While the pomp and ceremony around wine isn’t really all that essential to enjoying a cool sip of bubbly, let’s be honest- the allure of wine’s little ceremonies is a strong one. What’s the point of life, after all, if you can’t just enjoy the small things? Today Louisvale Wines takes a look at the ‘right’ way to open wine to score yourself all the social brownie points you could want.

The classy way to open wine


If you’re going for the full restaurant wine experience, there’s a couple of key protocols to know. Firstly, most sommeliers, or ‘wine waiters’, will use a special sommelier knife, sometimes called a ‘waiter’s friend’. Think of it as something like a corkscrew crossed with a swiss army knife.

The sommelier or host will first present the bottle of wine to their guests, with the label facing them. It’s a way to show the wine that’s being served, and for them to make sure it’s correct. You will then use your sommelier knife to score the top foil of the bottle. Make sure to do this below the lip of the bottle-wine will oxidise on foil, smelling and tasting gross. The best grip is one where you lay the knife against the index finger, effectively pinching the bottle between your thumb and the knife rather than slashing at it.


With a dash of ceremony, pull off the foil top and put it discreetly in your pocket. Nothing should be dumped onto the table if you’re going to get this right- not even the bottle!

On to the cork

Slip the knife section away, and unfold your corkscrew. Aim it dead centre of the cork, and push it in slightly, so the tip bites. Now gently twist directly downward into the cork. There’s no need for too much pressure here, just a twist of the wrist. Stop when you have one full turn left on the corkscrew. Corks are a little fragile, and going too far may dump a fragment of cork into the wine. Conversely, not getting deep enough into the cork will cause it to break when it lives.

Now place the top ridge of the lever end against the bottle’s lip. Use your index finger to secure the lip and lever, and gently pull up the lever. Place the second ridge in the same spot, and pull the lever again. Be careful not to pull the full cork out!

A dash of presentation

Unscrew your corkscrew and pop it away. Grasp the bottle firmly in one hand, and use the other to ease out the cork, placing it on the table. The host- or, if you’re hosting, the guest of honour- should check both the vineyard’s stamp and the state of the cork. An ideal cork is wet on the end that was inside the bottle, and dry and crack-free on the other.


If the inside of the cork is dry, it’s a good sign the wine didn’t get stored properly and it may have failed. If the outside’s wet, it’s another possible sign the wine has been exposed to air through a hole, ruining the wine.

Once the cork passes the ‘inspection’, a small taster glass of the wine is poured for the host or guest of honour. Here they smell and taste it, ensuring the wine is in tip-top condition. If it’s perfect, it can be poured for the whole table. Traditionally, you’d aim for about half a glass per guest in the first round, going clockwise around the table, and serving ladies first. 


Of course, all that ceremony is a bit much if all you’re doing is enjoying some wine on a lovely summer day with friends. If you love your wine, however, and adore the idea of a formal dinner party setting, or even if you just like to frequent high-end restaurants and don’t want to look gauche, it’s good to know the ins-and-outs of formal wine presentation. After all, you can’t break the rules if you don’t know them!


Do you often host formal parties, or are you more of a braai-in-the-garden sort? Louisvale Wines loves to hear from our fans, so be sure to let us know what you think in the comments!