It's not often I'm blown away by the layout (and content) of a wine list - but Perry's in Weymouth, Dorset, is the business. The harbour-side restaurant was taken over by Matt and Liz Whishaw in July 2006. Nine months later the wine list was recognised by the AA Restaurant Guide with a Notable Wine List award.
Matt used to work in the wine trade. He took the scenic route to a degree in law and stumbled across a passion for wine along the way. After working in a pub, he graduated to running a wine bar, and then became a cellar hand at a winery in Victoria, Australia, eventually landing at the legendary Walters Wine Bar in Melbourne.
When he eventually returned to the UK he worked for various wine merchants, including Percy Fox and Justerini & Brooks, and completed his Wine & Spirit Education Trust diploma before pursuing a career in hospitality, running hotels for Sunsail. But the goal was always to run his own place - and here it is, complete with fishing boats bobbing right outside his door.
So, to that list. There are about 300 bins. "Beyond that, you lose the decisiveness required of a good buyer and it becomes an encyclopaedia," declares Matt. And it is colour-coded, depending on the colour of the wine.
Then it's split into lots of different sections - varietals, mostly, plus Best Sellers and Favourites, and two that I particularly like - "Perry's taste the difference crusade for lesser-known wines" and "Epic wine that you shouldn't be scared of trying" - with pithy, sometimes humorous, one-line descriptions for each wine. Now that's a list you want to read.
"I've written dozens of moronic wine lists for people while working at wine merchants. You know the kind of thing: two wines for each section," admits Whishaw. "And I've seen wine lists evolve over the years, from ones listed by price to lists by style. The stylistic thing is all very well and good but it assumes your customers are complete muppets. Those who are more clued up want to have a decent dig around, so I think varietal sections made more sense," he insists.
And get this: he puts Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc right at the end of the white section, so customers have to pick their way through the likes of the Rhône or Italian varietals before they get to their comfort zone. And most of the time it works: customers do choose something different.
"It's my effort to get people to try different things. I got so bored selling cheap Pinot Grigio, especially being a fish restaurant, that's all people ask for - a dry white that doesn't cost too much. Muscadet? We don't even list it. And, yes, occasionally customers do question that, but I tell them I haven't found one I like yet - try the Picpoul de Pinet, and they do, and we sell lots of it," he says.
This is what it says on the list: "Our cheaper Pinot Grigio is perfectly respectable but there are so many fascinating wines coming out of Italy these days that we implore you to try something different. Fiano could be the next Italian white sensation."
In fact, a Sicilian Fiano, Maderossa, is one of Perry's biggest sellers, so is a Jurançon Sec from Charles Hours (Cuvée Marie, £24.95), and an Alsace Pinot Blanc from Domaine Rieflé (£21.95). Fish is a huge seller, and white wines make up 65% of sales - 80% in the summer months.
At various opportunities on the list, Whishaw mentions his mark-ups - he even explains at the front of the list how he applies them. "We put the same cash margin on a bottle of basic Chablis as we do on expensive mature vintage claret," he writes. "This means that you can trade up with confidence knowing that for every extra pound you spend on a bottle, you are getting a much better wine, not just helping to pay for my next holiday." The list even price-compares: Perry's charges £49.95 for Billecart Salmon Rosé NV Pétrus in London, £98.
It works, too. "Many comment, and most approve. They love the honesty of our approach," says Whishaw. Average spend on a bottle of wine is £22 - not bad for Weymouth, which has a "fairly down-to-earth market", he reports.
Another upselling tool utilised by Whishaw is on the dessert menu: each pud comes with a wine to match. About 15% go for it, he says.
Wine dinners are also increasing in popularity. He did seven last year, from Plantagenet to Jaboulet. "We are gradually building up a decent list of people interested in wine," says Whishaw. "We're a great local restaurant with a destination wine list." His words, but I'll second that.
What's on the list
2005 Hogue Gewurztraminer, Columbia Valley, Washington State, USA, £19.95
2004 Qupe Roussanne, Hillside Estate, Santa Barbara, California, USA, £34.95
2007 Sauvignon de Touraine, Alain Marcadet, Loire, France, £17.95
2006 Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling, Clare Valley, Australia, £23.95
2006 Albariño Valminor, Rías Baixas, Galicia, Spain, £26.95
2007 Rose of Virginia, Charles Melton, Barossa, Australia, £26.95
2003 Villa Fidelis Rosso Sportoletti, Umbria, Italy, £36.50
2005 Pirie Pinot Noir, Tasmania, Australia, £26.50
2002 Cornas, Les Eygats, Domaine Courbis, Rhône, France, £37.50
• Perry's Restaurant, 4 Trinity Road, Weymouth, Dorset DT4 8TJ. Tel: 01305 785799. Website: www.perrysrestaurant.co.uk