Imagine sitting down to a business dinner with clients or colleagues you are trying to impress when, unexpectedly, someone hands you the wine list and asks you to make a selection. The list is 10 pages long, you haven’t heard of the majority of the wines, and prices range from $30 to nearly $1,000 per bottle. You are overwhelmed, you feel rushed, and, most importantly, you are afraid of embarrassing yourself by choosing poorly.
It is normal to feel pressured when choosing wine for a business dinner because your wine order can give many subtle cues about your business ability. Going straight for the most expensive bottle can give the impression that you are flashy or wasteful. Mulling over the wine list for 20 minutes makes you seem indecisive or unprepared. Even worse, ordering the house wine can make you seem cheap.
Fortunately, you can take a few simple steps and avoid such an awkward situation. Marjorie Speer of The Opici Wine Group recommends a little research before you arrive at the restaurant. “Some places will have their wine lists online,” she explains. Take a look at the list and then you can find reviews and see what people are saying about the wine. It won’t go unnoticed if you find an incredible value.
If there isn’t a wine list online, call the restaurant ahead of time and ask the sommelier to give you some recommendations that fit your budget. “It’s always a safe bet to talk to someone at the restaurant and get some ideas ahead of time,” Speer says. Sommeliers are accustomed to working within budgets, and discussing it ahead of time will allow you to freely talk about price in the absence of your associates. When you arrive at the restaurant, briefly scan the wine list and quickly order the wine before anyone starts ordering appetizers. This will give the impression that you are a confident decision maker.
A few other tips:
- Stay away from familiar supermarket brands. Many of your guests will be familiar with the much lower supermarket pricing, and you will have to endure comments about how much more expensive it is at the restaurant. You also will be penalized for sticking with mainstream wines.
- Don’t worry about trying to make exact wine and food pairings. Chances are that all of your guests will be ordering different food, making an exact pairing impossible. If you have enough people for two or three bottles, try to have both a red and white available.
- Don’t go too big. Choosing a bold California cabernet or an oaky chardonnay can overpower the flavors of lighter foods. Try and pick light- to medium-bodied wines like pinot noir, malbec, sangiovese, pinot gris, or sauvignon blanc. These wines tend to be more universally appealing and pair with the widest range of foods.
- If you still feel uncomfortable or unprepared, just ask the sommelier for a recommendation and point to a price range on the wine list. Speer states that in her experience, being intimidated is one of the biggest mistakes diners can make with a wine list. “It’s always better to ask if you don’t know how to pronounce a wine or you don’t recognize it,” she says. There is no shame in not being a wine expert, and your associates would appreciate honesty over trying to fake it.
Cale Flage is part owner/operator of Tipple’s Brews.