At one point or another in our careers, we will likely be faced with the responsibility of choosing a bottle of wine during a business meal. With everyone at the table waiting expectantly and the added pressure of being in a business setting, this task is potentially stressful. To help students learn about using wine in business, the Wine & Cuisine Society presented a Winesense seminar held on Monday March 27, along with a tasting of nine premium wines from around the world.
The seminar was hosted by Joshua Greene, editor and publisher of Wine & Spirits magazine. Greene kicked off the night by teaching participants the correct way to open a bottle of sparkling wine (tip: don’t shake the bottle!). Although you won’t be confronted with opening a bottle at a restaurant dinner, it is useful to be prepared for impromptu celebratory times.
For some practical tips to tasting wine, Greene suggested tilting glasses over a white tablecloth as opposed to holding the glass up to a light. This provides a neutral background with which to see more clearly the color, depth of color and clarity of the wine. Swirling the wine will increase the surface area exposed to air and allow more of the aroma to be released when you sniff. When you sip the wine, attention should be paid to the tactile sensations, structure and balance of the wine.
Finally, in a wine tasting setting, Greene emphasized the importance of spitting the wine out so as not to impair your critical ability to analyze further wines. In fact, he advised that not spitting after tasting wine in a vineyard cellar could expose you as a rookie and might lead to being overcharged for inferior wine.
Greene next shared some insider insight to wine-selling strategy. Although I always welcome the platters of cheese and crackers at wine tastings, Greene cautioned against pairing them with a wine when trying to assess taste accurately. A wine that tastes velvety in a store when sampled with cheese will often taste much harsher when opened at home and drunk alone. This is because the tannins in a wine bind with the cheese in your mouth, creating a false impression of smoothness. On the other hand, acidity from fruits such as slices of apple will help cleanse the palate in preparation for a brutally honest assessment of a wine. For success as a wine participant, just remember Greene’s rule of thumb: sell with cheese and buy with apple.
Moving on to wine etiquette in restaurants, Greene discussed the traditional wine “tasting” offered when you order a bottle of wine. Contrary to belief, the restaurant is not asking you to judge whether you like the wine you ordered; they are simply giving you an opportunity to determine if the wine has gone bad (“corked”). He strongly urged people not to send back wine when they simply do not like the taste. This is a guaranteed way to lose respect in the eyes of the restaurant and your business associates. However, a good restaurant should always take back wine that has spoiled. The only exception to this rule would be in the case of an old and expensive bottle – for example, 1947 Chateau Petrus. With a price tag of over $10,000 and the reputation of old wines being notoriously fickle, restaurants expect that someone who has ordered such a bottle will take a gamble on that wine along with the restaurant.
At the other end of the spectrum, Greene encouraged students not to ignore the cheapest and second-cheapest bottles of wine on a restaurant’s list. In assembling a wine list, sommeliers often attempt to source bottles that are unfamiliar to the general public. This allows them the opportunity to offer a unique opportunity to patrons but also gives sommeliers a position of power. Psychologically, people associate more expensive wine with better quality, but Greene suggested talking to the sommelier about cheaper bottles, as this is often where interesting hidden gems can be discovered.
As the evening wound down, nine pours of wine (without spitting) were jumbled in my mind with the various wine tips I had heard that night. However, Greene closed with one final piece of wine wisdom to help keep things in perspective: with wine, you don’t need to like what everyone else likes because there is no real right or wrong – what you personally like is always right. Cheers!