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  • Writer's pictureDr. Clinton Lee

The Etiquette of Ordering Wine at a Business Meeting , Especially When You Don’t Know How to Order Wine.

Selecting a bottle of wine can be as joyful and bright as the first days of Spring or equally as cold and chilly as the first gusts of Winter. Wherever we are in the world this ritual, of ordering a bottle of wine for others at a restaurant or buying a bottle of wine for home is a constant, day in and day out. Notwithstanding, those that do not drink any alcohol for whatever reason, it does not prevent you from appreciating the art and etiquette of knowing the finer machinations of how others order a bottle of wine. 





The Fear of Ordering Wine

There are many that would rather be subjected to the tortuous and physical toil of manual work than be responsible for ordering a wine at a meal, whether it be lunch or dinner. Their lips become parched not because of that desire for what many call the “nectar of the Gods.” It is brought upon, more by pure simple fear, gripping your entrails and suffocating your logic. Your sensitivities about being embarrassed are heightened and you wish you were not going to be the sacrificial lamb and become the butt of many a joke because of your alleged ineptitude to one of the basics in life, knowing how to select a bottle of wine at a meal with others. 

You may be given the honour or sentence, depending on your perspective of ordering wine for the table. It could be at a business networking event (read more about networking etiquette here), social or celebratory occasion and knowing what to order and why, should not be considered beyond the realm of many of you reading this piece.


How to Approach Ordering Wine

Your skeletal framework will be to scan the wine list. It will be divided into either grape varietal, country, or wine styles. This will make it easier to differentiate and navigate through the endless sea of wine choices.


Know the setting, is it for business or not, and if you are the host ask your guest if they prefer a particular wine style or grape. It is highly recommended to select your wine, then decide upon your meal. Often times, when ordering your meal first, there may be a possibility there is no suitable wine available on the wine menu to pair. It is easier to select your wine then your meal after, as it is easier to pair food to wine than wine to food.

Let us use, as an example, red Italian wine from Tuscany, Chianti Classico. A superb wine from Italy made from the Sangiovese grape and a signature wine Italians are proud to flutter the flag of wine excellence. Italian wines have a lovely higher than average level of acidity in their wines compared to others and this is a huge advantage when pairing with food. Chianti can pair with many styles and types of food. Now if you chose a lamb dish and there was no wine to pair with, that would be awkward.


What is your guest’s level of wine knowledge? 

The next stage is to understand the level of wine sophistication your guest possesses. Wine knowledge is a true art and form of etiquette. Try to match the simplicity or complexity of the wine with the level of wine sophistication your guest has. It would be, to be brutally honest, not wise to offer rare wines or expensive complex wines to the uninitiated wine drinkers as this would be a shameful waste. Not because they are not worth it, but their palate has not reached the levels where they can deeply appreciate the finer nuances of a superb wine. A simple wine will do the same and they would be most appreciative. 

Another step to reinforce your choice is to ask the restaurant wine steward or sommelier their thoughts or suggestions. They won’t embarrass you, so don’t be intimidated, they relish sharing their knowledge. 


After having decided on the wine, leave the rest to the wine staff to undergo the perfunctory method of wine serving and tasting to your guests and yourself. The ordering is done and now you can relax. 


Casual Vs Business Setting

If the setting is casual, you can do little or no harm by ordering a wine that may not be wholly wonderful, but at least acceptable. Don’t worry your charming self will resuscitate your bruised ego. In a formal business setting, do follow the steps recommended and you should be fine. You may not be perfect, that comes with practise, but you are on the right path to enjoying not only a fruitful business outcome, but also it reinforces splendid memories of how the ordering went wildly wrong or decidedly perfect. The wine will be the great leveller in all circumstances. 


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