I arrived to a great location in a stand-alone building, right next to a very busy road. It was packed with customers, especially given that lunchtime had passed. The restaurant offered burgers, steaks, a great kids’ menu and other casual options. I met the bar manager, Tony, a cool guy with tats and a goatee, and asked about how I could help with wine suggestions, server training, etc.
Tony said they didn’t have a wine list yet, and in fact, they had experienced guests leaving their tables when they found out that the restaurant didn’t have one. He had gone to the liquor store and grabbed what was on sale so they could have something when someone asked.
“Glad you came around,” he continued. “Not sure how we were going to figure out what should go on our list.”
Wine lists are, at their very core, marketing tools for your restaurant. Just as menus, fliers, ads, signage, sandwich boards, and other marketing tools can help show your restaurant in the proper light, your wine list can serve you and your customers by presenting your restaurant as you want it to be seen.
At the very least, having a list of wines available at your restaurant will satisfy customers who like to drink wine with their food. Having a nicely printed list allows your greeter or hostess to present the menu and wine list, giving the customers a moment to take in the atmosphere and the food and drink your restaurant offers.
As I look to start a new list, the basics I cover are as follows:
· What is the theme of the restaurant?
· Are there wines that, based on the theme, have to be included?
· Is a sparkling wine needed?
· Are all the weight or body styles of wine covered? i.e., light-bodied white, medium-bodied white, and heavy-bodied white. Same with reds.
· Are there special foods or types of food that need special wines for pairing? For example, spicy foods require chilled whites, preferably slightly off-dry as the coolness and slight sweetness help alleviate the spicy burn.
· Is a dessert wine needed?
· How much storage does the restaurant have for whites, reds, and inventory?
If I am working with a restaurant that has a good amount of storage space, I suggest the following wines, at a minimum, to start their list:
· Sparkling wine – A Spanish Cava is a good starting sparkler because they are available for a reasonable price. Or there are some tasty, inexpensive Italian Proseccos on the market, as well.
· Light-bodied white – Pinot Grigio
· Medium-bodied white – Sauvignon Blanc, often I will recommend one from California, not New Zealand, because some people are not fond of the grassy/herbal aromas in Sauvignon Blanc from that region.
· Heavy-bodied white – California or Australian Chardonnay
· Light-bodied red – Pinot Noir or Sangiovese/Chianti
· Medium-bodied red – Merlot, Malbec or Zinfandel
· Heavy-bodied red – Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah/Shiraz
· If you offer spicy foods of any kind, I would suggest an off-dry Riesling or a white blend.
· If your restaurant is located in a part of the country where people like sweet wines, I would have a White Zinfandel on the list.
· If you would like to offer a sweet, dessert wine, my suggestion is a Ruby or Tawny Port, as you can open a bottle of non-vintage Port and it will last many weeks recorked in the refrigerator.
Following these basics, the theme of your restaurant should dictate other types of wine to include.
If you are not comfortable with starting your list alone, here are some resources for you to consider to get some help:
· Call your local liquor store to ask if they have a consultant to help you
· Ask one of your food or spirits reps to help you find someone in the wine industry
· Do an online search for “sommeliers” or “wine educators” in your area
· Use www.LocalWineEvents.com or www.GuildofSommeliers.com to search for a sommelier or educator.
· Contact distributors in your area and ask for help
It never hurts to bring in someone who understands what wines will pair well with your menu and what wines will sell. You know the food; let someone help you with the wine.
Given my experiences, you will be ahead of many of your competitors.