Dinner meetings paired with good wine have long been a standard of executing the arts of business. History is full of examples! The "Dinner Table Bargain" of 1790 where Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton agreed on the site of the nation's capital over several bottles of Jefferson's finest wine. Not only that, the Ancient Romans and Greeks rarely held a business or government meeting without wine!
Understanding wine during a dinner meeting (without looking like a snob) is a great way to establish a good rapport for yourself and build trust. It may sound silly but it's true! It's a skill that often eludes many people so when properly shown off, can be a huge benefit to your position at the table.
So with that, here are 5 basic - yet still very important - ways to look like a wine pro at your next dinner meeting:
1. Start With Bubbles Then Move from Light to Heavy
Although Sparkling Wine or Champagne (also known as "bubbles") are commonly selected as a celebratory drink after dinner, try choosing it as a starter. The complexity of sparkling wine somewhat "supercharges" your senses and taste receptors making your future wine experience even better.
From there, start light - probably with a white wine (Chardonnay) or light-bodied red (Pinot Noir) - and make your way to the heavier wines. This practice goes well with the progression of your meal as typically you begin with light courses (appetizers, salads and soups) that pairs well with light-bodied wines. From there, move to heavier wines - such as aCabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel or Cabernet Franc. Medium to heavy-bodied wines typically go really well with the main dish. Wrap up dinner with a nice dessert wine, sherry or port.
2. Make Menu Maneuvering Easier By Understanding Wine Appellations and Regions
Wine list maneuvering can be a difficult task - sometimes a very difficult task. There are upwards of 1,300 types of wine in the world so memorizing all of them helps but would obviously require a lot of time. Don't sit there at your meeting, with your glasses on, trying to pronounce the wines from France or asking about the house wine. Try getting a deal signed or a promotion after pronouncing Merlot, Mur-lott. It's happened before, and it isn't pretty.
An easy way to navigate through a list and understand what may fit your meal is to have a basic understanding of wine regions and their most common varietals.
For example, the wine region of Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey is a cool, coastal part of California which has some fantastic Pinot Noirs. Or Rutherford in the Napa Valley is known for having some of the best Cabernet Sauvignons in the world therefore could be great wine to show off to your boss.
See how easy that was? And I only know the basics! By understanding wine regions their most notable varietals, you won't even need to taste the wine because everyone will be so impressed with you.
3. Understand the Basics to Pairing Wine with Food
Picking out the wine for your boss is a great way to show him/her your stuff but if you really want to blow the table away, pair wine with your food. Pairing wine and food can be one of the most magical, delicious experiences of your life - if done properly.
Below is a simple list of wines with some solid food pairings:
[Bubbles] Sparkling Wine: Bread, all starters, any kind of cheese
[Light] Pinot Noir: Fruit salad, chicken, BBQ
[Light] Chardonnay: Seafood, Crab, Lobster
[Medium] Sangiovese: Chicken, pork, roasted vegetables
[Heavy] Cabernet Sauvignon: Steak, asiago or havarti cheese, all red meats
[Heaviest] Port: Dessert, Crème brûlée, pie
4. Learn How To Read a Wine Label
You can find most of the important traits of your wine on the bottle's label. However, understand that some of it is important and some of it is just smoke and mirrors. When the waiter brings out the wine that you ordered and presents the bottle, don't give it a blank, confused look. Know the 5 basics of a wine label:
Producer: Who made the wine
Vintage: Year the grapes were harvested (not bottled or barreled)
Region: Where the grapes grew
Variety: Type of wine (Pinot Noirt, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio, etc.)
ABV: Alcohol By Volume (typically 13-15%)
5. Know What You're Smelling and Tasting Without Looking Too Much Like a Snob
We've all seen them before...those dinner partners that stick their nose 2 centimeters from the surface of their wine glass and inhale to a point where it looks like they're attempting to suck the liquid in through their nostrils. Huge intakes of breath and slurping is in no way a sign that you are a pro with wine and in many ways counterproductive.
When the waiter brings out your bottle of wine to taste, all eyes will undoubtedly be on you. The conversation will stop and people will look at you as if you're the emperor choosing life or death. There is a lot going on with wine so make sure you have a simple checklist of items that you're looking for.
Here is a really brief step-by-step checklist of items to note:
(Eyes) Color: Not only is it red or white of course but check for the intensity of the color. Bright indicates a young wine where browning on the edges indicates it's a little older.
(Nose) Aromas: Is it fruity or does it have any mineral taste (you'll get the hang of it). If it smells like wet cardboard (seriously) then it's corked or bad so send it back with the waiter.
(Tongue) Taste: Is it sweet or acidic? What's the tannin structure like?
(Mouth) Finish: Is the taste lasting or short - meaning does the deliciousness hang around or sneak out the back exit? If it's a long lasting sensation then you don't need me to tell you it's good.
BONUS TIP: Start Drinking More Wine and Keeping a Journal
Wine is in no way, shape or form, easy to grasp. There very knowledge of wine is so elusive that less than 1% of the world can say they are actually "wine experts." However, as noted before, by learning the basics, you will be a few steps ahead of most people. The best way to learn is to experience. Start drinking more wine throughout the week and keeping a journal of what you are seeing, smelling, tasting and experiencing. This is an incredible practice that will certainly help you look like a stud at your next dinner meeting.
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