Wine culture can seem intimidating if you’re used to simply drinking whatever you recognize first on the wine menu, but it certainly shouldn’t be! While it’s not necessary to pack in all the bells and whistles just to sip a chilled glass of your favourite with dinner, knowing how to elegantly offer a bottle of wine to guests and loved ones is a fun way to deepen your enjoyment- and look a little fancy, too! Here’s Louisvale Wines’ cheat sheet on how to open your wine with a flourish that will make you look like an expert no matter where you roam on the Stellenbosch Wine Route.

Wait- there’s a right way to open wine?

While you can say whatever gets the job done works, there is a traditional way to open a wine bottle if you’d like the full 5-star experience. You’re most likely to see it in a restaurant (like our delicious Food @ Louisvale), but you can always pull it out for a special touch if you’re entertaining, too.

First up, let’s introduce your sommelier. Think of them as a ‘wine waiter’, but this isn’t just Joe Average. Sommeliers are people who love their wine and usually helped to compile the restaurant’s wine list themselves. If there’s anything you don’t know, don’t hesitate to ask them! They are experts who are there to help you get the very best from your wine experience and love nothing more than to talk about wine. 

Typically, your somm (as those in the know call them) will have a ‘waiter’s friend’, a little ‘wine knife’, that looks like a cross between a normal corkscrew and a swiss army knife. Firstly, they will show you the bottle. This is often done with a flourish, but it’s also practical, confirming that you’re getting the vintage you asked for. They will then slash the foil at the top of the bottle. If you’re trying this for yourself, do it below the lip of the glass. Wine on foil oxidises very quickly and will smell (and taste) horrible, so you want to make sure it doesn’t touch. Extra points if you get the somm grip right- knife on the index finger, so you ‘pinch’ the foil open, not slashing at it like Indiana Jones!

Just a dash of ceremony

Next, they will whisk the foil off the bottle (into a pocket or rubbish cart). Remember, nothing should touch the table, not even the bottle!

Opening a cork top is a ceremony unto itself, and it’s a nifty trick to know. Your somm will swap to the corkscrew on his knife, and push the tip in lightly, dead centre of the cork. Now for some gentle twisting. It’s important not to push right through the cork- they can be fragile, especially on older vintages, and you don’t want to pop cork bits into your wine! You should stop roughly one turn from fully through the cork, ensuring you have enough depth to get good traction, but not enough to fragment the cork. 

We’re going to bring out that index finger again. Rest the top ridge of the lever against the bottle lip, balanced by your index finger, and gently slide. Rinse and repeat with the second ridge, but don’t pull the cork just yet!

Making the moment

Now it’s time to ease out the cork. Traditionally, the host (or guest of honour) is shown the cork. This serves to prove the cork is in good condition (and not in your bottle), and you’re supposed to check out the vineyard stamp, too. Ideally, your cork should come out a little wet at the end in the bottle, dry otherwise, and free of cracks or suspect chips. 

Why? A dry inner side could mean the wine wasn’t stored well. Moisture on the top, however, suggests a leak. Both could ruin the wine, so while this may seem odd, it’s actually pretty important!

Once approved, the host/guest of honour gets a small taster glass. Again, this is so you can make sure everything is well with your special purchase. When you’re happy, your somm will pour for everyone and drop the bottle into the ice bucket. Strictly traditionally, if you have a dinner course, you’ll pour about half a glass per guest, head around the table clockwise, and serve ladies before gentlemen.

Yes, such an elaborate pouring ceremony can seem a little much, so it’s very situational. You probably wouldn’t do the whole thing just to crack a chilled Cape chardonnay on a summer’s evening! If you enjoy your wines, however, it’s a nice touch, and you’ll see it done at high-end restaurants with ‘fancy’ wine lists to celebrate. It’s a good skill to have tucked in your back pocket, making sure you look suave and sophisticated no matter what. 

Keen to see a full wine opening in person? Why not swing by Louisvale Wines and enjoy something delicious from our menu? Our friendly team loves hearing from wine lovers, so don’t be shy!