of the guest. Some people only wish to sample a wine to be courteous, others may want to have a large sip with each bite of food. A cursory question before pouring can ascertain the guest desires. A simple “wine?” or “would you like some syrah?”, gives them a chance to decline or relay preference. The third factor is how many people you are serving from each bottle. Before pouring the first glass, you need to establish the number of glasses you will be pouring into, and ensure that there is enough to go around. Despite these three factors, the protocol is that the wine amount should not exceed the outward curvature of the bowl. (See Fig. 8-2).
Assuming the glass is in the correct position, in front and to the right of the guest, the server should leave the glass in place when pouring and use their right hand in one of the three acceptable pour/hold techniques (See Fig. 7-1). If moving the glass is necessary, it should only be handled by the stem. The wine label should never get covered up by your hand and should be facing the guest during the pour. The pour should be controlled, with no chugging or bubbling from over-tilting the bottle. To finish the pour, raise the top of the bottle back up, still over the glass, and gently turn-flick the bottle to dislodge drops from the bottle rim. It is helpful to have a napkin in the left hand or over the arm, to wipe away any other drops before they drip down the bottle and onto a guest or stain the tablecloth. Proceed around the table, standing behind and to the right of each guest as you pour for them. If you poured the first round, you have assumed the responsibility of pouring for the rest of bottle. The guest should never have to pour for themselves, though some prefer to do so.