Wine Cellar

The well sorted wine cellar. Philosophy and structure of a considered wine list.

 

While food menus appear to be generically the same layout eg appetizer - main course - dessert, wine list lay-outs are more diverse.

These are a few common models. Wines are listed:

  • By varietals
  • By country / region
  • By intensity (light, medium, full-bodied)
  • By varietals (with country of origin subtitles)
  • By colour
     

Very few wine lists run through the varietal alphabet eg Albarino to - and some 90 varietals later - Zweigelt. Rare, but not a bad model.

There are shortcomings to every kind of wine list. Do we please the common punter and receive little respect by wine connoisseurs and the industry (incl. ratings) or do we embrace common (maybe not best) practise and please the wine literate guest. I think it has to be the latter. We can’t be held responsible for the individuals lack of wine knowledge.

My preferred model

The key, I believe, rest’s in the attitude to service and more specifically, to wine service. With skilled service, let alone sommeliers (that are supported, challenged and stimulated ). And with a professionally polished wine list if not wine programme. A wine list that despite size, is easy to navigate and easy to read. Of course all this isn’t good enough if there aren’t appropriate cellar conditions and an adequate stock-control program,. Furthermore glass ware has to reflect the ambition of an operation, both in quality, diversity and handling and washing facilities.

Attached sample is what I suggest. And yes, it is comprehensive. And that is without having the following Q answered:

  • Should there be regional maps included?
  • Should there be brief notes on varietals featured?

This would make it big and bigger. Better too? Hidden here (in any list) is a requirement for functional POS considerable printing (on quality paper) costs. And handsome binders are required too, plus significant labour hours for manual handling.

What size of a list makes business sense? To represent the best regions of the world and to have some depth in quantity and therefore choice of a region and apposite choice of vintages, I suggest some 900 to 1100 labels for a up-market restaurant. It’s hard to get away with less applying before mentioned criteria. Some 600 wines for the young-at heart, dynamic outlet. 

This of course does not answer the initial Q on what makes business sense. But there are intangibles too. Is a wine list an important marketing tool? Guests do recognize wine brands, many come with a fair bit of brand loyalty. Do guests therefore categorically extend and higher their esteem of a restaurant with those attributes?

I suggest to pay respect to blue-chip wines/wineries, iconic wines and vineyards but that needs liveliness and elaborateness through addition of the uncommon, the under-valued, the new and also the trendy.

The iPAD version:

Here is one way, forward, may be. Imagine yourself being given an iPAD, once seated in your restaurant, with a sound wine list. Can you see yourself appreciating such service? Or is this 5 to 8 years to early for punters? This isn’t really new, still rare, but no one, I belief, got it right yet.

So, this means a virtual cellar. A complete listing. A listing by country/region. A listing by varietal, for guests to choose and at their finger tip. A listing by wineries. All in one, plus more, like a search engine to list all wines from $60 to 80 for example.

The daily short list:

I call it the popular smart wine list. Popular because it is convenient for guests. They actually come to have fun. They might be lazy, they sure like convenience. The short list is quick to read (no surprise here). It showcases an eclectic mix of varietals It has plenty of by-the-glass choices.

It’s stimulating and engaging (and yes there are safe choices), but it’s good to have rather unknown labels for people to be unable to compare.

I call it smart because all wines featured must represent great value. That is, sourcing a wine that clearly provides more value than the purchase price suggests. And those wines are out there. It helps our margins. It must trigger delight by guests and should instil, at times, a bit of pride in the selector or host.

Pricing:

Another intricacy. Restaurants work on 300 % of wholesale price. Or double the retail price (so, they come with amazing variation). Or more, in some places. Some apply a fixed percentage. Or fixed dollar amount. Some better (?) places use standard percentage and move it up and down, depending on factors such as:

  • rarity
  • remaining cellar life
  • promotion
  • perceived value
  • a scale in which the higher the price bracket the lesser the mark-up/percentage
     

The ATO takes a mark-up of 2.8 as the norm. (that perhaps are the people winching about prices, sitting in our restaurants). If the revenue minus cost of sales is lesser, they come and audit.

It will be essential to get the exact operational cost and divide it by guest numbers and also by bottles sold. This of course requires a running operation, but delivers insightful figures.

One of the greatest skill needs to be the art of pricing. Good accounting only does so much. The feel for the market, the competition, the value of the experience provided. All this matters greatly, a complex issue and something nevertheless can been sorted with an open mind and with sensitivity.

Some pricing samples:

Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier

Royal Mail 2009 $185 / Aria 2008 $300 / Aubergine 2008 $195 2007 / $500 2009 / $240

Grosset Watervale Riesling

Royal Mail 2004 $89 / Aria 2013 $85 / Aubergine 2005 $140

Dinner at Royal Mail anyone? Taking a vintage guide to make sense of those prices really does not help.

I do understand that different business buy at dissimilar prices, specifically for older vintages or from auction houses. But hey, its hospitality, provide the best possible for your guests inclusive considered wine prices.

What you can see all over are a lot of pricing inconsistencies. I think it’s important to be very consistent in pricing. Exceptions are very rare wines or a wine that have earned a superb rating, like a Jimmy Watson trophy.

It may, for some, be a matter of competition of what to get away with. It’s probably the restaurant critique that writes ‘We had a 2012 Blue Monkey Shiraz was $65, really pricey… it’s quite lovely (yes, that’s the wording by critiques I read at times)but how disappointing…what are they thinking! It retails at $15.50 at Dan Thirsty.

While 90 percent or so of the wines on our imaginary list may be priced with consideration, the list is only as good as it weakest link. Or wine! That why selection has to be handled with discernment (and I know its very subjective, but let’s make it informed subjectivity).

The cost of cellaring and value appreciation through aging:

A book can be written about that. Better not by me, but some financial guy and someone big in wine biz.

My simple version:

A scale of 7.5 % (or so) applied every year. So a $20 purchase may be offered at $58. A year later it goes up to $62.50, a year later it becomes $67 and so on.

Maybe 7.5 % is a good medium figure. Maybe the RBA’s bank rate at time of re-pricing plus 1 or 2 percent.

A bit of flexibility up and down is required. A wine that turns out to be amazing after a couple of years can get a price boost, a not so sexy wine needs a decrease in price (or better, a big function).

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