The world of restaurant wine offerings
In a recent Wall Street Journal column, wine columnist Lettie Teague
chronicled instances of aggressive upselling in restaurants, including
her own experiences. The story unleashed an email avalanche into her
inbox from readers telling their own unhappy stories of feeling
victimized when ordering wine. "Restaurants have the opportunity to do
one of two things," advises Lettie. "They can use the wine list as a
tool of intimidation and sell wine for temporary financial gain, or take
advantage of an excellent opportunity to develop a relationship with
guests on the basis of a single bottle. Do you want to rip them off or
have them return?"
When we explain we have 50 wines by the
glass, some gasp at how difficult that must be to create and preserve.
But in reality, as a Sommelier, it is much harder to produce and design
a small list that offers diversity in style, region, price and
innovation. Wine preservation for a wine by the glass program is a key
componant. There is nothing worse in my mind than when wines are not
stored properly. How long should a wine be open? In my opinion, no more
than 2 days. If I was home, 3 days because it is probably still fresh
but if someone is paying "probably" can't enter into the equation. An
important factor in keeping wine fresh is temperature control. At home,
pop the wine in the fridge (red or white) - the chill slows down the
aging. At Napa, our wine by the glass program is kept at 55 degrees for
red and 60 for white. This helps us maintain freshness. You can also
use a vacuum pump which takes the oxygen out of the wine and therefore,
keeps it from oxidizing. But I'm getting off the point...The point was
wine by the glass offerings! In my opinion, there are three categories
(maybe more) of wine drinkers that dine out.
The first, the
customer that is simply looking for a beverage called "wine". Let's call
them our entry level wine drinker. For that person, you really need to
offer wines in the $6-8 range by the glass. They are not looking for a
life changing experience nor to spend their paycheck just a glass of
The next category is the person trying to learn about
wines and willing to spend a bit. They know what style they like and
they can be adventurous in a limited manner. For that customer, we try
to make sure there's offerings in the $9-13 range. Just as important as
price, is the offering. The server needs to interact and find out what
they like...butter? tannin (dry)? earthy? fruity? crisp? heavy? light?
With that information, they provide a few recommendations and tastes.
This way the customer feels comfortable that they have been involved
with the choice and have also been given a chance to learn. They
realize there is a difference between the complexity of the $9 chard
from Mendoza and the $13 chard from Burgundy. Wine is not much
different from most things in life...you get what you pay for. My job
is to ensure the wines we present are all of value both in their
category of style and price.
The third category, is the mature
drinker and often a wine collector. They probably have cellars at home.
They might even subscribe to Wine Spectator. They find great meaning
behind a glass of wine and can ponder its levels of aromas, flavors and
complexity for 30 minutes. This person may not want a bottle of wine,
they want to pair the "right" wine with each course. It is this
drinker, to whom we offer the wines by the glass of $13 and above. Yes,
by "above" we mean up to $40 a glass. They know what they're buying
and they get excited to try something new and available in a glass
format. They also trust us, which is very important. They understand
that we make sure the wine is fresh and preserved or we will open a new
bottle. We date all open wine bottles at the end of the night so we
can be sure of it's integrity.
The Wall Street Journal article
emphasizes the need to offer variety but also address the pressure
factor. I never want to force that $7 drinker into a $30 glass and by
the same token, I don't want that $30 drinker to not have an offering
that satisfies their taste. This is how we get to 50 wines by the
Last but not least, let's quickly define "glass" of wine.
A big misconception by consumers is that all glasses are equal.
There's an old restaurant formula you still hear - "there's 4 glasses
in a bottle of wine." Do you see the missing detail? How big is the
glass? Actually, how big is the pour? The same wine can be $8 at one
restaurant and $10 at another because one pour is 5 ounces and the
other is 7 ounces. Napa's wine by the glass program in a snapshot: a
bottle of wine is 25 ounces, as I LOVE great glassware I chose a 23 oz.
Stolzle logo'd German crystal all-purpose wine glass, so our pour at
Napa is 7ounces. It is this pour that our pricing reflects. In other
words, we get roughly 3.5 glasses to a bottle although, we always lose
2-3 ounces with tastings. This also means that the $30 glass of wine
you're drinking is available for $90 a bottle.
I hope this was a fun and informative look behind creating a wine program!