Top 5 Common Wine Mistakes

Author: Camille Chevalier-Karfis

Avoid these common 5 French wine mistakes and prevent big “faux pas” when drinking wine in France on a casual level.

1 – Trying to Imitate the Wine Experts

If you don’t know what you are doing, and start stirring your glass or looking at its color in a grand ceremony in front of the sommelier, you won’t fool anyone….

It’s an art form to know how to taste wine like the experts, so keep it simple.

This being said, it doesn’t mean, you can’t enjoy a good bottle, and remark about it:

  1. What do you taste?
  2. Any special flavor like fruits, chocolate, or maybe earthy forest?
  3. Do YOU like it? Why?
  4. Is it strong or light?

It’s fun to see what the wine makes you think of, so don’t be shy, but be humble.

More useful phrases to talk about wine in French.

2 – Putting Ice Into Your Wine

Although many French people do it at home, it’s considered “sacrilège” and should never be done at a fancy restaurant with a good bottle of wine.

Now if in a small bistro in Provence, in the middle of the August heat wave, you feel like adding a couple of ice cubes to your “pichet de rosé”, a lot of people will forgive you.

I certainly will since I do it myself :-)

3 – Pouring too Much Wine in the Glass

Technically, you need to leave room in the glass so you can swirl it. But now, in France, not pouring a full glass is more a question of bonnes manières (French etiquette)”.

You never fill a glass to the top, that’s all…

And you don’t gulp your wine down. It’s meant to be tasted and enjoyed slowly.

4 – For a Woman – Pouring Her Own Glass of Wine

Here again, it’s a question of etiquette. A French woman usually doesn’t pour her own wine.

The man next to her keeps an eye on her glass and pours it when needed (a full-time job if you are sitting next to me :-)

So what should you do if there are only women at the table you may ask? Then women would pour wine… It’s not that it’s forbidden for women to pour wine or anything like that… It’s more a question of being a gentleman, showing you care… Like holding the door for the next person…

Some people find this rule sexist. And it may be. By all means, you don’t have to follow it if it makes you uncomfortable. I often pour wine for my guests in my house… Maybe because it’s my husband Olivier who cooks, so I’m usually in charge of the wine!

But I wouldn’t have dreamed of pouring my own wine when my Dad was in the room. He would have disapproved. Whenever I pour my own wine, I can actually feel his spirit hovering over me in disapproval… Oh well…

Whether you agree or not, it’s useful to be aware of such cultural differences and what may typically “expected” of you when traveling to a foreign country, isn’t it?

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5 – Drinking/Pouring Your Bordeaux Till the Very Last Drop

It’s like Turkish coffee… Wines often have what is called “un dépôt”, it is ” la lie de vin” (sediment, lees). It’s thick and muddy, it doesn’t taste too good although it’s not toxic…

So if you are opening a good bottle, be careful when you are coming towards the end: you might want to leave about 1/2 inch in the bottle so that the sediment stays in there.

If by mistake your host pours it into your glass, just don’t drink it. Leave it in your glass, maybe swirl it a little discreetly so the sediment deposits around your glass: your host should see it and change your glass (hopefully…!)

Bonus Tip – Wait To Drink

In France, it’s customary to wait for everybody to have their drink ready to start drinking. Someone often offers a toast, or when everybody is ready, people often click glasses and to cheer, we often say “tchin-tchin”, “bonne santé”, or “à la tienne / à la vôtre”.

It’s Ok to drink water if you are super thirsty. But for “fancier” drinks, even if there’s no alcohol in them, it’s more polite to wait for everybody to be ready to drink.

Your turn: did you experience an embarrassing moment drinking wine in France? Do you have more tips? Leave a comment below!

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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