Would steakhouses exist if people in sales weren’t entertaining prospects, then sending the bill to their company?
Pharmaceutical companies entertain doctors and hospital administrators. Vendors entertain buyers. Lobbyists entertain politicians. Agents and advisors entertain prospects. Wholesalers entertain agents and advisors. If you are the one handing over your credit card, how can you keep the wine bill under control?
First, the Basics
Let’s assume the server at the steakhouse approaches the table with a wine list. Job No. 1 is to gain control of it. Why? Because people who aren’t paying tend to choose familiar names or wines they’ve always wanted to try, but deem too expensive for their personal budget.
Also, the choice of the first wine is important. If you are entertaining a group and the evening progresses, your server will ask: “Should I bring another bottle?” With a large group of thirsty people, you can go through multiple bottles. One bottle might have been expensive. Four bottles is geometrically expensive.
Next, assume there won’t be any duds on the list. Assume this wildly generalizing statement. All the cabernets will taste similar. Ditto the chardonnays.
Many people will opt for familiar names. The steakhouse expects it and prices the California Cabernets accordingly. As the host, you want to deliver a good experience without breaking the bank.
Two Approaches: The Sophisticate and the Valuist
You’ve got the wine list in your hands. You intuitively know where its design is directing you. In the following examples, one direction is the Sophisticate.
You are showing your knowledge of wine by choosing something great that costs less than the usual default selections. The second direction is the Valuist. (OK, I made that word up.) You are suggesting a wine that tastes great, at a fraction of the cost of the usual selections.
Let’s start with Cabernet. This red wine is well represented on steakhouse wine lists. They want you buying the Napa Valley California Cabernets. The clue is the three digits to the left of the decimal point in the price column. (Don’t forget tax and tip will add 25-30% to the cost.)
Sophisticate. Look for French selections. Red Bordeaux is what the Napa Cabs originally tried to copy. The famous names are expensive, but in a good vintage, a simple “Bordeaux,” even from an unknown chateau, should be fine. Mouton Cadet is a shipper wine, which shouldn’t disappoint. A red wine reading “Medoc” or “Haut Medoc” should be fine.
Valuist: Chile and Argentina do a fine job. They should taste great. They are a great deal, relatively speaking.
Next, let’s consider Merlot. It’s softer and easy drinking. The wine list will have a lot, most likely from places in California like Sonoma.
Sophisticate: Back to France. Look for wines from the St. Emilion region of Bordeaux. They are primarily Merlot-based blends. They should be reasonably priced, too.
Valuist: Back to Chile and Argentina. The folks who didn’t disappoint in the Cabernet category come through with Merlot too.
Hitting all the greats, Pinot Noir is next. You’ll see some on the wine list from California locations like Carneros, Anderson Valley and Russian River Valley.
Sophisticate: Burgundy, France, is the spiritual home of Pinot Noir. Broadly speaking, it’s the only permitted red grape variety. Anything from Burgundy should be fine.