How to Drink Wine Like the French

Ling Tang / © Culture Trip
Ling Tang / © Culture Trip
Photo of Alex Ledsom
5 March 2019

As you’d expect from a country that loves its wine (and mostly prefers to drink its own), there are lots of dos and don’ts to drinking wine like the French. Here’s our guide to French wine etiquette that will let you pass muster in good company, without too many raised eyebrows.

Change your wine season to season

French people often change what they drink depending on the time of year. The harvest happens every September in France and for the nouveau types of wine (those that are harvested, fermented and drunk the same year), Beaujolais Nouveau is the most well-known and drunk from the first Thursday in November onwards. Winter is always more conducive to red wines and over Christmas, you’ll really score brownie points with your family and friends if you splurge on the Châteauneuf-du-Pape for your family. When the weather gets warmer, that’s the time to switch to white wines and southern rosés. Never bring out a rosé in winter, unless you want to be laughed at.

Know your wine pairings

While many dinner parties in different countries follow specific rules on which wine to drink when, the French follow these rules religiously – wine is rarely drunk as an apéritif (opt for a kir or pastis instead), white wine goes with fish, seafood and dessert, red wine with red meat and tomato-based dishes. There are also specific dessert wines for dessert. For more detailed suggestions on how to pair creamy or spicy foods with different types of white or red, follow Decanter’s rules here.

Ling Tang / | © Culture Trip

Don’t drink anything other than French wine

The French may admire Argentinian reds and say nice things about other whites from around the world, but they will laugh you out of the house if you say that the English have started producing a good bubbly, or if you bring Californian rosé to a dinner party. To stay safe, always, always, always bring French.

Open the wine bottle properly

That little knife on the corkscrew is there for a reason; it’s to cut around the rim of the cork before you pull it out. Never take off the entire foil capsule around the bottleneck – the French think this is the height of bad manners. But do remove enough so that the wine never passes over the foil or it will alter the taste.

Ling Tang / | © Culture Trip

Never fill your wine glass more than half full

The French don’t drink as much as other countries and will frown on people who overfill their glasses in one go. While it might be okay to fill your glass in England and get a little tipsy, the French will be a little more reticent to continue drinking to the point that they start repeating the same thing to their host over and over again. They won’t find it charming, so it’s best to pace yourself. Don’t worry about not getting enough to drink; well-manned hosts will always top up glasses when they are empty. If you don’t want to continue drinking, leave a little in the bottom of your glass so they know not to refill.

Never carry on drinking wine after the meal

Unless you’re with close friends, you should always stop drinking the wine when everyone is finished eating. As The Local says, you can still carry on drinking but just change to a digestif (an after-dinner liqueur or maybe a cognac). Wine for the French is just like food courses – they say they don’t snack between meals, but there are about five meals in a day if you count apéritif nibbles and the French version of afternoon tea, le goûter. Just call it a different course and you’ll be able to keep going until midnight! French dinner parties are legendary for lasting well into the early hours.

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