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Wine and spirits
Wines and spirits

Drinking manners are an integral part of table manners. How to hold the cup or glass, when and how much to drink, and how to do so in an appropriate and civilised fashion, is as important as eating food the right way.

The two most basic kinds of glasses are tumblers for water or soft drinks, and wine glasses. These should be on the right-hand side of a place setting and slightly above it, either grouped or lined up. It is usual, when serving both white and red wine, to provide a smaller glass for white and a larger for red.

Special Glasses
Champagne is usually served in flutes or narrow glasses. Shallow saucer-shaped glasses were traditional but have fallen out of favour.

Other glasses that may be useful include narrow sherry glasses, brandy balloons and triangular, stemmed glasses for martinis and other cocktails, but it is not incorrect to manage without these. It is more important that glasses should be immaculately clean, plentiful and of as good quality as possible.

What to Serve
If hosting, it is good manners to serve the best wine possible and quality should be as important as quantity. It is important as a host to keep the supplies flowing and not leave empty glasses, but at the same time never force people to drink more than they want. Always provide plenty of water and soft drinks.

How to Serve Wine
A wine glass should be only one third full. It is better to underfill, rather than overfill, a glass. Red wine should be served at the ‘old-fashioned’ pre-central heating room temperature of 17–18°C (63°F) in a larger glass with a bigger bowl, to release the bouquet.

Whites are served in a smaller, narrower glass that should be held by the stem to avoid warming the wine. Fine white wine only needs around 20 minutes in the fridge (including Sauternes); too much chilling will hide the complexity of good wines. It is best, however, to chill cheaper bottles right down. Ice buckets are most effective when filled with a mix of ice and water.

‘Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter, sermons and soda water the day after.’ – Lord Byron

Wait to be served by the host or, if the host has put bottles out and asked people to serve themselves, offer others before helping yourself. Wine is usually served from the right-hand side. Avoid touching the top of the glass with the bottle when you pour.

How to Drink Wine
Take small sips and avoid making noises or ‘wine tasting’ gestures such as ostentatious sniffs or swirls. It is best to confine any remarks to general appreciation unless specifically asked. Opinions are best left to acknowledged experts and, even then, err on the side of politeness over honesty.

Some wines are served in a decanter. The process of decanting a red wine allows it to breathe, separating mature wine from the sediment. It mellows and ‘brings out’ younger reds. Contact with the air livens it and, in a sense, ‘accelerates’ the ageing process.

Decanting should take place a couple of hours before drinking but less, perhaps, for older wines that can fall away through the shock of air contact.

Before decanting, ensure that the glass decanter is clean and soap-free. Pour the bottle at a reasonably rapid rate, being careful towards the end to ensure that any sediment remains in the bottle. Simply removing the cork from the bottle will not have the same (if any) effect; white wines are not usually decanted.

Champagne should be served chilled (optimum temperature is about 7°C), in tulip-shaped flutes that are held by the stem (to avoid the heat of one’s hands warming the champagne through the glass). The sign of a good champagne is a consistent stream of small bubbles that create a light froth on top, which is called the ‘mousse’.

Vintage champagne comes from the crop of a single year so always has a date on its label; non-vintage (nv) champagne is blended from the crop of different years and therefore there will be no date on the label.

An aperitif is a pre-meal drink that stimulates the appetite and palate. Traditional choices include chilled dry sherry, vermouth and Campari. Spirit-based drinks are also suitable; a cocktail, gin and tonic or vodka and a mixer. A simpler, and popular, option is a glass of chilled dry white wine or champagne.

Port is usually served in a decanter and comes at the end of the dinner after pudding. In the days when women withdrew it was served to men only but today it is usually circulated to everyone, while they are still seated, often at about the same time as coffee. Unlike other after-dinner drinks or digestifs such as brandy, it is not normally served away from the table, for instance in a drawing room. If, however, you have been given wonderful port and have not had time to finish, it is fine to carry the glass through with you.

