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5 Tips for Ordering Wine at a Business Meal

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A colleague of mine just sent me a news story about a man who ordered what he thought was a $37.50 bottle of wine, but, unfortunately for him, the cost of the wine was $3,750.  Big difference! 

A few days later, that story was included in an article on MarketWatch, a website for business and finance news, about five wine-related blunders that turned out to be very costly. Here are some guidelines for ordering wine so you don’t end up on that list: 

1. Learn about wine. You will make a better choice, whether as host or guest, if you know something about the product. There are many books and websites with lots of information about wine. You can take a class at an adult-education school or wine store.  Visits to wineries also can be helpful. The general guideline is that white wine is served with fish and poultry and red wine with meat, but there are numerous exceptions. 

2. If you are the host, you are in charge of the wine selection. As mentioned above, knowing a little about wine will make your decision easier. You can ask the wine steward, or sommelier, to recommend some wines. Most of them are very knowledgeable and will be happy to pair your food choices with wine. Just make sure you are clear about the price! 

Participating in the wine-tasting process is also part of the host’s responsibility. The wine steward will present the bottle’s label for your review and then pour a small amount of wine into your glass. You should taste the wine and (usually) nod approval. Send wine back only if it is spoiled. Do not send the wine back because you do not like the taste. (The five wine-tasting steps are explained through my acronym LaCEST™, and can be found in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success.) 

3. Check the wine list ahead of time. Many restaurants post their wine lists on their websites. Pick a few bottles and research those. Though not all restaurants have prices on their website wine list, your research will give you a general idea of the price range for a wine. Keep in mind, however, that restaurants mark up the price.

4. Know your budget. Have a general idea about what you want to spend before you go to the restaurant. There are many good, reasonably priced wines to be found. Look for wine that you have enjoyed before.  And remember that the most expensive bottle on the list is not always the best.  If you are celebrating a big occasion, or your guest loves a certain wine, you may choose to increase your budget.  You can give the sommelier your price range by pointing at a price – not a wine – and saying something like, “I was looking for something like this.”

5. Be cautious if you defer to your guest. He or she may order a bottle outside of your budget. Some salespeople have reported that when they have deferred to their guests, those guests sometimes ordered very expensive bottles of wine. But that’s not always a bad thing. One director told me, “My client just gave me two million dollars’ worth of business, so he can order whatever he likes!”

Regardless of the wine chosen, or whether you are the host or the guest, do not drink too much. You need to stay sober. It is easy to blunder when your faculties are impaired by alcohol. 

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