Acing the wine list: seven steps to anxiety-free wine service.

Author:Ansbacher, Christine

Wine knowledge isn't just a social skill any more. It's a powerful tool for today's CEOs, providing leverage in business entertaining. The Wall Street Journal observed that "Wine at business meals is a skirmish in a boardroom war, played out on a linen table cloth. Your handling of wine, whether ordering it or just drinking it, matters more than you think to most clients. Sometimes people even see your comfort or expertise with wine not as a comment on your knowledge, but on your character." This is a bit strong, but clearly a minimal knowledge of wine is becoming as critical as knowing what fork to use.


These seven tips will help you feel more confident, authoritative and adventurous when confronted with a wine list. And if your guest is really into wine, your newfound wine expertise might just help you bond with this client, new business prospect or prospective merger partner. After all, as the maxim goes, "In business, you don't make a sale 'til you make a friend."

* Ask for help without seeming to do so. When given the wine list, immediately ask the server or sommelier, "Anything of special interest I should know about?" Or, "What have you tasted lately that is different and distinctive?" Using either phrase makes you sound like you know something about wine and are just fine-tuning your selection. It will also make the server your ally.

* Ferret out if your guest has an interest in wine or not. If he or she seems uninterested in the question you just asked, or the answer, you are probably entertaining someone with minimal knowledge about wine. But if your guest's ears perk up and your question elicits a comment like, "Oh, I prefer the whites of the Cote d'Or to a California Chardonnay," this provides a great way to start a conversation. You don't have to be an expert to talk about the subject; just expressing an interest can ignite a conversation that could morph into sharing memories of past vacations or favorite restaurants.

* Have a good spending strategy.

I subscribe to the "extra person at the table" policy--meaning that if the average price of an appetizer, entree and dessert is, say, $75, then $75 is a fair price to pay for the dinner wine. Remember that your wine-loving client doesn't think of wine as just a beverage, but another food choice. And never, ever, order the most expensive wine on the list. It indicates that you have more dollars than sense. Being willing to invest in quality is a good message...

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