Pubs for Sale: Own Your Own Business
How to Construct a Wine list – Part I: The Whites
Due to the length of the subject matter, we have split this blog post into two parts. This section is for White Wine. Red Wine can be found here.
Constructing a wine list can be a very daunting task. If you’re offering food in your pub you may feel the pressure even more. After all, do you match a wine list to a menu or the other way around? Hopefully, this blog post will address some of your key issues and concerns.
If your pub doesn’t serve food or offers a limited bar snack menu, don’t panic about the number of wines you offer, 3 or 4 should suffice and compliment your beer offering. Beers and ciders are a very important part of your pub and customers are equally likely to have a pint with food as they are with a glass of wine.
Even if you have an extensive menu, you don’t need to go overboard by providing hundreds of wines. Instead, choose 5 or 6 Whites and the same number of Reds, 2 or 3 Roses and maybe a couple of Sparkling options. This should give you 14 – 18 wines, which is more than enough considering the amount of beer and bottles also on offer. That said, your customers can dictate to some degree, it would be pointless stocking 10 wines when only 4 consistently sell, or a £500 bottle of champagne no-one’s going to buy. You know your pub better than anyone, so trust yourself and ask customers what they think of the products. If you don’t drink wine, ask somebody who does, you might be surprised. Or alternatively, if you want to learn the basics of wine tasting please click here.
Firstly, we’ve come a long way since wine was introduced to the UK mass market through supermarkets. The public’s palate has changed, knowledge has steadily grown and so have expectations. It’s no longer simply a case of offering Blue Nun or a glass of classic French Claret. Customers want to know more about their ‘plonk’, other than just the grape and country of origin.
In order to sell wines, you don’t need to have a WSET qualification or be a master of wine. Get the basics right and you can offer a pleasant selection of wine to the most discerning customer as they munch their way through your home-made Game Pie, Burger and Chips, or Mushroom Risotto.
Although a lot of people don’t understand the price/worth of wine (wine-economics), it’s never good to get greedy. Don’t just double or triple the price that you paid. People do use smartphones to google wines that they like, so they know what to look out for in the future. It’s also important that you consider your wholesale costs, margins, and demand when choosing wines. Remember, you can always contact your local independent wine merchant for help and advice. They’re likely to invest time with you, often through a free sample tasting, and will talk you through a selection of wines, and your options, needs and expectations.
Now, let’s briefly talk money – these figures are purely a rough rule of thumb, so please don’t take them as golden, they are just here for illustration purposes.
So, there are 6 x 125ml glasses in a standard bottle of wine. If you’re going to charge £4.00 glass of wine (125ml measure), a bottle is worth £24 in glasses.
This bottle is probably worth about £6-9 as a wholesale bottle, hence charging £18 a bottle is sensible. You always want your bottle price to be cheaper than if bought glass by glass, this incentivises buying the bottle. You might also have the same grape variety on offer twice, but from two different regions. E.g A Sauvignon Blanc from Chile, and another from New Zealand.
For example, you are selling your Sauvignon Blanc from Chile at £4.00 for a 125ml glass / £18 a bottle. However, you might also sell a premium Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand by the bottle at £30 upwards. All of this depends on your wholesale price, availability and margins. Most wine retailers will work to a 20-35% margin and the public expect that restaurants and pubs work anywhere from 30-70% on most wines, reducing to 30-45% on higher end products. Again, if you talk with a wine merchant, they’ll help you with this.
The Wine Guide:
Ideally, you want a minimum of 3 very accessible white wines available by the glass and another couple available by the bottle. These can be more exclusive, expensive, complex or a combination of those factors. You could also double up on variety. Remember, the key to any wine list is balance, with a cross-section of styles… Now for the grapes!
Pinot Grigio grape is one of the most popular and familiar wines in the UK. This could be due to it being one of the first wines to be introduced to the UK by the supermarkets at discount prices during the 1980s. This grape doesn’t tend to be complex in its nature and offers straightforward accessibility to wine at an affordable price, making it very popular with drinkers and diners. Although not always the most exciting of grape varieties, most people would expect a Pinot Grigio on a wine list.
Another popular grape variety which has as many detractors as it does lovers. Chardonnay can be ‘oaked’ by spending a length of time in wooden barrels. This leads to classic, floral characteristics. To some people, this is marmite and comes down to personal taste. Chardonnays that are produced in steel vats are also available, but they don’t have the same characteristics as they haven’t had the same wood contact as a barrelled variety. Look at South America and Australia for budget-friendly options.
For more expensive or expressive wines, look to North America or Burgundy in France, the home of Chablis. Arguably the pinnacle of Chardonnay and winemaking. Pair with cheeses, creamy dishes, shellfish and pasta with white sauce. Avoid acids, olives, and tomatoes.
Sauvignon Blanc is another highly recognisable name in the wine world. Recently New Zealand, and particularly wines from the Marlborough region have enjoyed a wave of populism, and rightly so, they are very good. Make sure you have one on your wine list, maybe a French one too, Sancerre is a good high-end option if you want to stick to Old World wines. Sauvignon Blanc is grown all over the world and South America offers great budget-friendly alternatives. Fabulous with Fish and Chips. Also goes well with Scallops, Green Veg, Fresh Herbs, and Garlic seasoned Shrimp if you’re feeling more adventurous.
You might remember Riesling suffering a major identity crisis because of the 1985 diethylene glycol wine scandal. Unfortunately, it lost a lot of trust and fans because of it. Now over 30 years on, it’s experiencing a comeback and has come a long way from the sweet, cheap, unsophisticated ‘Blue Nun’ style imports of the 1970s.
Australian producers are currently leading the pack, but American exports are also readily available although might carry a bigger price tag. However, the more traditional German/Alsace offerings should not be ignored and offer sophistication at a great value and can be bought for a surprisingly low price. It’s worth noting that like with any goods or consumables, ‘cheap’, ‘value’, ‘worth’ and ‘expense’ are very different criteria to different people and wine is no exception.
Riesling is still a wine lovers wine, but it’s slowly going mainstream again. Pairing with Cheese, Duck, Pork or even spiced oriental dishes is perfect.
Note: There’s some confusion between Riesling having varietals that are exceptionally dry and others being very sweet. Best practice is to try the wine, read the bottle and not be scared of the Riesling minefield. The main difference between a Dry or Off-Dry Riesling, and a sweet Eiswien Riesling, is that an Eiswien is a dessert wine made to be enjoyed with puddings. The Dry and Off-Dry styles compliment more savoury or spicy options.
Blends are very common in red and white wine and are made in both accessible and complex styles. Winemakers often blend grape varieties to make the most of the available crops, save money or even use up other grapes. This doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the product, quite the opposite. Blending can be to balance a wine or to add to its character. Some grapes greatly complement each other and create great wine. Look at Bordeaux wines or Riojas as an example.
Grapes found in blends vary from country to country, but regulars include Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier and Semillon. Blends are made like all wine and can be quaffable or pair really well with rich flavours like Thai Curries, Roast Chicken dinners or Southern Fried Chicken.
Other White Grapes to consider as single varieties or blends include:
Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Verdejo and Alberino.
Click here to read Part II of our ‘How to construct a wine list’ where we tackle ‘The Reds’…
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