The thing about ordering wine at a business meal, lunch or dinner, is fraught with all sorts of traps. If you order the least expensive wine, you come across as cheap. If you order the most expensive wine, you risk coming across as like a bit of a bollocks.
One evening in Manhattan, a group of Indian media executives, one in particular – whose identity will be guessed by any senior Indian media person – was about to meet Rupert Murdoch and his son for a drink. The Indian media manager who clearly thought very highly of his own refinement, ordered one of the more expensive wines and went through the motions of inflicting upon the sommelier, his senses of taste, smell and sight.
A little while later, the Murdochs arrived. To the Indian execs discomfiture, they ordered a glass of the house red. That this anecdote prevails after so many years, is telling.
Ordering wine at a business meal always inspires such classist lore.
So many of us have been host at a business – or otherwise important – dinner and we have been handed the the wine list. Now what?
Here are some simple answers. These are not from etiquette gurus as much as they are from business meal survivors. These are designed to make you not embarrass yourself in an important setting.
Ask the sommelier: She or he is the expert. No one expects you to know more than the sommelier does. If you’re a good businessman , you probably know how to delegate decision making. And if you don’t want to exceed your budget, let the sommelier know subtly. Point at the price of a wine (rather than at the name) and tell the som something like, “I’m thinking this is a good choice. Or do you have another you would suggest?” Sommeliers will understand and play along.
Plan ahead: Consider calling the restaurant ahead or looking them up online if you find a wine list. Restaurants are usually quite delighted to discuss the latest additions to their wine cellar. Besides, they ought to know what goes well with their cuisine.
Don’t pretend to study the wine list: The longer you take to figure out the wine list, the more your dinner companions will assume you don’t know your vino. No one who knows wine needs anything more than one hard look. Also don’t discuss the available wines if your familiarity with wines are the most popular ones. Don’t say, “I luuurrrvvv Shiraz, don’t you?” If you really want to splash out for something unusual that makes you look like you made an effort, avoid the stereotypical orders like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
The best advice of all: If you don’t know enough about wines, be woman enough to say so. Don’t fake it. There’s no shame in admitting a lack of knowledge of the subject. Don’t be shy to tell your guests that you enjoy wine but you are no expert. Ask if any of your guests can contribute. Chances are one of them is a bigger pretender than you are. And aren’t you glad you don’t have to play this silly game now…?
Some recommended, fairly expensive wines in India
Here are some upper end, read, expensive Indian wines. They have all received good reviews. (Prices mentioned are from publicly published sources and have not been verified.)
- Zampa Chêne Grande Reserve: A blend of Tempranillo and Syrah and aged for 15 months in oak. It evokes the taste of coffee and it has won international awards. Cost: about Rs 1700
- Zampa Insignia: A red wine from Grover. Insignia 2015 is said to be India’s most expensive wine at about Rs 5,000 a bottle.
- Charosa Reserve Tempranillo: Tempranillo grape is most suited to India’s hot climate. Cost: about Rs 1700
- Rasa Cabernet Sauvignon: Hand harvested from Dindori estate, aged in premium French oak barrels for over a year and matured in the bottle. Good for a special occasion. Only 500 cases of Rasa Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 were produced. Cost: about Rs 1700
- Fratelli Sette: A premium reserve from Fratelli. The 2011 vintage blends Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. Cost: about Rs 1800
How to taste wine – the four S’s
- See: Hold the glass to a white background, such as a napkin or table cloth. Its color and clarity should range purple to brick red. White wines, from lemon gold to golden amber.
- Swirl: Swirl the wine around your glass. This aerates it.
- Smell. Put your nose in the glass and take a deep breath. Older wines will smell more subtle than younger ones.
- Savour. Fill your mouth about half full and swish the wine around.
If you are in a restaurant, please don’t spit – the 5th S of wine tasting.