Operators are often missing a profitable trick with their list of wines by the glass. Fiona Sims looks at how best to draw up a list of exciting and enticing varieties
All too often, offering wines by the glass is a static feature on a list, offering neither value or excitement. But this means operators are missing out on a trick, with too many uninspiring offerings of mainstream varieties made by large producers.
Wines by the glass should offer experimentation with new varieties from parts of the world you don't normally go to. Obviously, the list should be commercial, but that also means it should inspire the customer to try something new.
At Charlie Young's latest venture, Vinoteca Soho, guests are offered a daily-changing menu of Modern British/European food, alongside 300 hand-picked wines sourced largely from smaller growers. He says that about half the diners choose wines by the glass, with 40% of those opting for the food match.
"Don't pre-judge your customers - offer lots of unusual things, but don't put them on because they are a bit quirky - put them on the list because you like them. The list should always have a commercial side to it, too," Young adds.
Though it is easier for Young than most, having worked at Willi's Wine Bar in Paris. The list changes substantially twice a year with 60 wines added on, and 60 wines taken off each time, drawn from a pool of 30 different suppliers, using a combination of argon and CO2 to keep them fresh once opened.
"It's a long process, but we are committed to it because we feel it's important. It keeps staff and customers interested - and the two are absolutely linked. If you want to be dynamic and exciting with your wine offering then you need to update it regularly. Suppliers might scratch their heads sometimes but it all balances out," Young says.
Vinoteca always offers 25 wines by the glass, and it changes daily (though there's always a Prosecco on tap, sold at £3.95 a glass), along with the menu.
"Or we might have a dozen bottles of Godello we want to sell this way. Though it's important to have a selection across the range," says Young, who offers both 125ml and 175ml measures. "We want to encourage people to try different things and we've found the 125ml useful for that, especially with the more expensive wines."
The by-the-glass offering starts at £3.50 for 175ml and rises to £14, but the best sellers are between £5 to £6 as this is where there is most choice. There's a sliding cash margin for by the bottle, with 60 wines available under £25 a bottle, and 40 wines under £20, and a standard 70% gross profit applied to the by-the-glass offering. Young's latest find? "A Croatian wine called Plavac Mali - it's similar to Zinfandel, customers are loving it."
SOMMELIER SOAPBOX: SELLING WINES BY THE GLASS
Dawn Davies, sommelier, Selfridges
When we launched the Wonder Bar in Selfridges with 52 wines by the glass it was Nirvana for wine lovers - so much choice and so little commitment! So why is it when I visit too many bars and restaurants that I still see the same old thing time and time again?
As a wine lover it's a great shame to have to walk into a place and go for the beer option because the by-the-glass list sends you to sleep. Why should we penalise the sensible drinker by making them imbibe such dull and often terrible wines?
It's not that I have anything against Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and the like, and I understand that they are often the easiest option and the most profitable - but a little Verdejo or a Grüner Veltliner wouldn't hurt anyone.
If you don't have the time to train your staff, then a little description of the wine would help to sell it - and anyway, a short staff training session would help motivate the staff and actually increase sales. Nowadays, there is such a fantastic array of wines out there offered at great prices that there really is no excuse.
I am not saying put a weird and wacky wine on for the sake of it, just one that is a bit left field, but familiar enough so as not to alienate the consumer."
Dawn recommends El Quintenal Verdejo, Cillar de Silo, £6.10, Fields Morris and Verdin (020 7819 0360). "Fresh peach, apricots, floral touches and a hint of pink grapefruit on the finish."
reasons to offer wines by the glass (or carafe)
Will Smith is the co-owner and wine buyer of London's Arbutus, Wild Honey and Les Deux Salons
Wines by the glass really are the best way to encourage your guests to try new things, without committing to a whole bottle, which they may fear they won't enjoy. We have such a wonderfully broad wine trade in the UK, with the world of wine at our fingertips.
It's great fun for your staff to get to try all sorts of different styles of wine that you have opened, which they probably normally wouldn't try, and they are then enthused to encourage your guests to try something new. I find it takes away the fear factor that some waiters might have purely because the product is unknown to them. It's a no-brainer for me.
Be careful to date the label when you open the wine so that you know how long it's been open, and you don't run the risk of offering poor quality to your guests. If you can afford it, buy some sort of wine preservation system - but even a handheld pump will work a treat and hold your wines for much longer than just a cork.
Make sure your selection of wines is broad, covering different styles and different grapes, so there is plenty of choice and people can match your wines with their dishes.
It's also a great way to get rid of those wines that you're taking off the list and want to clear from your cellar, or those bin ends which have been sitting there for too long.
At Arbutus and Wild Honey, we offer 60 wines by the 250ml carafe (or 375ml carafe if the wine costs between £75 to £100 per bottle), including reds, whites, rosés and dessert wines; and at Les Deux Salons we offer about 45 wines by carafe.
Six reasons to visit the London International Wine Fair Excel, london, 22-24 may
1 English sparkling wine examination (On-Trade Theatre) Charlie Holland, winemaker at Ridgeview Wine Estate, will present the Ridgeview English sparkling range with varietal specific blends on Tuesday, 22 May from 4.30pm to 5.30pm.
He will host a tasting of the 2009 vintage Ridgeview sparkling wine range exploring what the different grape varieties bring to the wines from Blanc de Blanc, Blanc de Noir and traditional blends.
There will also be an examination of English sparkling wine in general.
2 UK Sommelier of the Year competition final The Academy of Food and Wine Service (AFWS) is to present the UK Sommelier of the Year competition final - "the Champagne Pour" - on 23 May at 11.30am in the On-Trade Theatre.
