From Oenephile Tom Black
The Custom of Toasting
Joe Mooney, Bill Ruzicka, and I recently reached the following conclusion: there are definitely more old wine drinkers than doctors, and more old doctors drink wine than don’t. Now, doctors are even telling you to drink a glass of wine a day, so I am doing my best and so far this year things look good. I hope you can say the same.
Over the holidays I made a lot of toasts. I’m sure you did too. On one evening we got into a discussion about the proper way to toast and where the custom came from. Here’s what we found.
The Greeks were the first to toast. It was a remedy for poisoning. They all drank at the same time from the same pot, pitcher, or carafe. In addition, they would spill a little of each other’s wine into someone else’s goblet to further insure that no one was up to no good. I’ve been to dinners where I should have done that.
Next followed the Romans. The word “toast” actually comes from the Roman custom of dropping a piece of burnt toast into the wine to filter out impurities and help settle the solids in the wine. Wine is better made now and the burnt toast is gone, but the name remains the same.
Shakespeare continued the tradition when he wrote in Hamlet about the custom of toasting and draining the cup. “It is a custom more honored in the breach than the observance”.
Of course, there are many customs and traditions associated with toasts. Amy Vanderbilt has even written a section on the etiquette of toasts. I think her best advice is to “keep it brief”.
However, there are other customs one should observe. The person making the toast should stand. It is permissible to tap your glass to get everyone’s attention. After the toast you may clink glasses with everyone, or the two people seated next to you. Either touch everyone’s glass or only those next to you. Tradition says anything else is bad luck. One tradition says if you miss a glass, you’ll spend a year without sex. Since I drink a lot of champagne I try to remember this. I am also mindful of the single women touching every glass. Touching the glass adds another element to the experience; that of sound—now all your senses are covered.
I also try to remember ten good toasts. That way, I am prepared to recognize someone or provide some entertainment. Here are my ten favorite toasts depending on the occasion, the moment, and how much I’ve drunk.
1. “I might wish you wealth and I might wish you health, or that good fortune would caress you, but wealth might bring sorrow, and health might fade tomorrow, so I’ll simply say ‘God bless you’.”
2. “In water one sees one’s own face, but in wine one beholds the heart of another.” (with red wine)
3. “Give me wine to wash me clean from the weather stains of care.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson
4. “Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter, then sermons and water the day after.”—Lord Byron
5. “The taste of good wine is remembered long after the price is forgotten.”
6. “May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be at your back, may the sun shine on your face, may the rain fall softly on your fields, and may you be in Heaven an hour before the devil knows you’re gone.”
7. “For a happy life, don’t lie, don’t cheat, and don’t drink, but you may lie with the one you love, try to cheat death, and drink with family and friends.”
8. To thine own self be true and then it must follow as night the day, to no man can thou be false.”—Shakespeare
9. “To old friends and new friends, may we meet again, and the best of the past be the worst of our future.”—TB
10. “It was a woman that drove me to drink and I never even wrote to thank her.”—W.C. Fields
So now you can toast with the best of them. And I raise a toast to you, dear friends, for your love and interest in wine. As usual, a closing thought. It is from my friend and mentor Michael Broadbent. “The aristocrat of the table, the gentleman of the cellar…the deeply knowledgeable, is rarely, if ever, a snob.”