Written by: Tim Edison

Updated: January 5, 2024

How to Hold a Wine Glass Properly [Etiquette Guide]

man holding a wine glass

There is a lot more to wine than simply drinking it.

There is a basic etiquette that is meant to be adhered to in certain situations. One such 'rule' is how to hold a wine glass the right way.

The truth is, I don't like wine drinking to be like this. Drink to enjoy is my only rule.

However, there are certain situations where you might want to fit in with 'the crowd'. You don't want to stick out at an elegant wedding party, for example.

While many people complain that navigating through the world of wine can be quite confusing (I agree!), you don’t need a winemaker to teach you basic wine etiquette.

How to Order Wine 'Properly'

As a wine enthusiast, there are dozens of things you might want to know about the tradition of wine drinking. 

One of them is ordering, particularly in a restaurant.

Here's the basics of how to order a bottle like even the pros do.

1. Don’t be shy when it comes to money

If you have a strict budget, let the server/sommelier know what you like and inform them of your budget.

Request to be given a bottle with almost similar characteristics. Even if they don't have it, the attendant will probably pick a good or better bottle using the same price range.

I know so many people that have just chosen the third or fourth cheapest wine on the list just because it's not the cheapest. It didn't matter what type of wine it was, they just didn't want to appear 'cheap' and out of their depth.

Don't be intimidated and stick to your guns. You're not being awkward, it's their job to advise and accommodate you.

2. Don’t be afraid to talk

Faking confidence just closes off your learning opportunities.

This is a great opportunity to speak to an expert (if it's a sommelier). What better opportunity to learn?

Don't be afraid to ask a few questions and get some advice. This is a chance to get some recommendations to suit your tastes. Also some awesome pairing ideas that you might not have thought of before.

3. Don’t rely on the cork

In most restaurants, the attendant will ceremoniously hand you the cork to inspect, but —the cork isn't really that representative of the wine.

Don’t sniff the cork; you can casually swirl the drink and smell it. The aromas will hit you as soon as you are done swirling.

When the attendant pours a sample for you before serving the table, they are not in any way favoring you, they’re simply asking whether the wine is still alive or dead.

They want to know if the wine survived the container, shipping, the distributor, the cellar and finally to your glass.

A quick smell usually uncovers an issue like cork taint.

4. Only return it if it's corked

There are only two reasons that can warrant a bottle to be changed. 

One is if the attendant brought you the wrong bottle (it happens!).

Two is if the wine is spoiled

A wise strategy is to double check with the waiter before serving.

Choosing the Right Wine Glasses

Types of Wine and Glasses Description: Set of types of wine and glasses red white sparkling and dessert wine.

You can drink wine from whatever vessel you want, whether it’s a coffee mug, a bowl, a beer glass, or a fine wine glass. Which is absolutely fine!

Some of us don’t care as long it tastes and smells great. 

The truth is, wine glasses were designed the way they are to get the most out of the drinking experience. 

Why Do Wine Glasses Matter?

Mark Baulderstone, the Managing Director for Riedel Australia says that each glass is designed the way it is because it is considered to be the fittest wine glass for enjoying that variety of wine.

“What most consumers don’t realize is that they will naturally gravitate to the varietal of wine that best suits their palate. The glass becomes an extension of the wine and its unique characteristics,” –Mark Baulderstone

The glass you use is designed to enhance your wine drinking experience. Science has also backed up the same idea purporting that the various glass shapes profoundly affect the positioned density of vapors of different wine glasses.

These vapors are the same ones that carry aromatic compounds and are also responsible for creating the vast majority of flavors in the wine.

For instance, red wine glasses have a big round bowl which impacts the amount of wine that should be exposed to the air. 

Red wine has a special bond with oxygen as it enhances the taste, the aroma, and the color of the wine. That's why we aerate our wine or let it breathe.

Typically, aged wine enjoys a little oxygen over the aging period. The wider bowls allow the scent of the wine to spread in the air and also through your mouth as you drink it.

White wine glasses, on the other hand, enjoy a narrower bowl and narrower brim.  This is because whites have quite some delicate flavors.

