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French restaurant wine ettequette questionS

I'm familiar with the standard ceremony when ordering a bottle of wine in the US. I'm wondering if there is something different expected in nice restaurants in France? In the US I do try the wine but do not make a big show of sniffing, swirling, sniffing for the "second nose", then sipping and "chewing" the wine, etc... How much Tasting is expected? Also, is it common to be able to order wine by the glass in nicer restaurants, or just in cafes?

Posted by
4535 posts

If you don't know what you are doing with all that sniffing, swirling and sucking, then don't do it. When presented with a new bottle, you do want to taste it just to make sure there is nothing wrong with it. But that is all that is necessary. Trying to do the others when you don't know what your smelling or tasting, just makes it more obvious that you don't know. In a very fine restaurant, they might be more put-off by your lack of experience. But otherwise, they will better appreciate your honesty than false pretentiousness. You can almost always order by the glass, though the selection will be more limited than typical in the US. Often you'll find demi-bottles, which are wonderful and I wish we had more of in the US. The hardest thing for many Americans with French wine is to understand the different regions, since few French wines are designated by grape. When in doubt, simply ask your waiter to recommend a good pairing, that's what they do best. It might help if you know the types of wine you prefer, such as dry or sweet or fruity or heavy tannins. But if not, just be open to trying things - you might find some gems to look for back home.

Posted by
893 posts

No cere'mony. Just check to make sure the label is what you've ordered. Take a taste to make sure it's not gone bad. There's no need to sniff, swirl, etc. I've been to several restaurants throughout France that only offer wine by the bottle. THe majority will offer it by the glass and no one will bat an eye at you ordering just a glass.

Posted by
71 posts

Some places in Austria will sell some of the local wine in carafes. Does that happen in France?

Posted by
71 posts

Thanks. While no true wine connoisseur, I do have some idea of what I'm tasting, but it never seemed to me that the dinner table was the place for a full-blown Tasting. I'm not going to send the wine back if the wine is fine but just "from the wrong side of the hill" or some such silliness. Generally, a good restaurant will not serve any truly bad wine, just mediocre but cheap will be the worst you will encounter. In the US, it seems to me that people who go through a big ceremony usually know less and use the gestures to try and impress their dinner companions, the waiter or both, while almost never accomplishing either. I suspected the French would be more practical, but good to hear it confirmed.

Posted by
4132 posts

My experience is sadly limited, but I would say that in really good French restaurants the idea is service that makes you comfortable rather than the reverse. So while I understand your etiquette trepidations, I'd say, don't worry! Unless you are hoping to impress your dining companions, which might be another thing.

Posted by
355 posts

"Generally, a good restaurant will not serve any truly bad wine" Even the best wines can have a tainted cork (TCA), and there is no way of knowing that until you have tasted the wine. A tainted cork will give the wine a musty "wet dog" smell and taste. TCA happens to all wines that have a cork (Although I believe it happens in less than 5% of bottles). The term most often used is "corked" wine.

Posted by
565 posts

I'm more of a beer expert than wine, but I did order wine with dinner in Paris on several occasions. Of course, being one person, I only ordered a pichet, which of course is not corked. It's a good option for someone like me who wants more than a glass but doesn't really know what they're ordering. Now, you want to talk about how to serve and drink a beer properly, I'm your woman.

Posted by
2916 posts

As to carafes: You'll often, if not usually, find wines by the carafe in restaurants in France, but I suspect that many times it's just poured from regular bottles. Other times it's probably from bag-in-box wines, or from local wineries that sell in bulk to restaurants.

Posted by
10024 posts

Local wine in carafes, absolutely. It's the way to go for ordinary meals. FYI most French people know little about wine. They just drink it and drink locally. Foodies know and seek out special restaurants and special bottles, just like in the States, but most people just eat and drink. Your description was so funny. Love it.

Posted by
9110 posts

My only wine story: Several years back, my Minder allowed that I would take her and her wine snob buddy on a month-long wine tour of as much of France as I could jam in. I don't like the stuff, but dutifully studied up and drove them all over hell's half acre. Fortunately, every place that had one of those wine deals had a place that sold beer within a block or two. You have to picture the other woman. She speaks no French, but 'Mercy'd' and 'ewe-laa-laa'd' herself all over the place - - just like she was best friends with Maurice Chevalier. I speak the language okay. Anyway, she bought a damn red beret at some tourist joint along the Cours in Aix one night. Every window she came to she either adjusted it, took it off, or put it back on. She was the ultimate pain in the tail and was never ready to get going in the morning when we were. We wound up the trip in Paris. Since it was my birthday, they allowed that I could take them out to a really nice supper. While the wimmins were using the facilities I called the waiter over and told him to bring us the crappiest bottle of wine he had - - stuff used to chip the rust and grease off the pots and toiletes would be just fine. He wanted to know if he could watch the show, in fact, maybe the whole staff could watch the show? The whole crowd was lined up against the back wall while he unjugged the bottle. Sure nuff, she went though all the thrashing and swilling, remarking on the bouquet, the earth, the hint of gravel acid in the fruit, etc. The mob behind her back was rolling every time she puffed her lips and snorted, or whatever she did. So much for Americans and their wine crap. It's been years, and I've never fessed up to the stunt - - to either one of them.

Posted by
3696 posts

@Ed... hysterical...always something I wanted to do with a few of my wine snob friends.... they have no idea how foolish they look and are not impressing anyone!
I think they time has come for 'true confessions' and you need to report back. It could be the premise for a whole new tv show. I can just picture her in the beret.

Posted by
9110 posts

Nuts, I forgot to include the punch line: The owner cornered me and said there'd be no charge for the evening since I'd provided the entertainment.

