Picking the right bottle of wine at a business lunch or dinner has become almost as stressful as buying the appropriate anniversary gift for your partner.
Especially if you are on a budget. That makes spending $4,000 on a bottle of the 1982 Petrus most likely out of the question.
But wine lists are as getting so big these days that if you dropped one on your foot you'd break your toe. Not to mention people's tastes are ever-changing and, well, you need to close this deal.
So do some homework. Most restaurants have their wine lists online. Study it before you go. Then you have the opportunity to look up the wines online and see what will work with your budget.
But if you are like most of us and barely have the time to read your children’s homework, never mind a wine list, then you have to just go for it when you get to the restaurant.
So what do you do?
Take a deep breath and order a round of cocktails or a bottle of bubbly to buy yourself some time. Now your guests have something to drink while you dissect the wine list.
Then here are three simple things to consider:
1. Avoid the easy way out.
“Stay away from favorite varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay,” says Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen, a.k.a. the World Wine Guys , who are wine, spirits, food and travel writers. Too many people know the prices of those wines these days and many of those bottles -- like Caymus, Silver Oak, and Cakebread -- have big markups on wine lists because they are crowd pleasers.
2. Be brave and go for the unknown.
That means stay away from regions like California, Bordeaux or Burgundy.
If you need to stay in Europe, there are tons of delicious affordable whites like German Rieslings, Spanish Albarinos, and Italian Pinot Grigios, says Alyssa Rapp, founder and CEO of Bottlenotes, an interactive media company in the U.S. wine and craft beer industries.
And if you need a red, Spanish Tempranillos are inexpensive and consistently impress as well, says Rapp.
But there's no need to stay in Europe. Almost every corner of the Earth is producing wine these days – from South Africa to Bulgaria to even Virginia here at home.
So spin the globe in your head and just pick a wine in your price range. If its something no one has had, it is easier to taste and critique it together. Then it becomes conversational and there are no expectations.
3. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
"If you’re not looking to channel Portuguese world explorer Vasco da Gama, (Portugal makes some great wines, by the way), then use your sommelier,” says Jessica Certo, wine director at Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse. This is what they are paid to do.
Certo always suggests you hold the wine list in front of your sommelier and discreetly point to a price. Say that you are looking to stay in that particular range.
The sommelier will immediately understand and then all you have to do is be open-minded and leave it to her. Certo loves it when people say, “This is my budget bring me something I never had.”
Then the wine tasting becomes fun and adventurous. It becomes part of the discussion, and could arguably be translated into the way you do business.
Even better, your guests will have learned something knew...and may even walk away with a new go-to wine that consistently reminds them of their dinner with you.
The added bonus will be that the wine is a respectable price point.
So the further you stay away from the predictable wines on the list, the more room you have to find a great, inexpensive bottle that your guests will love.
That’s all good business.