Narrow glasses channel the subtle aromas to your nose. The rim also influences how the drink is received in your mouth.  How the fluid flows in your mouth determines how you taste the wine.

Whites do not react with air, therefore, do not need to be exposed.

That is the same reason the white wine glass is narrow and thinner compared to a red wine glass.

In fact, a wider bowl will only make the wine lose some flavor before you are done drinking. The acidity in white wine cannot be tampered with.

Air disrupts the acidity of the wine just like sodas; how they go flat after getting exposed to the atmosphere.

White wine prefers to be locked in the narrow glass and keep its flavors.

A thin rim allows the wine to flow effortlessly straight to your tongue. A narrow rim also ensures that the first drop of the wine drops to your tongue before spreading across the entire mouth.

How to Hold a Wine Glass Properly

Choosing the correct type of glass is a bit of a science on its own. It is also involves a little bit of personal opinion and preference.

The same way you choose red wine over white is the same principle applied in crafting different wine glasses for different wines.

The type of glass you use typically involves the wine and all of its characteristics.

The Anatomy of the Wine Glass

A wine glass has four main parts; the base, the bowl, the stem, and the rim

Believe it or not, every part plays a significant role in the wine drinking process.

The base is the supporting part that holds the whole glass and keeps it stable on the table.

The rim is the uppermost part of the wine glass. The part that interacts with your lips.

Different glasses have different rim diameters. Red wines glasses have a relatively broader rim than white wine glasses.

This is because the red wine glasses have to let the wine interact with air to improve its quality, while white wine glasses don’t need air.

The rim determines how your mouth receives the wine or how you taste the wine. 

A thick edge can quickly change the whole tasting experience as the wine may reach the wrong tasting buds faster than it should. 

The stem is also one of the most critical parts when it comes to wine holding. 

It is the part specially made to help you hold the wine correctly without warming it with your warm hands.

When holding your wine glass, your hands should keep away from the bowl for a few reasons. 

The first reason is that your warm hands are at the average room temperature. 

The wine may not be at the same temperature as your hands.

White wines are mostly enjoyed when chilled. The aromas and tastes are more vivid and vibrant when the wine is chilled than when it's warm. 

If your hands are dirty, maybe from the food, or are simply sweaty and watery, they may ruin the appearance of the wine if you hold it by the bowl.

Holding at that angle also affects the view of wine.

Holding the glass by the goblet only blocks the view of what you've paid for.

The stem is also the strongest and sturdiest part of the glass to hold. Especially when it comes to narrow and quite fragile sparkling wine glasses.

The goblet is the central part of the glass as it's where the wine settles. White wine glasses have a relatively narrow bowl compared to their white wine counterparts.

Red wines appreciate some swirling especially when it’s not a one-person experience.

The large bowl and averagely smaller brim keep the wine from spilling when swirled, while at the same time releasing its aromas to the atmosphere creating a vortex at the middle towards the direction of the drawn compounds.

Even the most nuanced flavors can be smelt from far if the bowl has a much larger surface area. 

How to Hold a Wine Glass - Step by Step Guide

Stem Wine Glasses

All wine glasses are held by the stem. Keep in mind that wine should be served at its correct temperatures—not too cold and not warm. 

Warm wine can evaporate the alcohol at a faster pace than when it’s cold, rendering it flat. Too cold a glass of wine can make it flat too. 

It's important that you don't influence the wine temperature by holding the bowl with your warm hand.

When you hold the wine by the stem, you help to keep the wine at the temperature it was served at. Assuming that was correct!

Remember that the drink is already exposed to air and the rate of going flat has already begun.

So, how do you hold a wine glass correctly?

Here are four ways to hold a wine glass.

1. Hold the stem using your thumb and the first two fingers

Let your thumb and the next two fingers; index finger and the middle finger support it while the rest of the hand rests on the base. 

As you position your fingers, ensure your middle finger, and the ring finger slightly lie on the base.

This is to maintain a balance and for your comfort.

