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Miss Conduct

Advice: You won’t believe this wine snob’s policy on backwash

In this situation, there might not be anything to say.

One of my in-laws is a wine lover who brings bottles for us to share, most recently a lovely pinot noir. After a few sips, my mother-in-law declared that she didn’t care for it, and I offered to finish her glass. This was met with a sharp rebuke from the wine lover, who insisted that the remaining contents of mom-in-law’s glass be siphoned back into the bottle and equitably redistributed among us all. He did this, but was unable to interest anyone in the wine. I felt embarrassed both for violating this person’s norms around sharing and for being called out for it. Are there protocols around how to handle something like this?

K.L. / Medford


Oh, there are so very many protocols! Some of which are established, some of which never had to be because most people aren’t irredeemably weird control fetishists like your in-law. Let’s review a few “pinot-nos,” shall we?

1. Many things in life should be shared equitably. Things like chores, or opportunity, or the chance to go first when playing tic-tac-toe. Not things like backwash.

2. Gifts are not to be taken back. If the gift is one of food or drink, this principle is elevated from etiquette to hygiene.

3. One does not berate the recipient of a gift for putting that gift to a desired and appropriate use.

4. One does not aerate the life out of a pinot noir by repeatedly pouring it from one container to another like some sacrilegious amateur magician rehearsing a “wedding-at-Cana” act.

You get the idea. You were in no way wrong, nor were you responsible for any awkwardness. There’s not much else you could have said or done to have handled the situation any better. I’m sorry you married into a family with a self-appointed wine czar and that everyone else humors the Grape Santini, at least up to the point of actually drinking spit. The fact that nobody wanted to resume quaffing the DNA-enhanced pinot noir should tell you that they all knew he was 100 proof in the wrong — wrong about etiquette, about cleanliness, and about wine. They were cowards not to back you up.


Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.

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