How To Order Wine At A Business Dinner
Hai Son Kien, Director of Operations for WorkReady, shares some tips on how to make a good impression at a business dinner when ordering wine.
You’ve just been invited to an important business dinner to attempt to impress and woo a new client. The dinner is located at a fancy restaurant in town with an elaborate wine list. The head of the table or whomever is picking up the tab should be the one selecting the wine (rule of thumb to go by) but they leave the honors to you. Probably because that individual didn’t want to have the pressures of making a selection to please everyone. You are panic stricken because you do not know the first thing about picking a good bottle of wine out. Your experience has been limited to the wine section at Trader Joe’s. It’s ok, you can relax because most restaurants wouldn’t intentionally sell bad wine. They hire experts that know how to structure wine lists so that it complements the cuisine and your palette. Successful business people should be able to identify value; and the wine list is no exception. We’ll give you some tips that can help you be on par with the sommeliers.
- Higher price doesn’t always mean better quality
If you aren’t picking up the tab, you want to be cognizant of how much to spend. Don’t go straight for the Cristal or the Dom Perignon. Wine prices are dependent on various factors such as age, location, production method, inventory, etc. Just because one bottle is priced at $200 and one priced at $50 doesn’t mean that one is better than the other. Wine is also very subjected. One person may like one varietal and the other hates it. Staying in the middle of the road is always a safe bet.
- Get out of your comfort zone.
Those wines that you see at Harris Teeter or Trader Joe’s won’t impress any one. It is very likely that everyone knows what those are and what they cost retail. This may cause more outrage than ovation. Focus more on the region the wine is grown in and the vintage. A good tasting wine that is unfamiliar will more likely impress your colleagues.
- Know your wine regions
Specific regions are known for producing some good varietals. If someone at the table loves Pinot Noirs, find Pinot Noirs grown in regions known for great Pinot Noirs such as Burgundy, Willamette Valley, Sonoma Valley, Napa Valley etc. Learn where some of the world’s best varietals are grown and use that as a roadmap to selecting a particular grape someone likes. You can’t go wrong with a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or a Napa Valley Cabernet.
- Ask questions
It doesn’t hurt to ask what everyone’s preference in wine is. Anyone can pick based on preference but if you try to match the wine to what everyone is having for dinner that will be even more impressive. General rule for pairing wine is that you want to start with lighter wines and move towards heavier ones as the meal progresses. Fish and chicken pairs well with white. Red meat pairs well with red wine. These rules are also meant to be bent a little bit. If there are people at the table getting steak and fish but you want everyone to be drinking the same wine then try getting a lighter red wine such as a Pinot Noir. Pinot Noirs have less tannins and will not clash with fish as much. Higher tannin red wines will leave a metallic taste in fish.
- When in doubt, call in the experts.
If you have the luxury of calling in a sommelier to assist, feel free. That is what they are there for. Good business professionals know when to delegate and now is a fitting time. But you don’t want to completely show all your cards and make everyone realize you are throwing a dart while blindfolded. Once you decide a suitable price range, choose an interesting wine around that price and ask the sommelier, “This wine is piquing my interest. What are your thoughts on this wine or is there something else you would recommend?”, while pointing at the price, not the wine. Sommeliers are used to this and will understand how to engage.
The worst thing you can do is act like you are an expert. You don’t have to be ashamed to admit to the table that you are not an expert and would rather pass the honors to someone who would know better. Typically, there will be that one individual at the table that can’t wait to show off what they learned from the documentary “Somm”. Allow them to do the honors and enjoy the wine.