Only the thumb, the index finger and the middle finger should come into contact with the glass stem.

2. Slightly pinch the stem using your thumb and index finger

Let your index finger wrap itself around the stem of the glass, and support the rest of the other side with the tip of the thumb.

Maintain your hand positioned towards the lower half of the stem.

The remaining three fingers should naturally curl into your palm in the form of a small closed fist.

Typically, your fingers won’t touch the base, but once in a while can brush against it.

3. Grab the stem from the base

Grab the stem from just above the base using your index finger and your thumb.

As much as these two fingers touch the glass stem, they may also brush against the top part of the base.

Let your middle finger support the glass from beneath the base by stretching it from out under the base. The rest of the fingers can then rest naturally or follow the weight.

4. Lever the base with your thumb

Keep your thumb on the base of the glass while at the same time supporting the underside of the base using your middle finger and index finger.

With this method, practically none of your fingers touch the stem of the glass. 

Your pinky, ring, middle an index fingers should all curl gently into your palm and only the top parts of the middle, and index fingers should help support the base.

This style is quite acceptable but rarely used as it's not very stable. It is best to practice it when you’re alone or in the company of polite friends.

Stemless Wine Glasses

There are various stemless glasses made for wine drinking. 

Generally, stemless glasses are held like other regular drinking glasses. 

Be sure to minimize contact to prevent unnecessary heating from your warm hands. 

If the wine is at its right temperature, only hold it when sipping, make sure the contact is as brief and as infrequent as possible.

Prepare or drink from somewhere where you can set down the wine to rest every time you sip. Fingerprints will be inevitable especially with this type of glass, but keeping your hands clean and away from oil can still go a long way towards maintaining a good wine experience.

If you’re hanging out with wine connoisseurs or if you are hanging out with someone you want to impress, it’s best to avoid stemless glasses at all costs.

Essential Etiquette Tips For Holding a Wine Glass

Here are some tips for maintaining the proper wine glass holding etiquette.

Not only will you look like you've done this before, you may also enhance your wine drinking experience!

Rest the Glass When Necessary

Just like eating good food, it's the done thing to take rests and not finish everything quickly. It's actually a really hard thing to do if you have delicious food or wine in front of you, but it's best not to look greedy (I hate this 'rule'!) 

Try and take a break after every sip and enjoy how the wine feels and tastes in your mouth. 

If you are unable to rest your glass and feel that you may need to support it in between the sips, you can just let the base of the glass rest on your non-dominant palm of your hand and hold the stem with the dominant hand.

If you are at a dinner table, you need to place the glass of wine on the right side of your water glass.

If you don’t have a water glass, put the wine down on the upper left corner of your sitting space.

Sip From the Same Spot

This one is a vanity rule and it's not one I really pay attention to unless I'm eating something oily or with a sauce.

Basically, every time you take a sip you may be making a mess of your glass and it can look unappealing to some people. 

It's not something that bothers me but I can't speak for everyone.

Sipping from the same spot just reduces the markings on the glass. It's a relatively easy thing to do as long as you place the glass down in the same place and in the same position each time.

Don’t fill the Glass to the Brim

The general rule regarding wine is that you should keep the glass half full when pouring white wine and one-third full when pouring red wine.

Additionally, if you are pouring sparkling wine or Champagne using a champagne flute, the glass should only be filled up to three quarters.

Therefore, the glass should never be full (sad I know!).

There are reasons behind this rule with regards to the wine experience.

The two biggest reasons are to prevent spills and to allow you to swirl the wine. 

Look at Your Glass

Hold your glass up to the light to see how vibrant the color is. Is it transparent at all? A wine's color is crafted carefully by the winemaker. It would be rude not to appreciate it right?

When making a toast, it's crucial to maintain eye contact with whoever you’re clicking glasses with.

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About the Author Tim Edison

Tim started Wine Turtle way back in 2015.
These days he contributes to Wine Turtle (and other renowned wine publications) while continuing his wine education.
Tim's wine of the month is the Coates & Seely Reserve Brut NV (from Hampshire, England).

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