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How to serve wine the French way

Wine is part of the culture of France and the French love to pair wine well with their dishes, and they love to make wine part of the art de vivre, the art of the good life, especially when it comes to making a table look inviting and pretty.

First a little bit of etiquette – the French way

When you open the bottle, you should try it first – in front of your guests, to make sure it’s perfect.

Serve ladies first – oldest to youngest, then the men.

Serve clockwise and begin at your right side.

Never fill a glass more than halfway – a third of the way is usual (makes the glass easier to hold and to swirl!).

French etiquette for drinking wine

Hold a stem glass at the base.

It’s ok to swirl before you taste!

Wait for everyone to have their drinks poured before you drink.

Serve wine the French way

French people drink different wines according to the season. Rosé in summer, fresh red wines in Autumn, robust reds in winter. And they drink different wines with different courses, a sweet white wine with foie gras, a crisp white wine with oysters, white wine with fish, red wine with meat, a floral red with creamy cheeses like Brie and Camembert, sweet wine with dessert. Though don’t go thinking this is an everyday thing, that much layering of wine is for special dinners or at a restaurant where a sommelier, a waiter who is trained as a wine expert, chooses wine to go with the courses.

We eat with our eyes first and in France the visual presentation of food and wine is taken seriously, and it’s the small things, the little details that elevate the ordinary to the exquisite. It’s about taking the time to make something look pretty, and taking the time to notice that someone has gone to the trouble to make the table look the best it can.

How to dress a table the French way

There are four key tips to achieving a great look on the table the French way when you’re serving wine:

Wine glasses – beautiful glassware makes a big difference. Champagne flutes, wine glasses, tumblers for long drinks. This is your chance to make the table shine – quite literally! Whether you use matching glasses or mix them up, clear crystal or coloured glass – glass reflects the light

Flowers and vegetation – a small vase, a statement vase, big bold bouquet, wildflowers, bright flowers. Or perhaps petals, nuts, small plants – it’s all about bringing nature to the table. A strand of vine leaves always looks lovely on the table encircling the wine.

Carafe or jug of water – no need for plastic bottles, just pop a gorgeous carafe on the table, ice cubes on a sunny day. Pop an edible flower in the ice cube tray compartments for extra pizzazz.

Champagne bucket – Not just for bottles of fizz, any wine or bottles you want to keep cool will look fabulous in a gorgeous metal Champagne bucket (the shiny metal contrasts beautifully with the glassware on the table.

Pour, swirl, sip – and enjoy a little soupcon of French style, wherever you are…

Janine Marsh is Author of My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream,  My Four Seasons in France: A Year of the Good Life and Toujours la France: Living the Dream in Rural France all available as ebook, print & audio, on Amazon everywhere & all good bookshops online. Her new book How to be French: Eat, Drink, Dress, Travel, Love (published October 2023) is available from Amazon and all good book stores.

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