Sometimes you could not help but drink like a fish. In my case, good conversation induces that quite effectively. But wine always keeps me in check, regardless of the existence of good conversation or a need to drown myself to a stupor. The thing is that wine imposes at least a basic degree of refinement. Not unlike beer or whisky. It is simply scandalous to chug the spirit since the appropriate way is to sip. I have found this issue interesting and led me to take note about the interesting rituals we have in drinking wine.
For the Gods
As you probably know, wine is considered a gift from the gods not unlike fire, though less of a necessity. The ancient Greeks had a specific deity for it and festivals were held in dedication as well. Some remnant of such reverence still persists to this day. There are societies, for example, that require pouring a bit of wine upon uncorking. It is clearly a form of libation, or a salute to the gods before drinking.
There are also ceremonies required for practical purposes. For example, there is the need to let the bottle stand for about an hour after opening. The goal is to allow wine to breathe. People also use different wine glasses for red and white wine: big for red and a smaller glass for white wine. This practice persists because the glass size affects the wine temperature, the aroma and the alcohol dynamics. Recently Baccarat made an edition of glasses for red wine: a tulip-like affair, with its sloping sides and narrow lid. The idea was to keep alcohol from drowning the aroma.
Chances are, you have seen people swirl wine around before drinking. It is likely that a lot of sniffing is also involved in the process. But the swirling seemed like a ritual that most people caught or imitate for reasons unknown. This is not some useless ceremony, however. The act aerates wine or infuse it with oxygen and contributes to its flavor in addition to the fact that it releases the aroma, hence, the sniffing mentioned earlier. This is the very same rationale why some people would gargle the liquor or sip it in such a way that the liquid passes in-between teeth.
If you have been to a wine bar such as the super fancy Le Dauphin in Paris, then you probably know that the server would usually give you the cork after opening. The first time I experienced this, I was at a loss. What am I supposed to do with it, eat it, put it in my pocket? It was like, « Hey, congratulations. You had your first wine with us. May I present you the cork? » as if it is some trophy or certificate. To my initial dismay the practice is quite widespread and hapless people are bound to question the utility of such ceremony. Well, it turned out this cork business is not without its use. Servers would hand you that implement because it will help you determine if the wine has a problem. You will have to sniff it and determine if the wine needs to be replaced. Also, there are establishments that do the deed to reassure patrons that the wine is authentic. The cork usually bears the marking of the wine producer.
Sometimes a little ceremony is called for. It is a little ostentatious, yes. However, these rituals help us enjoy our wines to the fullest. In addition, the ceremonies are not entirely useless as they help in bringing out the wine’s character. So try to understand when someone asks for a wine glass when you hand him or her a tumbler. It is not for the sake of being a snob, picky or difficult.