How do you feel when someone hands you the wine list at a client lunch? Can you separate your Sauvignon from your Sémillion? Can you quickly find the vintage (and the price) while the waiter breathes down your neck and your boss gives you the don’t-fuck-up-now eyes? In my book, wine should be drunk, not thought about. But to save the embarrassment of spending £600 on a bottle of red that tastes like vinegar, we’ve rounded up a quick guide that should help you keep your cool in the face of grape-related activity. This is your 5 minute guide to ordering wine like a pro:

1. Buying time

Approximately 10 seconds after handing you the wine list, the waiter will be back to ask if you’ve made your selection. At this point, you should look up, smile and say ‘You have such an interesting list. It’ll take me a few minutes to decide’. Not only will this buy you time but it will also show how knowledgeable and interesting you are.

2. Colour

Rose is usually out if it’s a business engagement so this helps to narrow your options down slightly. It’s also perfectly acceptable at this point, to ask your fellow diners if they prefer red or white. They’ll almost certainly say ‘whatever you want’ but hey, at least you asked.

In this event, a simple rule you can follow is: white for lunch, red for dinner. Red is slightly heavier, so choosing white for lunch will reduce the chance of your head landing in your meringue. Another good rule is to match with the restaurant: white with fish and chicken, red with steak and pie.

3. Menu

Now you’ve got your colour down, it’s time to navigate the menu. A wine list will usually be arranged either by type of wine, which really means type of grape (Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir etc.) or by region of where the grape is from (California, Italy, New Zealand). Most lists will also range from least to most expensive so you can grab a quick eyeful of the price. If there are no prices on the menu then just close your eyes and hope for the best- if you blow an entire month’s budget at least you would have had a nice drink.

4. Ordering

Remembering a hundred different varieties of grape and region can be exhausting. So here’s a quick six you should learn that will cover all eventualities and are available on most wine lists.


– Cabernet Sauvignon (fruity, dry) 

Pronunciation: ka BUR nay so vee NYON

Cabernet Sauvignon is made in various different regions throughout the world so the taste can really differ from one bottle to another, but fundamentally speaking, it’s a full-bodied red wine with dark, fruity flavours.

– Rioja (herbal, dry)

Pronunciation: ree OH hah

Probably one of the most popular wines ever to originate from Spain – Rioja is a ‘classic’ red wine and a good choice for lunchtime dining with trademark notes of Vanilla.

– Zinfandel (sweet)

Pronunciation: ZIN fun dell

Zinfandel is usually known for it’s ‘White Zinfandel’ rosé counterpart, but Red Zinfandel is also a good, sweeter red wine choice to accompany lunch, particularly if you’re having spicy food such as Asian or Indian.


– Sauvignon Blanc (dry, grassy flavour)

Pronunciation: so vee NYON blan

Sauvignon Blanc is a dry, white wine that’s extremely popular and often served as an aperitif at events – so the likelihood is, you’ve tried this once or twice already! Ideal as an accompaniment to chicken, fish or herby sauces.

– Chenin Blanc (medium, dry)

Pronunciation: shen-in BLONK

Chenin Blanc is a versatile wine that can be acidic and yet slightly sweet, so it’s a good pairing with most food and definitely a bit of a ‘people pleaser’.

– Muscat Blanc (sweet)

Pronounciation: moos CAHT blan

Muscat, most typically known as a dessert wine, is sweet tasting and a bit of an acquired taste. Only order this if one of your party specifically requests a sweet white wine. Often popular paired with Chinese food.

5. Drinking

If things dry up once the bottle’s open here are a few fun facts to help you regain some kudos:

– The colouring of red wine comes from the skin of the grape. This means that red grapes can also be used to make white wine, the juice of the grape is just gently pressed out so that the skins and seeds are left behind

– When the Sommelier hands you the wine to try this isn’t actually to determine if you like it or not – only to see if it has been ‘corked’, which basically means ‘gone bad’ throughout the storage process

– It was Monk communities in the middle ages who innovated the art of winemaking – we owe them so much

Beth Gladstone

Beth is a Writer and Digital Marketer who founded The Full Agenda as a place to talk about the things that kept her and her friends up at night. Currently working as a Marketing consultant to various SMEs she is a big fan of the startup market and loves technology, apps and anything social media related. When not obsessively checking Google Analytics, she can be found reading, writing or relaxing with a glass of Prosecco.

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