Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a two-part series on restaurant wine lists. You can get caught up on the first part here.
When I decided to write on wine lists again, I felt that I needed to contact my restaurant friends that are involved in their wine lists and get their input. I developed a list of five questions that dealt with list age, diversity, pricing and customer usage.
I reached out to Tom Welsh (a Level 2 Sommelier), General Manager and Partner at Tapastrie in South Bend, Ind., Chris Oliver, COO of the Uptown Dining Group and Uptown Kitchen in Granger, Ind. and Brad Canniff, General Manager at Artisan in Elkhart, Ind.
Tapastrie – South Bend, Ind. – Q&A with Tom Welsh:
Tapastrie, a wine bar and tapas restaurant with a casual atmosphere, has about 150 wines on its list. Tapastrie also has three very popular wine dispensing machines that allow guests to sample from 24 different wines via a 2-ounce, 4-ounce or 6-ounce pour.
Q: Tiedemann – From the time you started Tapastrie until now, how has the wine list changed?
A: Welsh – “The list has grown a bit from its original size. I have occasionally realized that something was un- or under-represented and added them such as a couple of Washington reds, a Bordeaux from Margaux, a couple of extra Spanish whites. The content changes from time to time because certain wines get dropped by suppliers or sometimes wines move from one supplier to another and the price changes significantly and loses value for the price. At times I have just decided to change a wine that is not selling well, especially if I taste something memorable which could fill the slot.”
Q: Tiedemann – As for different wine types, how many do you need?
A: Welsh – “I think that this would vary a lot depending on the type of restaurant. We intended for Tapastrie to be a wine-focused place, so I felt it was important to have all the major grape varieties represented, from all the major areas of production and in three ranges of price. Including dessert wines, we have just over 150 wines on the list. This is obviously not necessary for every restaurant.”
Q: Tiedemann – What pricing structure do you shoot for and does the style of restaurant have an impact on pricing?
A: Welsh – “The three tiers I mentioned are roughly $30 to $50, $50 to $80 and $80+. I tried to have most grape varieties from most places represented in each of these ranges. I think that restaurant style definitely has an impact on pricing, both in terms of average price and percentage markup of the cost prices. The pricing of the wines has to be relative to the pricing of the menu, i.e. you wouldn’t want a $100 Napa Cabernet or Bordeaux in a restaurant with a $15 check average. There are plenty of good wines available at moderate prices to fit with a moderately priced menu. Tapastrie has wines for as low as $34 and only a handful in the three-digit category, with an average of around $55.”
Q: Tiedemann – Does the length of the wine list play any role in the customer purchasing patterns?
A: Welsh – “I think that most people look for a wine type they are familiar with and a price range they are comfortable with, both of which can be found on lists of every length. Hopefully, restaurants with longer lists attract guests with a greater interest in wine overall and then a longer list offers more variety and the possibility to try something interesting and off the beaten path. A list that is too long can be intimidating, and it is important in that case to have staff knowledgeable about the list who can guide the guest toward what they are looking for.”
Q: Tiedemann – Do name brands sell better than other wines? Do people buy more by brand, server recommendations, etc.? What sells the wine?
A: Welsh – “I’m sure that brand recognition plays a big part in people’s decision, but that is more likely to be the case with a shorter, more moderately priced list where more popular brands are featured and that is its goal. Server recommendation plays a big part as well. People trust the experience of servers, which is why it is important for servers to taste the wines being offered and learn a little about them. This is good for the guest and good for the server. There are certain wines when ordered at Tapastrie I can guess who the server is because I know that that is one of his or her favorites. And in the case of guests who are interested in trying something new and different, a Sommelier and/or a server with more experience and knowledge can give them the confidence to try something that they were previously unfamiliar with. Enthusiasm about wine sells wine!”
Uptown Kitchen – Granger, Ind. – Q&A with Chris Oliver
Uptown Kitchen is a popular breakfast and lunch restaurant that has a pretty well-balanced wine list.
A: Oliver: “Wine lists can be confusing unless you are a knowledgeable about wine. Restaurants have to know who they are, understand what wines compliment the food they are serving and who their customers are.
“Uptown Kitchen is a breakfast and lunch restaurant which requires us to have lighter wines than we would if we were a steakhouse. Our wine list has gotten smaller as we transition to breakfast and lunch, and we learn more about what wine our guests truly want.”
Artisan Restaurant – Elkhart, Ind. – Q&A with Brad Canniff
Artisan is an upscale restaurant featuring Midwestern cuisine with a 300-bottle wine list that has a heavy focus on California wines.
A: Canniff – “The Artisan wine list has grown over the past couple of years. We have definitely expanded the variety of wines we offer.
“We want our customers to be able to experience wines they may not be able to get elsewhere. A lot of our customers are wine educated and know the kinds of wines they like. We’ll continue to tailor our list towards those needs but continue to expand and offer new and different wines for them to experience.
“We pay close attention to make sure our food and wine pair well with each other. As our food menu changes, we focus on the need to add or subtract wines from our list. Our wines are price pointed in the $30 to$50 range and up. There are also some very special wines on the list priced at $600 to $800 per bottle.
“We have also started what we refer to as the “Coravin List” which offers expensive or a different flavor profile wine by the glass. We provide long pours of selected wines for customers who may not want to purchase a whole bottle but want to try the wine. Pricing runs from $25 to $125 per glass.
“Our wine list will continue to change to provide our customers with the wine experience they desire. My staff and I are always available to assist our customers with their wine selections.”
I am sure that restaurant wine lists will continue to change, as they should. They will also continue to baffle some of us. I am sure as we continue to educate ourselves on wine that it will get easier for all of us to navigate our way through any wine list we are presented with.
June Wine Dinner
Uptown Kitchen in Granger, Ind., will host a wine dinner on Friday, June 21, 2019. The theme is Chicago Style Steakhouse and the cost is $155 per person. The dinner will feature Carl’s Glenwood Cellars and Tiedemann wines. Click here to see the food and wine pairings. Call 574-968-3030 to reserve your spot at this dinner.
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Until next week,
Calendar of Events
- June 21 – Lambrusco Day
- August 1 – International Albariño Day
- August 4 – National White Wine Day
- August 18 – International Pinot Noir Day
- August 29 – International Cabernet Day
- September 20 – International Grenache Day
- November 7 – International Merlot Day
- November 14 – International Tempranillo Day
- November 20 – International Zinfandel Day
- December 4 – Cabernet Franc Day
- December 20 – National Sangria Day
- December 31 – National Champagne Day