What’s in a Toast? The History of Celebrating with Wine

We all know that wine and celebration goes hand-in-hand. But why do we call saluting the occasion or the special person with wine a ‘toast’? It seems an odd combination- but there’s a rich and fascinating history behind this social institution. Whether you’re all partied out from the Christmas rush, or eagerly looking for your next chance to dance the social whirl, knowing how to make a great toast- and why we make them in the first place- is a social art everyone should know. Here’s some tips, tricks, and history from the Louisvale Wines team.

Not a Poisoned Chalice!

You may have heard the myth that the toast came about as a way to ensure you weren’t drinking a poisoned cup, as the wine spilling between cups would ensure everyone went down with you if there was something nefarious afoot. However, while it’s a cute- and adrenaline-spiking- idea, there’s no proof of this particular wine myth.

Instead, the art of the toast has been associated with saluting each other’s health since the time of the Ancient Romans. At one point, the empire even had a decree that everyone had to salute the health of Emperor Augustus before they tucked in! It’s much more likely that the idea of ‘raising a glass’ to wish people your best came from the practice of libation, or offering a splash of wine to the gods in gratitude. Some even believe that joyous ‘clink’ of the glasses ringing off each other was meant to ward off the evil eye, simulating church and temple bells and scaring evil entities away.

Why Toast?

However, why is it called a ‘toast’ specifically? Did you know that dropping a square of toasted bread in low-quality wines, to soak up the acidity and improve the flavour, was once a common practice? You’ll even find it mentioned in Shakespere! As wines improved, and toasting became popular, we even saw ‘toastmasters’ evolve- people who were there to ensure the toasting didn’t take so long that everyone forgot to party with it!

We all know there can be too much of a good thing, and we see this strike in the 1500s. Toasting (and the drinking that went with it) had become so wild and full of antics that toasting was banned in some places. In others, proper etiquette guides as to how to toast without derailing the whole celebration became a standard in high society- and the modern art of toasting was born.

How to Toast like a Pro

The perfect toast fits seamlessly into the occasion, rather than interfering with the party spirit. While the idea is to appear as if you’re giving it off-the-cuff, some preparation is a smart idea! Make sure your toast is appropriately formal to the occasion. Friends and close family can have something a little less formal, whereas your grandparents or boss would need to up the formality. Make sure your words are appropriate to the occasion, too, be it a celebration or a remembrance. And make sure it will be accessible to everyone.

A common mistake made at weddings and other large gatherings  is referencing ‘in-jokes’ and things known only to a few people at the table, leaving everyone else out in the dark! While some humour is nice if you’re skilled at it, it’s often best to lean to sincerity over humour, especially if you don’t know how a joke will land with the whole audience. Make sure everyone has a full cup on-hand, and don’t leave kids and teetotalers out. Get them a beverage to salute with, too. And don’t toast before the host! The very first toast at any special occasion should be the host, so don’t steal their thunder unless you agree in advance.

It’s rather low-brow to ring a glass to make your toast, so rather get everyone’s attention with a quick word, or simply by standing. And make sure the end of your toast is clear, so everyone knows they can clink glasses and tuck into the meal.

Toasts are a great way to celebrate special people, from weddings and birthdays to dinner parties, holiday gatherings, and momentous occasions like graduations, retirement parties, and even funerals. Knowing how to give a great toast is a social skill everyone should have- so we hope these tips from the Louisvale Wines team will help!