I've worked in my share of restaurants where countless times you'll see a large group, mostly business diners, seated and presented a wine list. If they aren't wise, they will hand the list to an individual (it should always be place in the center of the table), and it almost always ends up in the hands of a man. Though it doesn't really mesh with current civil rights standards, it is unfortunately very normal and customary. Now ladies- this is only one of many reasons why you should empower yourselves with wine knowledge and snatch that menu out of the hands of men!
Being able to order wine for a table can be construed as a courtesy, but it also demonstrates knowledge, position and power. First off, you can display your knowledge of wine and impress your coworkers. Secondly, you can show that you either deserve your current position or a better one because you can take charge. Lastly, you can empower yourself, dissolve stereotypes, and order the wine that your group will enjoy. Now let's get to some things you should know before you grab that list:
- Have basic wine knowledge. No one is saying you should know if Chateau Leoville-Barton is better than Chateau Pouget or the difference in vintages of Batard-Montrachet, but you should know the difference between Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. Know that you basically start with a sparkling wine with appetizers, whites with many soups and salads, and a deep red if everyone is going with steak.
- Order enough. Every "regular" wine bottle contains 750 ml- good enough for 5-6 people to get about one glass. If your table is larger than 6, you have a couple options: order more than one bottle or go large. Many restaurants carry bottles in larger formats (1.5 liters or more) which are perfect for large groups and cost less than purchasing two regular bottles.
- Navigation. Generally, wine lists are structured the same in regards to bottle selection. They normally start with sparkling and white wines and then move onto reds. These can then be subdivided by country (France, Italy, Australia), region (Burgundy, Tuscany, Napa), varietal (Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot), or style (dry whites, fruity reds, full bodied). Get your basic knowledge areas in all of these and you can navigate any list.
- Ask for help. Even the biggest wine afficionado asks for recommendations from their server or sommelier. Make sure to give them as much info as possible: what you like, how much you prefer to spend, and what everyone plans on ordering. Never hesitate to ask questions- it's your experience and your money (or your company's) so make sure you're getting what you want! Also, remember that the wait staff works with the list daily and the sommelier tastes and orders all the wine- trust that they know what they're doing!
- Find value. If you're worried about overpaying for wine, you are in the wrong place. Restaurants typically markup their wine 2.5 to 4.5 times the wholesale price in Chicago. Knowing that, you have to pick the wines that are priced best wholesale. These are typically off-varietals (Carignan, Pinot Gris, Zinfandel), off -regions (Rogue Valley, Sicily, Montsant), or value countries/continents (South America, South Africa, Spain). You'll not only find good wines but good prices as well.
So start studying ladies! Grab your Wine 101 books, surf the web (windycitywineguy.com!) and research. Get that basic knowledge, take charge at the dinner table and at the workplace!
(image courtesy of flickr)