A port decanter will be placed on the table so that people can help themselves and then pass it on. Always pass the port to the left. If the port passes you by without your glass being filled don’t ask for the port and make it change direction. Either send the empty glass after the port decanter and ask for it to be filled or better still wait for it to come round again.

A digestif is drunk to aid digestion after a large meal. They are usually strong and dark coloured spirits, such as brandy, cognac and whisky. Fortified wines, such as port or Madeira, are also traditional options, as well as sweet liqueurs.

Brandy and Whisky
Brandy is served in a bulbous brandy balloon that is cradled in the palm to warm the spirit, intensifying the bouquet and enhancing the flavour.

Whisky is served in a short, heavy-based tumbler. Adding water to a single malt is generally no longer frowned upon, but adding ice is still thought to interfere with the aromas.


When to Serve
Coffee is most often served at breakfast, mid-morning or after lunch or dinner. In Britain it is not usually served during a formal main meal. Traditionally tea took the place of coffee in the afternoon, with coffee being served again after dinner. An exception is iced coffee, which is very much a part of the summer social season and is served as an afternoon alternative to hot tea in such enclaves as the President’s Tent at the Chelsea Flower Show, White’s Club Marquee during Royal Ascot, and at tea on the Royal Yacht Squadron Lawn during Cowes Week.

What to Serve
Freshly ground coffee is preferable to instant coffee, other than very informally in the kitchen. However there is no need for private individuals to offer complicated espressos or a huge range of blends to guests in their own home. It is considerate to offer decaffeinated coffee.

How to Serve
Morning coffee should be served on a tray in cups with saucers and teaspoons on each. Mugs are only for informal use. It is best to serve coffee with cold milk and sugar, which people may add themselves. It is not necessary to provide sweeteners. At breakfast it is best practice to provide a pot of hot milk as well.

The coffee may be in a coffee pot or a cafetière. If it has been made by using a filter or coffee machine, then decant it into a plain coffee pot. It is best not to serve coffee still showing any of the equipment used in its making, such as bags, individual filters etc, other than a cafetière. The cups should be breakfast-sized for morning coffee and deep enough to ensure that the coffee does not get cold too quickly. Servings should be generous.

After-dinner coffee is traditionally served in small cups also called demi-tasses. Traditionally only cream would have been on the tray but it is thoughtful to offer milk as well. Special coffee sugar and small coffee spoons should be used.

Coffee in Restaurants
Coffee may be ordered at the same time as others are having pudding or cheese. It is not considered bad manners to drink coffee while others are still eating. Small cups are more elegant and espresso or filter coffee, with milk on the side, are a more sophisticated and appropriate choice than large milky drinks after dinner.

Traditional tea

When having formal tea in the afternoon, it is usual to serve two kinds of tea: Indian such as Assam, and China such as Lapsang Souchong. Lapsang Souchong and Earl Grey are taken weak, with either a slice of lemon or milk. Separate hot water is usually served to dilute the tea. Black teas, such as Assam, are generally served with milk which is added after the tea has been poured.

Serving Tea
The tea is poured by the hostess or a nominated pourer. If leaf tea is served, a tea strainer is used. The tea is handed out one cup at a time after being poured, rather than pouring a few and handing them out in one go. The milk jug and sugar is passed around and each person adds their own. Use the teaspoon to stir the tea (without clinking) and then place it back on the saucer. Cups are held by the handle – being careful not to raise the little finger – and placed back on the saucer between sips. Saucers remain on the table and are never raised when the cup is lifted up. Away from the table, for example in an armchair, the cup and saucer are raised together and then put down between sips.

Traditional accompaniments include cucumber sandwiches, scones and cakes that are passed around. Cakes should be either very small – for example mini éclairs – or cleanly sliced. Cake that needs to be eaten with a fork should not be served.

Scones are broken by hand, not cut with a knife. As with bread rolls, the jam and cream is spooned on to the plate first, not directly on to the scone (unless the cream is runny, in which case it can be put straight on to the scone). It is traditional in Cornwall to spread jam on a scone before cream, whereas in Devon cream is traditionally put on first. County differences aside, it is generally considered that the most practical and neatest method is to spread the cream first, before the jam.