How to Create a Successful Wine List

The wine list is a very important part of communication between the restaurant and the guest, so its quality is mostly placed head to head with the restaurant’s menu. Although most restaurant owners engage into the selection of wines themselves, I believe that it is never a bad idea to listen to the advice of those who are professionally occupied with wines.

Head to a restaurant and ask the owner what’s the most important thing for a good wine list. Most will tell you that it’s definitely a wider selection of prestigious and expensive wines. Consumers think differently. With the exception of a few wine lovers, the most important thing is that the wine list is readable, understandable, and well designed. There is truth in both statements, but the goal is to take a little from both worlds.

When I consider the essential purpose of a wine list, a few general principles come to mind. First, it should be presented as a precise catalogue of available wines and an effective tool to improve sales and service. Look at it as free marketing of the wine program. The design and organization tell a lot about a restaurant. If the wine list is dry and plain, it is likely that the restaurant will be the same. On the other hand, if it is creative with inventive descriptions that are dedicated to pairing wine and food, it will set priorities in a totally different way. Wines should not be listed by prices, because guests will feel inferior, as if they will be judged by how much money they spend. Descriptions should be the same length for each wine. If the staff devotes itself only to premium labels, neglecting, for example, medium-quality wines, they give the impression of being condescending or arrogant. The difference between a good wine list and excellent wine list is in focus. It is necessary to take into account the food being served. Wines on the list may be good, but if they do not go with the food, the point is missed.

Of course, concise and well-organized wine lists give the best results. No one wants to read novels between appetizers and main dishes. Precision in a short form does wonders. Guests feel more relaxed when they get a chance to choose the wine themselves, thus the waiter can tick off one task off his to-do list. Lists filled with expensive labels can be impressive, but require a trained individual, i.e. a sommelier, which is not practical for a large number of restaurants/bars, especially for those who have less than 20 wines on the wine list. No system is perfect, but the most important thing is that the customer goes through a painless and short decision in ordering his/her wine.

Descriptions of wines do not have to be a bogeyman; they just need to refer to a few matters — origin, dryness, body and the aging of the wine. Grouping styles is an ideal approach. As captions in a foreign country, unfamiliar words create disorientation, while familiar terms put guests in a comfortable position in which they gain control. Also, consumers prefer the taste of wine over vintages and producers. Remain on simplicity and use phrases such as light, fruity, full, instead of tannic, extract or spicy.

A good description would look like this:

Norton Malbec Reserva 2011 (Mendoza, Argentina)
Dark ruby red color. The nose is reminiscent of primary notes of dark fruit (blackberry, blackcurrant) incorporated with tones of oak (toast, vanilla, chocolate). Dry, medium body with distinctive acidity and a long finish.

The person creating the wine list should, first of all, take the position of the guest. For some people, wine is a totally unknown thing and they would like to learn about it and enjoy it. Not everyone knows that Primitivo is a red wine and Pošip a white one. No matter how much reputation a particular restaurant has, it should never put the customer in a position where he/she feels helpless and frightened.

The final point is concentrated on continuous action and change. It would be easy to make a list and keep it the same for seven years, but over time, guests would stopped coming. Most wine lovers like to try new wines from week to week or month to month. Having experienced distributors with the necessary knowledge is key.
They will certainly always be in the game and have available wines that are favoured and demanded. They also provide the possibility of organizing promotional tastings or personnel training, which a huge distributor cannot give. Attract new customers with special monthly offers or discount on wine by glass. At first it will seem like a small thing, but your guests will be grateful and their return is guaranteed.

Written by Aleksandar Draganić.

I’m a WSET certified grape juice drinker, and yes, I’m that 1% of people that love their job. I drink wine, write about it, preach about it, even take pictures of it. Find me at @grapenomad

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This article was also published on: BeHa Caffe

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