Posted by
71 posts

Hilarious! My approach is pretty much to learn what is polite in the area you are visiting and then be yourself. People can tell when you're not genuine or sincere. And since being myself normally entails being polite, it's not much of a stretch to be what passes for polite wherever I am. Pretension and affectation definitely do not fit into the ETTBD philosophy.

Posted by
3313 posts

The reason to sniff the wine and taste it is solely to confirm that it hasn't turned due to corkage or improper storage. It is not the time to comment on anything else.

Posted by
10133 posts

Thanks for the laugh Ed! Hysterical!!

Posted by
32152 posts

Ed, Thanks for sharing that wonderfully humorous story! As usual, your talent for descriptive writing made it especially entertaining to read. I was chuckling long after I read the story! I really hope your "Minder" doesn't read the HelpLine!

Posted by
32152 posts

Andrew, In my experience, it's more common to find the "wine snob" atmosphere in the more posh, upscale restaurants in larger cities, but it doesn't seem to be as common in the average neighborhood places (especially in smaller towns). I enjoy a nice glass of wine, but I don't know anything about all the swishing, spitting and chewing. That sort of thing always looks a bit pretentious to me. As long as it tastes somewhat like Wine, I'm happy. "Bad" wine seems to be less common these days with the advent of synthetic corks (or worse yet, the screw-on tops or "bag in a box" wines - sacrilege to a true wine snob). The situation is somewhat different in Italy. In the typical restaurants I dine in, I usually order the Vino della Casa, which is often served in an old-fashioned glass rather than stemware. "Plain and simple" is fine with me. Happy travels!

Posted by
2349 posts

Note to self: If I ever take the Ed Tour, no red berets, and no "ooh la la's." Probably shouldn't insist on being called "Gigi" either.

Posted by
32220 posts

where the heck is that LIKE button.... Ed, you'll give me apoplexy. You do that you'll have to come to my funeral - you caused it...

Posted by
355 posts

Ed - While a funny story, and your friend does sound a bit pretentious - Just to put a different spin on it... If I had been invited out to dinner and the wine was ordered by my host (and this has happened to me), even if it were awful, I would just sip it and not say anything. I would not want to embarrass my host for the evening.

Posted by
87 posts

Like othwers suggest, look at the label when the bottle is shown to you to make sure it's what you ordered (esp. the vintage), give it a quick sniff and sip. If it seems fine, just say oui to the server or wine steward.

Posted by
3049 posts

the 'rules' for France are the same as the rules for any 'with it' restaurant in the US with regard to wine. the US is no more pretentious or stupid than France is, really, just the suckers who think of wine as a fancy beverage and make 'the big show' as you describe are probably more prevalent in the US. that said, i've had some terrible house wines in france, at least at cheaper restaurants. at least they're incredibly cheap... i usually try to drink regionally, it's more fun to try something new and local, and it's usually cheaper. it may not be the best on the menu, but it will do and local wine tends to pair well with local specialties.

Posted by
977 posts

Great story Ed. What a good bloke you are to even take 'The Minder's' friend on tour in the first place, knowing full well
she's a pain in the but.

Posted by
719 posts

Ed - You're one of th reasons that I read this board... Andrew - When I'm in France at a restaurant, I almost invariably order the local or house wine (vin de table) and it's usually pretty good stuff. Since I know that it's table wine, I'm not going to bother with the swishing and sniffing. If it tastes disgusting from cork or whatever, I'll realize at my first taste, then ask for a replacement. If you're tasting wine at Petrus, then it's a different story. You're evaluating the wine, so sniff and swish away. Generally not necessary in a restaurant, though.
In fact, if you're not sure what any of that hocus pocus is for anyway, you're better off just drinking it and seeing if you like it!

Posted by
3049 posts

I'm really curious as to what nice Parisian restaurant would have bad wine. I mean, most places would be pretty insulted by the assumption that they would, and if they did have bad wine, why in the world would they admit to it? Cute story for laughs, though. Almost reads like something out of a movie! Not surprised people are falling for it, though.

Posted by
251 posts

Ed,
Thanks for the laugh. Reminds of why I do not attend wine tastings here in the states!

Posted by
719 posts

Sarah -
There would be plenty of restaruants in Paris with undrinkable wine. Just about all of Parisien cooking involves wine, and it won't always be the best for an unaccompanied palate. Have you ever drunk cooking sherry? Marsala? Even if you're serving a meal with Pinot Noir, the wine to cook with only need be the same varietal, not the same quality, though. So, the wine that you cook with isn't usually as drinkable as that which is served with your meal.

Posted by
3049 posts

my understanding of cooking with wine is that if you're cooking at a high level (as one would be at a nice parasian restaurant) you still use drinkable wine when cooking. it may not be as good as what you have on your wine list, but it would not be actively bad wine. cooking with bad wine is a big no-no. what some people use as cooking wine in the US is generally crap that has added salt and wouldn't be used in such a restaurant and would not be able to be confused with a bottle of drinking wine no matter what based on it's appearance.

Posted by
719 posts

that would be the case if you were at a wine dinner, with plates paired with specific wines, to bring out the character of each varietal. However, in an average restaurant, who knows what wine the diner is going to order with each meal, so the wine in the plate need not be spectacular. While they may have many different wines with which they cook, they likely would have a few that would be deemed "undrinkable" on their own without a food complement. Or quite simply, restaurants know when a wine is past it's due, so they remove them from their circulation. If they've not yet been removed from the premises, then that would serve the purpose as well.
There are countless scenarios that could make Ed's post legit.