7 Tips For Drinking Wine Like The French

Author: Camille Chevalier-Karfis

Did you know that in France, before drinking, you have to wait for everybody’s drink to be on the table? Even in a restaurant. Here are my 7 tips on how to “politely” drink wine the French way.

1 – Wait Up To Drink Your Wine in France

Once everybody has been poured a drink, the host, or a guest, then may – or may not – raise his glass to a toast.

If this happens, you have to drink, even if you just moisten your lips. It’s rude not to.

And if your host doesn’t give a toast, then you may drink as soon as he has started. But in any case, French people will always wait for everybody to have a full glass in front of them to start drinking.

In less formal settings, everybody gives a French cheers, saying:

  1. “À ta santé” (to your good health) answered by “à la tienne” (to yours) – matching a “tu”
  2. or “à votre santé” (to your good health) answered by “à la vôtre” (to yours) – matching a “vous”.
  3. or even just “tchin-tchin” (cheers).

Then we clink our glasses, take a sip, and put it down.

2 – Clinking Wine Glasses in France

It is customary in France to look deep into the eyes of the person who clinks his/her glass with yours (I guess it’s to check you’re not too drunk, because it can be hard to do so with a full glass without spilling :-)

Some French people won’t clink glasses if they are filled with water or non-alcoholic drinks. It’s a common superstition that you should only clink glasses containing alcohol… Not everybody respects that though, so just go with the flow.

However, you should not cross over anybody’s arm when clinking. I mean if you are clinking glass with someone next to you, no problem. When you are clinking glasses with someone across from you, you have to wait if other people are doing it as well so your arms don’t cross over theirs. Again, it may be a superstition or just the fact that it would be dangerous if too many arms holding glasses crossed…

And of course, be gentle when you clink. It’s glass after all!

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3 – French Women Don’t Help Themselves to Wine

It is standard manners for Frenchmen to fill the glasses of the women sitting next to them.

Although this changes more and more, old French table etiquette dictate that a woman doesn’t help herself to alcoholic drinks.

Now I’m often in charge of wine in my house, because my husband is the one who cooks, and so he’s in charge of the meal… So I pour the wine for my guests. But I’m a rebel anyway!

If there are only women at the table, then one will just pick up the bottle and serve everybody. But if there is a man around, it’s “considered” his job to do it. Like holding the door…

However, whomever serves a drink should never only pour their own glass, but always offer around, wine and water alike.

In a fancy restaurant, a waiter would take care of filling your glasses. Reaching out to the bottle and doing it yourself may, or may not be OK, depending on how fancy the place. If you have to do it, it’s kind of pointing out that the waiter is not doing his job properly.

Note that the waiter/host will keep filling-up your glass as you drink it. So if you don’t want anymore wine, just leave some wine in your glass – it will be spoiled, but it’s the way to signal you don’t want more.

4 – Savour Your French Wine

Wine in France is a religion. It’s meant to be savoured, so drink it slowly. We don’t fill-up the glass either, as to let the wine breathe.

And we comment on our drink with an approving grin or a good French “Mmmm”.

If the wine is not to your liking, in a restaurant you may say something:

  • Le vin n’est pas assez froid – the wine is not cold enough (white and rosé wine are often served chilled)
  • Le vin est trop froid – the wine is too cold (reds on the contrary are often meant to be served at a room temperature)
  • Le vin est bouchonné – the wine tastes like cork
  • Le vin n’est pas bon – the wine is not good (plain and simple !)

If you are a guest at a French house, then you shouldn’t say anything. The wine may not be to your taste but be to your host’s taste… And it would be rude to complain.

5 – Watch Out For the Red Wine Marks

Ok, this is not particular to French wine, but still I think it’s worth mentioning…

When you drink red wine, there is a chance the glass will leave some red marks on the sides of your lips.

So keep that napkin handy if you don’t want to exhibit a “joker” smile…

6 – It’s Not Customary to Drink Wine at 5 PM in France

If you see someone on a terrace in France drinking wine at 5 PM, chances s/he is a tourist.

In France, drinking wine is linked to eating food. You seldom drink wine just by itself: it’s not a rule, but it’s not really common either.

Since French people have dinner around 7:30-8:30 PM… before dinner drinks don’t start before… 6:30PM? It’s not set in stone, but there is definitely a time which is too late after lunch, and too early for before dinner drinks, when it’s not really customary to drink alcohol in France.

However, don’t let this tip prevent you from enjoying a glass of Chablis on a Parisian terrace one sunny afternoon: you’re on vacation, and you can do anything you want.

Now of course, there’s also a huge alcohol problem in France. And you’ll see people drinking alcohol at any time of the day and night really. So the French won’t be particularly shocked if you order a glass of wine “off hours”. I’m just pointing out this is not a very “normal” French thing to do.

7 – Don’t Drink Beer With Your Dinner in France

French people love beer as well. But beer is more like a before dinner drink, or something to have with a light lunch.

If you went to a fancy restaurant, or when invited over at some French folks, drinking beer with your dinner is likely to be a faux-pas (unless you were eating specific food served/cooked with beer).

If you don’t enjoy drinking wine, then, just drink water. French people love water as well, and will often have some fancy mineral water, sparkling (de l’eau pétillante) or still (de l’eau plate) ready for a dinner with guests. It’s not customary in France to drink a soda, milk or juices during dinner.

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Author: Camille Chevalier-Karfis

Camille Chevalier-Karfis

Born and raised in Paris, I have been teaching today's French to adults for 25+ years in the US and France. Based on my students' goals and needs, I've created unique downloadable French audiobooks focussing on French like it's spoken today, for all levels. Come to Paimpol and enjoy an exclusive French immersion homestay with me in Brittany.

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