The finest sommeliers in the country will have only six minutes to pour a magnum of Champagne into 16 glasses. Each of the glasses must be filled at precisely the same level. Once the sommelier has moved to another glass he or she must not return to a glass already filled and the bottle must be empty at the end.
The academy judges will award marks for the skill of service, the accuracy and the performance of the pour within the time limit.
3 Bordeaux at the LIWF (South Gallery Rooms 19-22) The Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux will return to the London International Wine Fair with an exclusive tasting showing Grands Crus wines from the 2008 vintage on Tuesday 22 May from 11am to 4pm.
More than 65 members of this illustrious group representing some of the most prestigious names in Margaux, St Julien, Pauillac, St Estèphe, Listrac, Moulis, the Médoc, Haut- Médoc, Graves, Pessac-Léognan, Saint-Emilion, Pomerol, Sauternes and Barsac, will fly from Bordeaux to participate at this event.
4 BIOtiful wines (F30) BIOtiful Wines is a new association of independent winegrowers who share the same philosophy - to produce exceptional wines from organic/biodynamic grapes. The association will participate at the LIWF for the first time and is exclusively dedicated to the UK on-trade.
Discover the family estates and enjoy the authentic expression of Alsace Camille Braun, Champagne Collard-Picard, Bordeaux Chateaux Ferran, Bourgogne Domaine Henri & Gilles Buisson, Muscadet Domaine Le Fay D'Homme, Rhône Domaine Rouge Garance, Saint Emilion and Pomerol Vignobles Despagne Rapin.
5 Eaux de Vie launches Mezan rums (O50) Eaux de Vie will be showing the Mezan range of single-cask rums for the first time . Bottled in August 2011, the Mezan vintage rums are unblended rums from individual islands and countries in the West Indies and South or Central America, produced from a single vintage year's distillation, aged in oak barriques and bottled one cask at a time.
6 Bibendum unveils British Summer Time campaign (L21, L30) With the eyes of the world turning to the UK ahead of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Bibendum will be featuring its British Summer Time campaign entitled BST, and promoting English wines ahead of what is destined to be the summer of English wine.
Caterer Wine Clinic
"There's a huge buzz surrounding natural wines and I want to put some on my list, but where do I start?"
Your first stop is the Real Wine Fair being held in London on Monday 21 and Tuesday 22 May, which just happens to coincide with the London International Wine Trade Fair (B1, 6 Victoria House, Southampton Row, London WC1B 4DA, 10am to 6pm, www.therealwinefair.com). There you'll find more than 170 natural winemakers visiting from 13 countries, with master classes galore so that you can begin to understand what they are all about.
Founded by natural wine importer, Guildford-based Les Caves de Pyrene (www.lescaves.co.uk, 01483 538820), the Real Wine Fair has also launched Real Wine Month, a national promotion highlighting organic, biodynamic and natural wines, which are currently being poured by the glass, or featured on wine lists in more than 200 participating restaurants and independent retailers all over the country.
Other natural wine suppliers worth checking out include Wine Story (www.winestory.co.uk, 07921 770691), Aubert & Mascoli (www.aubertandmascoli.com, 020 7734 5399) and Dynamic Vines (www.dynamicvines.com, 020 7287 2179).
Five wines that will leap off your list
Simon Field MW
Berry Bros & Rudd
Tel: 0800 280 2440
2011 Errazuriz, Aconcagua Costa, Sauvignon Blanc, Chile, £8.50 "This distinctly up-market Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is sourced from selected vineyards near the Pacific coast of the Aconcagua region. The proximity to the sea gives it a freshness and a distinctive taste profile, with aromas of tropical fruit, green apples and hints of verbena and gooseberry bush. The crisp acidity is a perfect counterpoint to the tropical notes. Great as an aperitif, or with a fishy main course."
Lea & Sandeman
Tel: 020 7244 0522
2011 "Made in Provence" Classic Rosé, Domaine Sainte Lucie, Côtes de Provence, France, £7.65 "Perfect, vanishingly pale pink Provence classic. An expressive wine with fresh flavours of wild strawberries, creamy acidity and a long, crisp, dry finish. This can be drunk all too easily on its own, but will match most fresh summer dishes. Stick a magnum (£18.70) in an ice bucket on the bar and watch it sell by the glass, bottle and magnum."
Tel: 01256 391211
2006 Schloss Reinhartshausen Hattenheimer Riesling, Rheingau (dry), Germany, £7.87 "I love aged Rieslings that still taste youthful and fresh. This is such a typical example of a Rheingau Riesling, with expressive apple and apricot flavours, crisp acidity and an alluring petrolly nose. It works well with green and white asparagus with a light Hollandaise sauce, poached egg and lightly smoked mackerel."
Tel: 0117 963 6000
2009, Les Hauts De Montfort "Les Megalithes", Minervois, France, £7.25 "A delicious Languedoc red from Minervois made from very old vine low-yielding Grenache; this handmade wine is a lovely expression of the ‘Megalithes' terroir. Rich and savoury with black fruit flavours and hints of spice - it remains fresh on the finish, and is unfiltered. Pairs perfectly with Mediterranean meat dishes and spring lamb".
Tel: 01502 727272
2011 "Phambili" Fairtrade Pinotage Viognier, South Africa, £6.75 "It means ‘moving forward' in Xhosa. I have had a love-hate relationship with both Pinotage and Viognier - but it wasn't until Phambili appeared that I finally got it. It ticks all the Fairtrade boxes - as well as the most important box of all, quality. The black, charcoal nuances of Pinotage, with the added acidity and aromatics of the Viognier - great with guinea fowl, partridge, even ostrich."