I had the privilege of attending the Wine & Cuisine Society’s first wine tasting of the year, titled “Wine in Business”, led by William R. Tisherman, wine educator and editor for Wine Enthusiast and Beverage Media. Tish, as Tisherman prefers to be called, completed his undergrad at Harvard University with a degree in Psychology, quickly discovered his love of poetry, and went on to get his MFA in creative writing at American University. While there, he got an internship proofreading at a wine magazine and has been talking about tannins ever since.
Tish is a wonderful and lively speaker; he makes intimidating blends like Mertiage accessible, and is honest about wine culture. In the beginning of the seminar he admitted that “sometimes I find myself talking about wine and I’m like…I’m an asshole”. Which echoed the sentiment of the club member sitting next to me who confessed that he “joined Wine & Cuisine Society to go to fun events like this and talk pretentiously about wine”. The handout accompanying our wine literature and cheese plate suggested the same – “Six Ways to Wear a Scarf” – but as I read through the style tips and business dinner etiquette, it was clear that subtleties such as shined shoes and choosing an appropriate wine at a business dinner are what matter most when combining wine and business.
For instance, the guy across from you on the redline may not notice that your tie is the right width or that you know light white wines go with light foods (fish, chicken) and red/heavy wines go with heavy foods (steak, your mom’s meatloaf), but the right people will notice those things. The right people are the business folk you’re going to go to dinner with once you land that shiny new job out of HBS. The right people may even be your current classmates.
It’s important to remember that while wine is complicated at a certain level, it’s also pretty simple. Whether you’re a wine aficionado, a non-drinker, or dislike wine (the horror), there are several easy things to remember when dealing with and enjoying vino in a business setting (or any setting for that matter) that will make you look like you spent a semester studying in Bordeaux:
1.Swirl your wine. But do it on the table! Only professionals like Tish should attempt the free-standing swirl and risk splattering Merlot all over the place. Spinning the wine in the glass releases the wine’s bouquet, and inhaling deeply following the swirl allows you to experience the wine “on the nose”, alongside tasting it “on the palette”. This swirl/inhale maneuver will also help you pick up on the wines many “notes”.
2.Subtlety is king. As previously mentioned, your subtle stud earrings and your appropriately hemmed pencil skirt are subtle ways of saying that you are a Professional among professionals, and that you have the ability to impress via wine knowledge. When at a dinner or at a party, be sure to always say a more descriptive adjective when talking about the wine than the person sitting next to you. They say the wine has a “woody” note? Agree, and say, “Yes, French oak wood, I think.” Someone else thinks the Sauvignon Blanc is “fruity”? You think it’s “a tropical, probably citrus, fruit.”
3.Know what tannins are. Tannins are most commonly found in red wines and are what make your cheeks feel dry after taking a sip. The little pieces of sediment at the bottom of your glass that you can sometimes see are not dirt or pieces of cork – they’re tannins! Tannins come from the skins of the grapes and add structure to a wine. Says Tish, “the zing from tannins is what makes wine different from Snapple.”
4.Wine + food = yes. The tannin in wine goes away when you drink wine with food, transforming the meal into an orchestra instead of chamber music. Not sure what to pick if you’re the one ordering wine for the table? Cabernet Sauvignon is a fool-proof red to order at a steakhouse, and there is never anything wrong with holding up the menu, pointing to a price on the wine list and saying to the waiter, “I was thinking about something like this, is there anything you recommend?”
5.Know when to leave. If your teeth have turned purple, it’s probably time to start a smooth exit.
Tish presented four different wines from the Franciscan Estate in Napa Valley during our tasting, all red and all delicious. Franciscan wines are always a safe bet when ordering at a business dinner or purchasing for yourself – you don’t need to be safe in your selection, but you can always be sure with a Franciscan wine. Plus, Franciscan wine is made here in the U.S. (American-made wines have more alcohol) and as Tish informed us, “French wine is so 20th century.”