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Wineocracy 101

Wine etiquette practices and sommeliers are becoming less common; however it is important to know your wine when you go to a business dinner.  We, of all people, know how each action we make can leave an impression on an employer.  The ability to understand wine and use it appropriately at dinner can be the difference in your title a few years down the road. 

An important point to remember:  usually the person who grabs the wine menu is the person paying for dinner.  If the boss hands you the list and asks for your help in selecting the wine, that’s fine, but do not be the first to grab the wine list unless you are the high roller planning to pay.

If someone hands you the wine list and asks you to choose, don’t freak out! I am going to give you a few tips to get you through it and make you look like you actually know what you are doing.  First of all the basic wine categories you should know:

  1. Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris are easy drinking whites
  2. Riesling is a food friendly white
  3. Beaujolais for light drinking red
  4. Pinot Noir for food friendly red
  5. Tempranillo or Cotes du Rhone for smooth, middle reds


If there quite a few people at the table, and you do not know preferences, select both a red and white wine for the table.   So, here is where selection of the wine occurs.  You have been asked to pick a wine and the list has just been handed to you.  Move fast.  Do not fumble with the list.  It will be extremely obvious that you do not know a lot about wine (and people in positions of power are expected to know about good wines).  Skip wines that are familiar. No one will be impressed if you pick a basic Yellow Tail at a ridiculous restaurant price (If you are a fan of white, It is hard to go wrong with a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand).  Lastly, if there is a sommelier, ask for their help.  Do not ask them what to order, but perhaps point to wine that you might be interested in and ask for similar suggestions or something else you might enjoy.  They are well-versed in helping guests pick a good wine for the type of food they will be eating.  Additionally, if price is your concern, when talking to the sommelier, identify a wine by the price by placing your finger on the price instead of the name.  This will let the sommelier know what price range you are looking for without informing the table.  They recognize this gesture, so no worries, they will understand you have a budget.  

If you still do not feel comfortable about ordering wine, perhaps pass along the task to another individual at the table.  Chances are someone is dying to take a look at the list and show off their knowledge of wine. Say something like, “I enjoy a glass of wine, but I would not consider myself an expert.  Perhaps one of you has a better taste for wine than myself.  Would you like to order the wine?”

If you do decide to order the wine, here’s what will happen.  The server will bring the bottle and present it to you.  All you have to do is look at the label and ensure it is the name and year you ordered.  Just nod.  The server will then remove the cork and set it in front of you.  Examine the cork briefly.  Make sure it is not dry or completely wet.  If the cork seems normal , the server will pour a small amount of wine into your glass.  Swirl it, take a deep breath of the wine, and then take a sip and roll it around in your mouth before you swallow.  If there are no flaws, nod.  And then the server will pour for the table.  Flaws you might encounter include:

  • A wine is said to be “corked” if it smells like wet cardboard or a musty basement. If you find that the wine has this smell, the cork has been tainted.
  • If the wine tastes or smells like vinegar it may have oxidized.
  • Yeast from the grapes used in the winemaking process infiltrates the wine. If it has, your wine may smell like decay.
  • If your wine is brown or smells like it has been cooked, it may have been exposed to too much heat at some point. The cork may also be pushed up a little in a bottle that has received too much heat.

If it is not flawed, and you simply do not like taste, DO NOT SEND IT BACK.  Drink it anyway.  It is a common courtesy since the bottle was already selected.

You all know this, but not to go overboard drinking at dinner.  When you are trying to make a good impression you want to be on your game.  It is not polite not to drink the wine, but a good rule of thumb is to only drink one glass, and slowly.  Sometimes, a boss will continue ordering bottles of wine and it is expected of you to continue drinking with the rest of the party.  In that case, perhaps stick to one glass an hour. 

 -Megan Frank


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This entry was posted on March 18, 2012 by .
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