7 Do's and Don'ts of Talking About Wine to a Non-Wine Crowd

What do people who aren't obsessed with wine want to hear about it?
Jul 25, 2013

It's no secret that wine people can come off as a little cultish, with their special vocabulary, tasting rituals and intensely focused gatherings. Yet it's an interesting hobby in the sense that it bumps up against the real world on a regular basis—at meal times, business dinners, and fun moments with friends and family. That means that wine people get to share wine with lots of folks who may not exactly have the same enthusiasm when it comes to talking about wine.

Having worked around wine and food for the better part of a decade, in such conversations, I hear a range of reactions from "Oh, I don't know anything about wine," to genuine excitement about learning something new.

But I was curious as to how these conversations sound to people who don't work in the wine industry, so I emailed some non-wine friends (promising anonymity) to see what they'd want to hear when talking to wine people. Most of their responses had to do with common-sense etiquette. Figuring it's always useful to have a reminder, I compiled some do's and don'ts from their responses.

Do be prepared for people to be intimidated. "I usually just run when people move beyond, 'This is good.' ... Despite taking tasting courses and spending more time than I should at vineyards, I never know what to say about wine, and I definitely don't have the right vocabulary or a sensitive enough palate," said L. of Portland, Ore.

Do come prepared with a story about the wine if you brought it or picked it out. "Personal stories about how they found the wine, or the vineyard history, are cool; I also like the science behind how certain wines are made and the history behind certain grapes and blends," said M. of Honolulu, Hawaii.

Don't get too technical or lecturing, and definitely avoid the jargon. "If the wine-speak is directed at me or someone at my ignorance level, and it's at all technical without the basics, I find it off-putting. [Wine] people need to be aware of their intended audience and put info into plain English," said I. of Toronto.

Don't go overboard with descriptors. A few are OK to get the ball rolling, but too many and you'll shut down the conversation. "Pick one taste that intrigues you ... That way, when you ask someone else who's not as knowledgeable what they think, they can also identify one thing and feel like they're on par," said M. of Honolulu.

Don't do the full-on evaluation of a wine (swirl, sniff, slurp) in social settings outside of a tasting, said M. of Boston. "I don't like to listen to people slurp." Save it for wine-obsessed company only.

Do find points of agreement on the wines you're drinking. "I just had a fun experience tasting wines to serve at my wedding reception. The store's resident wine expert gave us a few bottles of reds, whites and sparkling wines to try. It was actually really endearing to have the wine guy geek out on our choices," said P. of San Francisco.

Don't bring up price unless you're pointing out a value pick. "I get put off when people talk about how good expensive wines are and scoff at buying $10 bottles at Kroger," said C. of Houston.

Do you agree with these? Have any tips of your own? Leave them in the comments section.

How to Taste Serving Wine

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