Wine lists: six golden rules

Related tags Wines Wine Chardonnay

This week, the Morning Advertiser launches the first in a new series designed to help licensees make more money from wine. Once a month, we'll be...

This week, the Morning Advertiser launches the first in a new series designed to help licensees make more money from wine. Once a month, we'll be sharing top tips from training consultant Clare Young, managing director of Vintellect and the former wine supremo at Young's, as she covers key elements of selling wine. This week she looks at putting together a wine list

1 Select the right number of wines

Offering too few will limit your sales, while having too many can be a waste of time, space and money.

In order to help you decide, it is important to consider the amount of storage space available, look at the type and extent of the food menu and understand the profile of your existing and potential customers.

It would not make sense to offer 24 different wines, for example, if you only have enough space to store 40 bottles. You would either need to increase your storage space, which in my experience can always be achieved with some skilful rearranging, or perhaps reduce your selection.

The type of menu you are offering is crucial to the length of your wine list and the type of wines selected. If you have a limited selection of basic pub grub and cater mainly for men, you would only need a limited wine selection.

On the other hand, if you have a gastro-style menu specialising in seafood, you should have a fairly extensive list offering more white and rosé wine than reds and include some of the more expensive classic wines.

2Understand your customers and your potential

I discovered this 17 years ago, when I first joined Young's brewery. One of the pub managers invited me to compile a list comprising around 20 wines and I was thrilled because he was so keen to improve his wine selection. As I entered the bar for the first time, I observed the bright red patterned carpet, the bits of sponge hanging out of the red plastic bench seating and the flock wallpaper that reminded me of my local curry house.

There were two elderly chaps propping up the bar, drinking pints of stout and then I spotted the dreaded Optic cabinet housing four litres of Liebfraumilch. My heart sank and so did my hopes for this wine list. Obviously, if your customers are predominantly men over the age of 65 and your pub is looking more tired than your customers, even if you offered the best wine list in England, it wouldn't help you attract more wine drinkers.

3Include as many different grape varieties and countries as possible

Some lists are dominated by wines produced from Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, which, needless to say, are an essential ingredient in many pub wine lists. However, it is always refreshing to find some of the less common varieties featured, such as Pinot Gris, Riesling, Torrontes, Pinot Noir, Malbec or Barbera. While wines produced using these varieties are initially harder to sell, with alittle staff training you will reap the rewards in the long run. I was recently invited to advise a restaurant on its wine list and was horrified to discover that four out of the six red wines available by the glass were produced from the same grape variety ­ Syrah ("Shiraz" in Australia). This was because Syrah was the manager's favourite grape. While it is a good idea to include your favourite varieties, try to remember that we all have different tastes.

Similarly, try to ensure your list represents more than just one country. Some lists only comprise wines from the country that matches the style of food, just like some Italian restaurants only list Italian wines. It is, however, preferable to offer your customers a choice and list wines from at least three or four European countries as well as several New World countries. Chilean and Argentinean wines are hot favourites at the moment. Again, it is fun to include good examples from some of the lesser-known countries or regions such as Austria or Mexico, perhaps.

I know of a restaurant that only lists red and white wines from England. Patriotism is admirable, but given that English red wine is difficult to produce, limited in choice and suffers by reputation, this may, possibly, be a little risky.

In years to come, with global warming, we may be able to view this case quite differently.

4Include as many different types and styles as possible

In order to get the balance right, it is always worth examining the latest statistics showing consumption levels of white, red, rosé, dessert and sparkling wine. It would be pointless offering 20 red wines and only 10 white wines if the current figures show that 75% of wine consumed in the on-trade is white ­ that is, unless of course, your menu is comprised purely of red meat, game and poultry.

It is interesting to note the tremendous growth in sales of rosé wine over the past few years. Most pubs should offer at least one rosé and preferably two. I often find that the only rosé offered is a Blush or White Zinfandel from California that tends to be rather sweet and not suitable for customers preferring a drier style wine. You can always find some great examples of dry rosé wines produced in the South of France and northern Spain. It's also a good idea to update your wine list in the spring and autumn in order to take advantage of seasonal weather variations. Summer is a time to list more light crisp white, lighter red and rosé wines, whereas in winter it is a good idea to substitute some of your lighter white, rosé and red wines with some fuller-bodied wines.

5Include wines produced using different wine-making methods

There are hundreds of different wine-making techniques which all have an influence on the final flavour. One of the largest influences would be the use of oak barrels, since oak can impart vanilla, creamy, toasty or nutty aromas and flavours to wine. It is important to consider fashion and trends, for example it was once fashionable to drink wines that were heavily oaked, whereas many wine drinkers now prefer the lighter unoaked styles. I would always recommend offering a range of different styles of wines: some oaked, some unoaked, some with subtle aromas and flavours and others with powerful and intense flavours.

6Offer wines across a range of prices

There are basically three types of buyers: those who only buy the least expensive wine, those who only buy the most expensive wine, and those who tend to choose a wine that is priced somewhere in the middle ­ the majority of customers.

So often, managers say that they don't like to list expensive wines because they don't sell. It is however, quite often a good idea to list one or two more expensive wines, even if you can't sell very many. Having more expensive wines listed will raise the average price and therefore the average spend. You only need to keep a couple of each in stock.

Related topics Wine

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