How to Create a Winning Wine List

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You have to take in account a number of different factors while creating a winning wine list. Here are a several of them.

For any restaurant, creating a winning wine list can be a real challenge. You have to take into account a number of different factors, including the location of the restaurant, the type of person who is likely to dine there, and the types of food pairings that you have in mind. Moreover, a lot has changed since the 1970s, when there were only a handful of key wine regions in the world, and wine directors could focus on classic grape varieties and famous wine regions.

With that in mind, wine directors have settled on 3 basic approaches to organizing a wine list. The goal is to make the wine list as customer-friendly as possible, keeping in mind the core audience. Thus, a wine bar at an airport is going to have very different needs for organizing a wine list than a steak restaurant in a large metropolitan city. There are pros and cons to each of the three approaches, and some restaurants use a hybrid approach, in which two or more approaches are combined within a nested format.

Organize a Wine List by Place of Origin

If there were a classic approach to organizing a wine list, it would be this. Most wine enthusiasts are familiar with at least a handful of wine regions, so if they do not have the desire to flip through a 100-page wine list, they can immediately head to a region that appeals to them.

Back in the 1970s, of course, these regions tended to be Old World wine regions - places like Bordeaux or Burgundy or Tuscany. Now, the wine regions might be anywhere in the world, from California to South Africa to New Zealand. Thus, a little more thought needs to go into organizing by wine regions.

Perhaps the most democratic approach involves organizing regions alphabetically. This is helpful because it provides a very easy way for America (“A”) or California (“C”) to appear at or near the front of a wine list. And, in fact, many restaurants do start with California wines.

Then, within each region, you can organize the list of producers alphabetically as well. This provides a very easy to showcase and highlight multiple wines from the same producer, all in the same place.

Organize a Wine List by Grape Type

Another approach to organizing wine lists starts by considering grape variety first. Again, this is a way to help customers find what they want, very easily. At a classic American steakhouse, for example, Cabernet Sauvignon is likely to be a top choice, so it makes sense to organize the menu in a way that makes it very easy for steak lovers to find their favourite Cab.

In using this approach, most restaurants tend to focus on the most popular grape varieties, often giving them an entire page of their own. This is usually the case for Chardonnay, which always ranks as one of the most popular wines at any restaurant. Some wine directors even write a description or blurb at the top of each grape section, letting patrons know the primary characteristics of each grape.

Then, within each grape category, you can organize wines either by a producer or by country and region of origin. For example, some restaurants prefer a “France first” strategy, in which every grape category leads off with a list of French wines in that category. But you could easily opt for a “California first” or “Australia first” approach as well. And, in fact, many customers do appreciate a quirky approach to wine lists, in which they are able to distinguish the tastes and preferences of the wine director.

Organize a Wine List by Style or Theme

Finally, a third approach to organizing wine lists consists of listing wines by style or theme. This might be preferable, for example, at a restaurant that features many by the glass wines or shorter wine lists. In the case of by the glass wines, for example, many younger millennial wine drinkers like to taste or experience different expressions of the same grape from various producers, regions or winemakers.

Also, by listing wines by style or theme, you make it much easier for wine drinkers to locate wines they have enjoyed in the past and then find similar wines. For example, a wine drinker might think in terms of “light, fruit-forward red” rather than in terms of specific wine regions or grapes. Thus, a wine list organized by style or weight gives this approach to wine drinking greater merit. A wine list, for example, might start off with light wines and then continue with medium-bodied wines before ending with full-bodied wines.

Also, this approach of focusing on styles makes it much easier to showcase a particular winemaker. A restaurant, for example, might have a relationship with a small, boutique winery, and want to showcase some of that winery’s latest wines. A patron might want to sample several wines from the same winemaker, all made in a slightly different way.

In general, there is no one-size-fits-all approach that will work for all restaurants or wine bars. That’s especially true if a wine list runs 100 pages. At some point, you have to balance the needs of the restaurant - to sell as much wine as possible - with the needs of the consumer.

For that reason, it’s helpful to think in terms of “nesting” different approaches inside each other. A list of wine regions organized alphabetically could then be followed by all producers in that region, organized alphabetically. Or it might be organized by grape varieties found within that region.

One helpful thing to keep in mind is that little descriptions or blurbs within the wine list can help to guide customers. In a huge, 100-page wine list, there might not be a lot of room to list much more than the region and vintage. But in a smaller, more intimate wine list, tasting notes or descriptions are typically much appreciated by wine drinkers in search of the perfect glass of wine.

About Sommeliers Choice Awards

The goal of the new Sommeliers Choice Awards is simple: to provide experienced on-premise buyers and sommeliers a valuable benchmark for understanding which wines would make a compelling addition to a wine list. As a result, the Sommeliers Choice Awards has the potential to become the most prestigious competition for wine lists in the USA.

Time To Submit Your Wines In The Sommeliers Choice Awards and Get In-front of Leading Sommeliers and On-Premise Wine Buyers Of USA.

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2022 Sommeliers Choice Awards Winners Announced! View Results Here!