Snob on the job

Wine reviews – By Michael Wolsey

Why do wine waiters hold one hand behind their backs when they pour? Nobody seems to know. Waiters tell me they were trained to pour this way but none of them have any idea why. If you know, I’d like to hear from you. Drop me a line to and maybe we can clear up one of the world’s great mysteries. Next week: the third secret of Fatima.

There are lots of elaborate traditions around serving wine. Most of them have no real function but I like them all the same. They add to the pleasure of drinking a good wine.

Tasting the wine was traditionally done to detect ‘corking’. That has nothing to do with broken cork but with contamination from natural elements that occur in some corks. You can also detect oxidization which occurs when the wine has been exposed to oxygen, leaving it a bit flat and vinegary. Both problems are very rare these days and never happen with screw-top bottles.

To get the best out of a good wine, half-fill a decent-sized glass – not the giant things some restaurants use but a reasonable, wide, tulip-shaped glass. Hold it by the stem so your hand does not change the wine’s temperature. Swirl it a little to let in some air, sniff to enjoy the scent, roll it over your tongue and the back of your mouth, then swallow and enjoy.

There is no point in doing all this with cheap wine off the bottom shelf of a supermarket. And it is better done at home than in a restaurant where it will annoy the waiter and make you look like a pompous prat. But in the privacy of your own home you can indulge your inner wine snob.