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Fact or fiction: 11 rules about French wine (and a couple of myths)

The Local
The Local - [email protected] • 26 Feb, 2023 Updated Sun 26 Feb 2023 08:44 CEST
Fact or fiction: 11 rules about French wine (and a couple of myths)
(Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP)

French wine is a heavily mythologised subject, with people keen to tell you all about the 'must follow' rules - we take a look at the facts and the fictions surrounding drinking wine in France.


Never drink red wine without food accompanying it

For the French, vin rouge goes with food, especially if you're serving meat. Red wine is also the traditional accompaniment to the cheese course.

As with many of these wine 'rules' older or more conservative French people will stick to the rules while the younger crowd will probably decide that it's OK to just have what you want.

READ MORE: Apéro: All you need to know about the French evening ritual

Red is, however, not usually drunk for apéro (pre-dinner drinks) - at apéro time if you're having wine it will usually be white (sometimes with the addition of a splash of kir) or rosé in the summer months.

You can hear the team from The Local chatting about wine in the latest episode of the Talking France podcast, download it HERE or listen on the link below.



Under no circumstances can you pair red wine with fish

While it is fair to say that the vast majority of the time, this rule will be respected and you will be told "only white wine with fish", there are some exceptions to be made.

For more meaty fish like tuna you might be able to get away with it. In these cases, you will probably be advised to go for a red that is more on the tannic side - like a Pinot Noir. 

French women do not pour their own wine

French tradition dictates that women should not open wine bottles or pour their own wine, but should instead wait for the man to pour.

These days it's really only the older or extremely socially conservative French people who are likely to stick to this rule - in 2023 most French women are perfectly comfortable pouring their own wine. If you find yourself dining in a chateau with an elderly French aristocrat, however, they might expect men to do the pouring.

The rule of "the guest should not pour his/her own wine" is slightly better adhered to, however, and among older French people you should perhaps let your host serve you.

The bigger the dimple at the bottom, the better

Most bottles of wine have little concave dimple at the bottom that you can use to help you grasp and pour the bottle better.

The size of this varies from a small indentation to a deep grove that you can fit your entire thumb into - and some believe that the size of this dimple determines the quality of the wine - the bigger the dimple the higher-quality the wine.

According to experts, however, this has little to say about whether the wine is high quality or not.


Different wine regions in France use different shaped bottles (for example, Alsatian wine comes in thin, long bottles), so it is not possible to say across the board that having a big dimple at the bottom signifies quality in any way.

Champagne should only be drunk from a flute or a coupe

It is true that a traditional, tall, narrow flute will keep the Champagne bubbles, so if your goal is to emphasise the fizz, then the flute is the best way to go.

However, if your objective is to taste all of the rich flavours in the Champagne, then you might opt for a coupe or even a standard wine glass. 

Ella Lister, wine expert and taster for the Figaro Vin, recommends that flavour connoisseurs opt for a 'Tulip' glass or even a regular wine glass that has a wide bowl at the bottom, but narrows at the top (like one intended for white wine) to get the best taste from Champagne. 

The Champagne coupe is modelled on the breast of Marie Antoinette

A persistent myth is that the coupe style of Champagne glass - the wide, flat glass - was modelled on the breast of Marie Antoinette, the guillotined French queen, although some legends also say it was the breast of royal mistress Madame de Pompadour.


Either way, the couple style of Champagne glass is seen in France at least 100 years before either of these women arrived on the scene, so we can say it is conclusively a myth. It's likely that it came about because of Marie Antoinette's post-Revolution reputation for excess and extravagance. (she never said 'let them eat cake' either). 

Putting ice in rosé is a faux-pas

It would be best to avoid doing this in a restaurant, but when you’re relaxing on a friend’s terrace on a sweltering summer day, no French person will blame you for dropping a cube or two into your rosé. 

The reason that it's frowned upon is because you're diluting the wine so it's best not to do this with an expensive rosé, but a cheaper 'rosé piscine' (wine for drinking around the pool) probably won't suffer too much from the addition of a bit of ice.

Rosé is much nicer when served well chilled, however, so perhaps invest in a cooler or ice bucket to keep your bottle chilled in the summer. 

Wine with a screw-top is bad quality

Wine with a screw cap is less common in France than other wine-producing nations like Australia or the USA - but it's not true that only the cheap wines get screw caps.

In fact, having a screw cap can actually protect the wine - cork taint affects about five percent of all wines with corks, so you might even be better off with a screw cap.

French people might think you're crazy if you store red wine in the fridge

You will definitely get some weird looks if you put red wine in the fridge. That being said, red wine should not be drunk too hot either. Ella Lister told Le Figaro that the ideal temperature should be around 14 - 15C.

If it is too cold out and you suspect the wine has dropped below that, the expert recommended rubbing the glass or bottle with your hands a little bit. Otherwise, try to store red wine somewhere that is not too hot, not too cold. 


Wine should be stored laying down

There is some logic in the idea of investing in a wine rack, as the bottles really ought to be kept horizontal.

The reason for this is to keep the wine in contact with the cork, so that the cork doesn't dry out.

"If the wine is not in contact with the cork, the cork becomes dry, and oxygen can more easily penetrate the interior of the bottle and oxidise its contents", explained Lister to Le Figaro.

Avoid bringing wine to a French dinner party

Some people recommend  not to bring wine as a gift to dinner parties because it could be seen as an insult to your host - implying that they do not know much about wine.

READ MORE: Apéro to digestif: What to expect from every step of a French dinner

This really just depends on who your hosts are. The best practice is simply asking ahead of time what you can bring, and whether they would like another bottle of wine.

If you do take wine don't be surprised if your host doesn't open it however - many people will have already planned what wine they will serve, based on what goes best with what they have cooked.

Testing out a bottle of wine at a restaurant is not actually about your preferences

If you feel slightly intimidated by the idea of being asked to provide a detailed critique on the wine when your French waiter pours you a little to try, don't worry.

This is not a test of the wine quality of your knowledge of it - instead, it is meant to determine whether the wine was contaminated by the cork.

Any knowledgeable wine fans will be able tell from the first whiff if a wine is bouchonné (corked). That’s why the host of a dinner party should always taste the wine first to make sure it’s good before serving guests. 


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iainnoble49 2023/02/24 11:34
Some of the stuff about red wines here is nonsense. It is quite common in France to have lightly chilled red wines with fish and not just the strongly flavoured, high fat, fish such as tuna, salmon, mackerel, herring and anchovies. Commonest here are wines made from: Gamay; light Pinot Noir (but NOT your Romanée-Conti or Chambertins of course), Corvina, Frappato and Dolcetto wines. In the Mediterranean in summer chilled red wines (your vin trés ordinaire usually) by the glass in bars is also widespread.

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