Recently I took on a challenge that was to give me a number of sleepless nights. It was a seemingly simple task; to recreate a wine list for a high quality seafood restaurant in Dorset. Now, when I arrived the list was pretty much par for the course with every other restaurant and pub in Dorset, if not the majority of England.
It boasted a cheap Chilean Sauvignon Blanc with a more expensive option from Marlborough (along with a whopping 7 other Sauvignon options!), a cheap Veneto Pinot Grigio with a more expensive Italian option in the form of Gavi di Gavi. It had a confusing array of reds considering it is a seafood restaurant with a hot and ballsy Cabernet from Napa and an equally rich Chateauneuf du Pape. It was a wine list by numbers, showcasing very little of the amazing wine talent that we have available at all price points. However, I was assured, as I am at each restaurant boasting a similar selection that ‘this is what the customers want’. Really?!! They want it? Or it is the only thing they are being offered? I was warned that there would be some very irate customers if I were to try and change things too drastically. Bring it on!
Throwing caution to the wind I decided a full make over was in order. If the customer wanted the very recognisable grapes (Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc) then they could have it by the glass, but it would be a stunning example and certainly not the 2 cheapest wines on the list. I introduced a beautiful, rich Pinot Grigio from Goriska Brda in Slovenia, and for the Sauvignon, one from the cooler Hemel en Aarde Valley in South Africa (sorry Marlborough, if they want a wine from you they can have a delicious Pinot Gris/Riesling/Gewurztraminer blend). These were to be the two most expensive whites by the glass.
If they wanted a cheaper option I would offer them something stylistically similar but from a grape they were less likely to be familiar with and therefore more likely to offer great value. In place of the Sauvignon I introduced a lovely crisp Colombard from South West France, and in place of the cheap Pinot Grigio, a Cortese from Piedmont. The Merlot met a similar fate; it was replaced by a lovely juicy blend of Aragonez and Trincadeira from Alentejo in Portugal at the lower price point, and a lovely red fruited Garnacha from Calatyud in Spain as the more premium option.
Having removed the wine crutches from the list, the next step was to put it into a format that was going to encourage exploration rather than ordering by price point. Previously it had been listed according to the type of food it would pair with which was a nice idea until you had two people eating from two different food types. Instead I introduced the categories of:
‘CLASSIC; tried and tested. Well known grapes from well known areas’,
‘QUIRKY AND FUN – step out of your comfort zone and be rewarded. Amazing wines from lesser known regions and weird grapes’,
‘RETRO CHIC – they went out of vogue but these hot producers have revolutionised these wines – modern and exciting versions of an 80’s classic’
And finally ‘JUST TRUST ME – can’t pronounce it? Didn’t know they made wine? You are in for a treat!’.
The ‘Just Trust Me section included some fairly challenging wines such as an Assyrtiko from Santorini, Forestera from Ischia, Treixadura from Galicia, Mencia from Bierzo, Cannonau from Sardinia and Agiorgitiko from Nemea…. the restaurant goers of Dorset were not in for an easy ride, and neither were the poor waiters. The idea of the list was to encourage dialogue between the customers and the staff who would have to be trained up to their eyeballs on the wines.
The night before the list launch proved to be a sleepless one for me. Each time I closed my eyes I saw myself being chased down the beach by a mob of angry customers demanding bottles of cheap Sauvignon Blanc.
Thankfully that was not a premonition and my faith in the customers open minded approach to wine was well founded. Some customers will ask for a house Merlot or Sauvignon but they are more than willing to try something obscure that represents great value when it is recommended. The more adventurous customers have dived into the ‘just trust me’ section with glee and are discovering the delights of some of the worlds more obscure offerings.
In my humble opinion it is simply not acceptable to offer poor quality wine just because the ‘brand’, be it grape or region, will sell. It is lazy and disrespectful to a clientele who, no matter how much or how little wine knowledge they have, deserve to get a great glass of wine, at any price point. It is the job of the restaurant, wine shop or supermarket to give the customers the opportunity to indulge in great and exciting wines.
For the restaurant in question visit:
– Alex aka monkey-on-a-mission