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Modern Wine Etiquette

by Daniel Post Senning

How To Give A Modern Toast

With the holiday season approaching, many of us find our calendars filling up with seasonal celebrations and gatherings. One of my favorite traditions is the art of giving a toast.

There are few traditions as sacred. What may have started as a libation offering to the gods became a tradition for honoring guests. Once upon a time, a host drank from a communal vessel to prove goodwill (and the absence of poison) before offering drink to a guest. Now we use the toast to formalize relationships and offer praise at the most elaborate of functions, but never underestimate or forget the power of the informal toast to convey that same honor and goodwill among friends and family gathered with much less formality.

Here are a few modern etiquette tips to help you toast like a pro:

1. Set the Stage The contemporary toast may be offered by anyone for any purpose. A toast is a simple and gracious means of calling attention to shared gifts, whether it is thanking the cook for the meal, family members for attending, team members for hard work or volunteers for effort. The venue can be a business lunch or a family gathering, but the elements of a simple informal toast remain the same and can be used to great effect.

2. Fill Your Glass While you may associate a toast with champagne, don’t be afraid to make each toast your own. Fill your glasses with something as meaningful as what you plan to say. California winery Chateau Souverain is one of my go-to’s—they take a great sense of pride in their California roots which reminds me to honor my own history, which all began with my great-great-grandmother Emily Post.

3. Speak from the Heart A successful toast is best kept simple. Be brief and speak from the heart. Keep the attention on the person being honored. There is no need to bang glasses with cutlery, simply ask for everyone’s attention and begin. Mention the honoree and the reason for the toast, then raise a glass and drink. It really is that simple.

4. Cheers! Formally, everyone stands for a toast. In today’s more casual, contemporary world, it is common to remain seated and toasts are not always "exchanged" between the host and their guests. Anyone who feels so inspired may propose a toast and the idea will sometimes catch fire at a gathering. Think about all of the opportunities we have to share food and drink with others. There is usually someone present who deserves acknowledgement.

Wine serving, sipping and gifting

Dinner parties are a time-honored tradition, from the days-long banquet feasts of the medieval times, to the Tupperware parties of the '50s and '60s, to the modern gatherings of today. Over the years, dinner party etiquette has evolved with the times as well.

With the holiday season upon us, the one dinner party question that I often hear is; “What is the protocol for bringing wine as a thank you gift for the host?” Is this the right gesture? Should you be offended if the host doesn’t serve the wine you bring? And on the flip side, as host, if a guest brings you a bottle of wine, are you required to serve it at the party? Is it rude not to?

As far as etiquette goes, a small gift for your host, such as a bottle of wine, while by no means required, is almost always appreciated. This doesn’t need to be a rare or expensive bottle. It’s the gesture that matters. As for serving the bottle, most hosts have their food and drink menus planned in advance, so do not feel pressured to serve the bottle a guest brings.

Alternatively, do not feel insulted if a host does not serve the bottle you gifted that evening. Know that your gesture is appreciated and that your host will enjoy your gift at a later date—perhaps even with you, too.

Here are five additional modern etiquette tips you can put to use
this holiday season and beyond:

1. Start by planning on serving half a bottle of wine for each guest, and adjust based on your knowledge of the group.

2. White wine should be held by the glass stem or base to avoid warming the chilled wine with your hand. Red wine is served at room temperature, so the glass may be held at the bowl.

3. Offer to pour wine for others before you pour for yourself.

4. Fill wine glasses to their widest point.

5. When gifting or serving, remember that expensive does not necessarily equal excellent. Find a bottle of wine that you feel reflects your lifestyle, and would trust to serve to any guest. Chateau Souverain is a great example; rooted in more than 70 years of California history, the winery offers three varietals of distinctive, high-quality wine, all for under $20. Remember, it’s the thought that counts.

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