Turning the wine into, well, water

John Eisenhammer on why you need to beware of merchant bankers bearing decanters at City lunches
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The Independent Online
Waste! To hear the pinstriped zealots, you might think there is hardly a greater evil. They spare no effort to cast it out from dealing floors and back offices.

Counting paper-clips is not beneath these cost-cutting purveyors of the new efficiency. But there is one domain where such ardour falters - as they cross the threshold of the executive dining room.

It is time the cork is pulled on the great City wine scandal. Day in, day out, bottles of good wine are shown off at executive lunch tables, opened, poured into crystal glasses, and left barely touched, if at all.

What happens to it? Who gets to drink this gorgeous stuff? Is it the catering staff swigging yet another '89 Mercurey "Clos Tonnerre" behind the door, before polishing off the Tournedos Rossini left by the cancelled meal in the next room?

One suspects these are among the big issues on acute corporate minds, as they go through the watery lunchtime motions of hustling contracts and doing deals.

"There is still a strong expectation that wine needs to be there, it is part of the ceremony," says the catering head of a leading investment bank in London. "The host will offer wine, but is reluctant to drink it himself. We are always looking for ways to re-use wine."

It would also appear that simple good manners have been submerged beneath all the spicy tomato juice now being quaffed in unprecedented quantities at City prandial gatherings.

For there is something disconcerting about the host having the wine poured in the expectation that the guest will drink some, but not deigning to raise a glass himself. At least Cazenove, for one, eschews such a lunchtime display of unrequited bottles. It offers water, or water. So beware, above all, of merchant bankers bearing decanters.

They are the ones hoping to pass on the opened burgundy and claret, blended with a dash of yesterday's brunello, in the expectation that many of today's City chaps can't tell their vino from the veritas.

But there is a response to this sad state of affairs. Make dinner, not lunch.

For anyone with the interests of the City houses' fine cellars at heart, dining against waste should be a duty, not a privilege.