Tips to a More Approachable Wine Program

With its thorough wine list, complete with maps, Spazzo is more than just a restaurant and wine bar; it's a wine resource.
With its thorough wine list, complete with maps, Spazzo is more than just a restaurant and wine bar; it's a wine resource. Image Used with Permission

This article is part two in a two-part online series about how restaurants can adapt their offerings and menus to wine drinkers. Click here for part one!

The wine menu at Spazzo Italian Grill & Wine Bar in Redmond, Washington, is reminiscent of an old geography textbook from middle school.

The eatery, which serves more than 25 wines by the glass and has approximately 150 wines by the bottle, wants to ensure guests can navigate the wine offerings with comfort and ease. To that end, Spazzo's wine menu has a detailed map of Italy that indicates its 19 wine regions and each one's primary grape varieties; a map of Washington state's American viticulture areas; and a city map of nearby Woodinville, which has more than 90 wineries that frequently make an appearance on Spazzo's wine list.

"It's really approachable, just by virtue of looking at those wine maps," says Justin Doll, wine director at Schwartz Brothers Restaurants, which owns five restaurants in Washington including Spazzo. "So much of the study for wine-certified professionals is maps and geography, because it's so pertinent and important, the wines from around the world and the wine-growing regions. This resource really makes it accessible, then, for the guest."

Part of the approach that Spazzo takes with its wine culling is choosing to identify itself with the region and the community. The proximity to Woodinville reinforces the wine bar aspect of the restaurant, and it even helps the restaurant transcend its purpose from eatery to wine resource.

"We're huge Washington state advocates here in all of our restaurants," Doll says, adding the Washington State Wine Commission recently named Schwartz Brothers Restaurants the Restaurant Group of the Year. "You constantly keep education and culture as part of the element and part of the environment."

The goal of the wine program at Spazzo is to be all encompassing and not alienate any guests. Asked how an Overwhelmed wine drinker might be able to navigate a decidedly broad wine menu, Doll relates it back to service and pre-shift training.

"The most important thing is to have a benevolent staff," he says. "Every shift before service, the staff and management have a conversation about the specials of the evenings and areas of focus. A lot of times we're tasting wines in those pre-shifts, talking about wines, and energizing the staff to hit the floor so they're confident and knowledgeable of what they're talking about."

On Wednesdays, Spazzo is offering Woodinville wines half off, making the wine program even more accessible to all categories of wine drinkers through Woodinville Wine Wednesdays. Doll says an upgrade toward wine flights will likely be landing in September. The restaurant is also installing wines by the draft, reducing its carbon footprint and offering wines that would normally be $20 per glass for $10-$12. "We spared no detail in installing it," Doll says.

By Sonya Chudgar

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