Did you know there are roughly 1,300 different grape varietals that are used for commercial wine production today? Wine is made in all 50 states, and on almost every continent. Some grapes are clones of one another, while others have different names in different places. A syrah grape in the Rhone region of France is genetically the same as the shiraz grown in Australia’s Barossa Valley, although the wines will be nothing at all alike due to differences in climate and winemaking techniques. Better restaurants may have as many as 10,000 bottles in their wine cellar. If this all sounds a little overwhelming to you, don’t worry. Simply follow these three tips and you will be successful in planning wine services for your next meeting or event.
1. Always Plan Ahead
The food is often one of the first things planned, but the same attention needs to be paid to the wine service. The best way to avoid a time consuming and potentially awkward interaction at the restaurant is to order the wine ahead of time. This will help you skip reviewing the list, asking questions and waiting-all while your guests have nothing to drink! Instead, as your guests arrive, the servers will only need to ask whether they’d care for "red or white this evening?" It is generally best to select at least one of each from the list, but in some cases you may want to offer more choices. A great approach is to pick both lighter and fuller bodied styles. If it is going to be a celebratory occasion, you may want to consider ordering a sparkling wine as well. Everyone loves bubbles! Ordering ahead allows the staff to better prepare for your group’s arrival and makes for much smoother service. As a restaurant professional, I can’t tell you how often meeting planners overlook this simple step.
2. Ask Someone Who Knows
Many finer dining restaurants employ a sommelier. This is a member of the staff who has had to pass rigorous testing in order to become certified as a wine expert. They will be extremely knowledgeable and able to make suggestions about pairing wine in your price range with the food that is being served. At the very least, if there is not a sommelier, you should be able to speak to a manager in charge of the restaurant’s beverage program. Someone took the time to put the wine list together, and should therefore know a little something about the various offerings. Be upfront with whomever you speak to in regards to budget. Wine can be expensive. If you have a set limit that you’re allowed to spend, you will be better served by ordering less pricey wines. Nothing is worse than having to tell a guest that they can’t drink anymore because you can’t afford to buy another bottle of whatever they were having.
Aside from being one of my favorite rock bands of all time, KISS is a great way of remembering to Keep It Simple, Stupid. Have your ever heard of zweigelt? How about gewürztraminer, or Vouvray? Trockenbeerenauslese? Yes, those are all actual wines. And no, you and your guests have probably never heard of them. Keep it simple when ordering for your group. Most have heard of cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, merlot, pinot grigio, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc. You should be able to find good examples of all six varietals in the $40-$75 range on just about any wine list in the country. These will be youthful and fruit forward, and will pair well with almost any type of food. If money is no object, or you have a few extra bucks left on that expense card, you can spend almost as much as you want on wine-the sky is truly the limit! I have seen people spend upwards of $10,000 on a few of their favorite bottles. Just keep in mind that whether you are an aficionado or not, the average person will not understand or appreciate the difference between a $9 bottle of mass-produced table wine versus a $2,500 Burgundy. Spending more is not necessarily going to make you look smarter. Again, keep it simple. Cheers!
David Robinson is a restaurant professional with 20 years of experience at some of Philadelphia’s top restaurants. He studied with The Court of Master Sommeliers and has served as a consultant for Allied Beverage Group in N.J. Robinson lives in Center City, Philadelphia. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or to hire him as a consultant for your next event.