The past two years have not been kind to those selling fine wines. “The economic downturn has been toughest for U.S. wineries that sell wines for $20 a bottle and up,” reports The Nielsen Company.
More than a few consumers curbed their spending by switching to lower-priced wines: Sales of wines priced at $9 to $12 per bottle rose 12 percent in 2010, showing faster growth than any other price segment.
So, how does a restaurant owner decide which wines to stock and how does it encourage customers to buy wine?
Surely the patrons of chains like T.G.I. Friday’s want different wines than those who frequent upscale hot spots like Carnivale in Chicago—don’t they? What about stocking wine for a steakhouse? A gay bar?
Don’t worry about matching the wine to the customer, says Marianne Frantz, DWS, CWE, advanced sommelier and founder of the American Wine School. Instead, match the wine to the cuisine: “Be sure to consider the body, texture and spice of the food coming out of the kitchen when buying wine for your list,” she says.
“Number-one rule for pairing: the body of the wine should match the body of the food. In wine, that means weight on the palate. In food, the body comes from fat. The more fat in the food, the fuller the body of the wine.”
Frantz offers these additional tips:
- Describe a wine’s sweetness in terms that make sense to your customers. “A hint of sweetness” or “medium sweet” works better than “fruity,” which could indicate ripeness or the type of grape, rather than actual sugar.
- Offer regional specialties by the glass: try a Torrontés from Argentina, or Lagrein from Italy. “Today’s wine consumers have an insatiable thirst for wine knowledge,” Frantz says, “which in most cases lures them into ordering another glass.”
- If your state permits “Cork & Carry”—i.e., buying a bottle with dinner and taking home what you don’t finish—state it on the menu. Frantz also advises tableside wine preservation service using inexpensive argon-based products such as Vineyard Fresh: “Customers will be more apt to buy a bottle if they know it will keep.”
- Don’t overstock—selecting wines for drinking in the next month will mean a bit more paperwork, but it will be better for the cash flow and won’t overwhelm your staff.
- Satisfy all of your customers by offering at least one moderately-priced wine and a more expensive choice in each category (reds, whites, bubbly)—and position the value-priced wine in the middle of the list, where most readers’ eyes are drawn.
- Try to list at least one domestic and one imported wine in each category, so that even if your wine list is small, several different countries will be represented. If you’re not familiar with wines, your wine dealer can recommend specialties from various countries.
- Offer house wines—one each of red, white and rosé—which can be an affordable option for both you and your customers.
- Instruct your staff in tableside service. Customers will be impressed if staff can open and pour wine and champagne properly (no screw-tops tableside!).
- Lastly, Frantz advises, “don’t forget the classics! While it is fun to offer a novelty wine, it is just as cool to list a Chablis by the glass. Remember, everything old is new again.”
By Mary Mihaly