How to drink wine: a guide for you and Theresa May

The British PM has been criticised in Russia for holding her glass incorrectly

Given the tales of Russian trolls infiltrating British media, we perhaps should not attach too much weight to Russian state TV’s recent takedown of UK prime minister Theresa May’s dress sense.

There is one element of current affairs show Vesti Nedeli’s critique, however, on which I think we can all agree.

"She didn't pick up her glass by the stem, as is common practice in respectable society," noted an outraged Dmitry Kiselev. Quiet right too, Dmitry.

Such behaviour might not be quite so egregious coming from, say, the US president. It might not even be such a faux pas at the office party.


But if you are trying to blend into the upper echelons of international diplomacy, it is a surefire way to betray the fact that you are out of your depth.

It is the kind of faux pas that Sean Connery remarks upon when Spectre spook Robert Shaw orders a chianti with his dover sole in From Russia With Love: "Red wine with fish; that should have told me something."

(Red with fish is actually perfectly acceptable, by the way, though I would suggest a red burgundy rather than the chianti that Shaw choses.)

The rationale behind holding a wine glass by the stem is to avoid warming its contents in your hand (that and getting your grubby fingerprints all over the bowl).

Wine crimes

Delicately holding the vessel by the stem is altogether more elegant than a rather crass grabbing of the glass. So what other wine crimes should one aim to avoid in polite society?

1. Avoid small glasses

Countless column inches have been wasted on the selection of the correct glass. Manufacturers (hardly disinterested parties) would have you believe you need a different one for each grape variety.

This is,as the French say, beau-lox. For most wines (including champagne) a reasonably large glass, with a lip narrower than its base, will do the job.

2. Fill it to the right level

More important than size or shape is how full it is. Leaving two-thirds empty will allow you to swirl the wine ostentatiously (to release its aroma) before appraising the smell, or “nose” (never “bouquet”).

3. Sniff before you slurp

When offered a wine to taste, a quick sniff is sufficient to detect the musty aroma of the dreaded “corked” wine. And no, this does not mean there are bits of cork floating on the surface. But you knew that, right?

The writer is editor of the wine magazine Decanter.