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Restaurant Savvy: Why the Wine Steward is Your Best Friend

By Aariana Adams

Wine Denise Mattox

Dining tonight means business. Your client, and perhaps your boss, will finalize the deal over dinner. Is it your job to order the wine or are you comfortable deferring to the client? If you must order but don’t know a Cabernet Sauvignon from a Sauvignon Blanc, the restaurant Wine Steward is your best friend. Here are a few suggestions to make the process as smooth as the finest Bordeaux:

Advance Preparation – Contact the Wine Steward, Manager or Owner:

• Stop-by the restaurant earlier in the day. Ask for the Wine Steward, Manager or owner. Reserve a table and request that the Wine Steward, or Manager, tend your table that evening. If your day is too busy, make it a day or two earlier, but telephone same day and late afternoon. Remind the Wine Steward of your earlier discussion, the time of your arrival and your seating arrangement.

• Discuss a Cabernet Sauvignon for a red wine choice, and a Chardonnay for the white. These two choices are considered “safe,” but for all the right reasons: They are usually food friendly and the world’s most famous red and white wines are made from these two grape varietals.

• Request premium producers known for excelling in Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay.

• Request a “quality” tier. Most premium producers have several quality tiers. The top tier may be designated “Private Reserve.” The second tier may be designated with a place, such as Napa Valley or Sonoma Valley. A third tier may have only a “California” designation. Tier names may differ from winery to winery but the Wine Steward will be familiar with the wine list. By requesting a quality tier, something above a” good” wine, you avoid the “blockbuster” that is floor-stacked in every wine shop in town. Your quality tier doesn’t have to be an expensive world-class wine but a “moderately” expensive price range may be just right.

• Discuss an elegant dessert wine or vintage port. Your guest may prefer an after-dinner drink such as Grand Marnier or Cognac, but have a dessert wine in mind.

At the table:

• Offer a cocktail, as well as wine, before dinner. If the choice is wine to start, an option is ordering wine by the glass before dinner, and a full bottle of your pre-arranged wine with dinner. This is the ideal way to transition from an appetizer and a white wine, to an entré and a red wine. It also gives each diner an “expectation” of a fine wine still yet to come.

• With the Wine Steward at tableside, ask the client if he/she prefers a particular varietal: perhaps, Merlot, Pinot Noir or Shiraz rather than Cabernet Sauvignon. The Wine Steward will be prepared with suggestions and this offers the guest some input without giving-up your opportunity to make the final decision.

The Wine Steward or owner is there to make you look good. Your client will acknowledge an evening of fine dining, excellent wine and great deal making.

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