How to Order Wine

This is one of the most important skills at any business dinner, so here's some advice from a true oenophile.
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Editor's note: Welcome to our weekly column on business etiquette. If you have a pressing question for Miss Conduct, please send her an email.

You're at a business dinner. It's the end of the day, you're tired, thirsty and hungry, and the first thing the waiter asks you is what you'd like to drink.

You're still on the clock, technically, so your actions here are considered part of your job performance. You would like a glass of wine, but how exactly should you order it in this situation?

The short answer is sparingly, appropriately and indulgently.

Sound like a contradiction? It is. Welcome to the world of alcohol, a stimulant that's a depressant, a pick-me-up that'll run you down, a soporific and an agent of insomnia.

Drink Wine Sparingly

Miss Conduct's first rule of business-dinner behavior is that if you're the only one drinking, you shouldn't be. The fact that you're at a business dinner means it's most definitely not the end of your workday -- yet.

You need to stay sharp, so do not match your companions drink for drink.

However, do allow them to indulge because, as George Bernard Shaw once wrote, "That is the whole secret of successful fighting. Get your enemy at a disadvantage; and never, on any account, fight him on equal terms." Letting your opponent in negotiations booze it up is an easy way to play your strengths.

If you're drinking with an associate, you can have one glass (OK, maybe two). If you're drinking with an adversary, consider drinking only half what he or she does (up to that limit of one).

If you really want more wine, stave off any craving for more by drinking lots of water and promising yourself a glass of something flavorful later, on your own time.

Drink Wine Appropriately

Wine choice is easy, except when it's difficult.

The low-hanging fruit are the choices of wines for celebrations and cocktails: Champagne (which originates in that region in France and nowhere else), or a sparkling wine from any number of global regions, including our own American sparklers.

The appropriate wine at a cocktail hour is whatever you fancy, barring a sticky-sweet after-dinner drink.

The appropriate wine for a light meal or salad is light, of course -- usually a neutral white like a Sauvignon Blanc, a Chablis, even a Chardonnay or a very light rose.

Here's the tough part: The appropriate wine at a full meal is one that complements its flavors.

Unfortunately, pairing wines is an art that few master, although many pretend to.

Formerly fine wine lists were confined to a handful of French regions, but today they originate all over the globe, so the chances of knowing the wines on even an unadventurous list can be slim.

If you're familiar with the wines on offer at a business dinner, pair them intriguingly. The experts at suggest an Amarone with a Peking duck, whereas the more conservative makes recommendations like an old Brunello with Italian food and five-year-old Chilean Cabernet with grilled meats.

Just don't get too bold. Save adventurous pairings, like your favorite Montepulciano d'Abruzzo with pulled pork, for your close friends and real wine connoisseurs, if you dare.

If you don't know the wines on the list at a restaurant, however, it's never rude to ask (and you will end up looking foolish if you pretend).

Therefore, if your sommelier has suggestions, listen. Pros know the best pairings for the menu and are every bit as dedicated to excellence as you are to your bottom line.

And keep in mind that wines, like everything else, go through fads.

Miss Conduct is old enough to remember the cult of Chablis from her parents' generation. (Pity it's so rare on current wine lists, since it is a lovely pour.)

There were also wildly popular swings of the pendulum through Pouilly-Fuisse, Pouilly-Fume, White Zinfandel, Nouveau Beaujolais, Chardonnay, Merlot; now, Pinot Noir and Vigonier are in vogue. Miss Conduct wonders where it will all end -- probably with the "bold" return of Burgundy.

There are some diners under the false impression that ordering a rose automatically gains one a good wine, as they are more rare on restaurant wine lists and therefore bound to be chosen with greater care than the house reds and whites. In Miss Conduct's experience, nothing could be further from the truth. A fine restaurant will include a rose when it has menu items that will be best flattered by them -- ask your waiter or sommelier what they are if you fancy a rose.

Drink Wine Indulgently

Life is too short to drink bad wine, and since you won't be drinking much, drink well.

If you're ordering wine by the glass, go for the gusto and splurge an extra buck or two per glass. Miss Conduct is always of the opinion that a little bit of something delicious satisfies better than a lot of something less so.

Last but not least, leftover wine should be just that -- left at the table. Wine does not go in a doggy bag; it spills, and besides, it's not very good for your dog. Or, so Miss Conduct has read, never having experienced the phenomenon of leftover wine herself.

Read more of Miss Conduct's best advice at Her amanuensis, Lisa Moricoli Latham, is a freelance writer in Los Angeles, and has contibuted to The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and