Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
Entertaining clients can be tedious.
Everyone knows why they're really there. Everyone knows it's all about becoming friendly in order to do business. And everyone knows that the person organizing the dinner really wants something.
That something is, quite often, money.
Still, if you're the one trying to impress, it's best not to try too hard. Or, more accurately, to be seen to be trying too hard.
Your choice of restaurant will say something. Your choice of wines will say something too. It's worth, though, considering what sort of wines might truly impress.
If you choose to order something vastly expensive and a touch pretentious, your client will be wondering how you can afford it and whether this is all a little much.
Instead, consider choosing wines that might not be so well-known, but that, when opened, create a pleasing surprise.
In my occasional Alcohol By Volume series, I suggest wines that aren't just interesting after a sip and a spit, but maintain their joy for a whole glass.
So many expert tasters want you to believe they can just sniff and sip in order to tell you whether a wine is any good.
Not being any sort of expert, I prefer to suggest wines that are worth experiencing a little more deeply.
In my role as Wine Ambassador for Napa's Honig Winery, I have the opportunity to taste quite a few wines throughout the year. Sometimes, a taste or two in a tasting room doesn't translate to a bottle shared with friends and joy.
At other times, however, a wine that tastes promising on a sip truly blooms when you have a little more. Ergo, here are five not terribly famous wines that have served me well when sharing a bottle with others. Bring them to a restaurant, be happy to pay the corkage, then sit back and see if your clients are struck by your surprisingly good, but idiosyncratic taste.
Moreover, I understand your need for cost control. You should be able to get all these wines for $35 a bottle or less.
1. Pinhel Grande Escolha Síria 2018.
I've come to think some wines are just happy. You begin to drink them and they dance around your mouth and suggest fine spring days. When Marco Silva, owner of Lisbon's brilliantly modest Raízes restaurant in Lisbon, offered me a glass of Pinhel Grande Escolha Síria, I wondered what he was talking about. Yet here was a Portuguese wine -- the grape is sometimes known as Roupeiro -- that performed a Morris Dance to Hip-Hop music in my mouth. When your clients express pleasure in drinking it, sit back and whisper: "Síria is the name."
2. Buena Vista Count's Selection Valdiguié 2017.
This Sonoma winery is something of a tourist destination. It claims to be California's First Premium Winery. Drift past the marketing, however, and you'll find this delightful bottle, made from a grape rarely seen. There isn't too much Valdiguié around in California. Some of those who once had it preferred to rip it up in favor of planting Cabernet Sauvignon. There's more money in that. This Buena Vista Count's Selection Valdiguié, however, pretends to be serious, yet presents itself inside your mouth with a surprising originality. Don't try and impress your clients with a history of the grape. Instead, just know how to pronounce it when your happy clients ask. "Val-Digg-i-ay."
3. Jeriko Upper Russian River Pinot Noir 2016.
Honestly, how many times have you ever had a wine from Hopland? How many of your clients have even heard of Hopland? It's a very small town to the north of Sonoma and Healdsburg. It's a town that enjoys two wineries owned by two brothers -- from the Fetzer winemaking family -- next door to each other. There's Saracina, which makes entertainingly modern wines. There's also Jeriko, which makes this seemingly simple but often uplifting Pinot Noir. Don't try and enlighten your clients as to the nuances of this wine's Brix at Harvest or its Organic Certification. When they smile at your choice of wine, just look them in the eyes and say: "Yeah, Hopland."
4. Girard North Coast Petit Verdot 2016.
Your clients will have drunk Petit Verdot before. Well, a few percent of it in a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. It's much rarer, however, to find a whole bottle -- a whole bottle that doesn't overpower your mouth like a berry with a severe japaleño inside. I shared a bottle of this Girard with more than one person and an extremely pleasant chicken dish. There was no friction, other than when one of my dining companions expressed the idea that technology was always a force for good. When your client expresses an entire lack of friction between themselves and this wine, it's as well to reply: "I was surprised too."
5. Delinquente Bullet Dodger Montepulciano 2018.
No, seriously. Wouldn't you want to try a Montepulciano called The Bullet Dodger? Wouldn't you want to try it even more when I tell you it's from Australia? (Of course it is.) Well, this oddly delightful red certainly isn't coarse, is mightily light and provides the sort of happy surprise that may just make dinner go swimmingly. The Bullet Dodger first came before my eyes at a fancy -- but not snooty -- Miami restaurant called Alter. There, it was $14 a glass. I subsequently ordered several bottles online at $20 each. When your client nods appreciatively in your direction, please feel free to observe: "Australia. Who'd have thunk it?"