Japan, Georgia, India, Armenia, Cyprus. What comes to mind when you think of these countries? It is not the typical who’s who of winemaking countries, but seeing wines on lists and on shelves is fast becoming the reality of the modern wine world. Producers are pushing the boundaries of their capabilities in the winery and vineyards to the limits, and frequently beyond what were previously their boundaries would be. New grape varieties are being created, historical ones replanted. And ancient winemaking techniques are being revitalised much to the delight of the modern, edge-seeking consumer. This can be a lot to take in for those in the trade, never mind the consumer. The key is to dip into this cornucopia and search for the jewels to crown your offering.
There are a multitude of ways we can use this new abundance of wines to be an opportunity. Simple upselling: More desirable varieties can now find their way creeping down the wine list, replaced by Catarratto, Ugni Blanc, Fernão Pires. ‘House’ Sauvignon Blancs and Merlots from France or Chile can move down the list to make room for more competitive value found in lesser known varieties, regions or countries such as North Macedonia or Croatia – great wine places where production costs provide relative bargains. Wines from these countries have been widely available in supermarkets for a number of years now and so consumers are far more used to seeing them, and don’t have the misconceptions of years past. This diversification also means it is no longer necessary to replicate countries and varieties quite so frequently. Customers will pay for comfort of knowing exactly what they are drinking, but others will appreciate the opportunity to explore more so at tempting price points.
Not all customers want to be challenged, and that’s fine. The classics are classics for a reason and the comfort-zone is a very nice place to be. However, we can still provide great options in these regions by using slightly ‘left-field’ options. For example, Bordeaux can still offer fantastic value in sub-regions like Blaye, Cadillac or Fronsac amongst others. A wine from one of these areas will generally be far better than a similarly priced Margaux or Pomerol, but still has Bordeaux on the label and will provide a much better experience (and price) for the guest.
For those willing to creep outside of the norm there is a huge array of styles, regions, grapes on offer for them to explore. This is where the ‘weird and wonderful’ come into their own. Alongside a good team understanding, lesser-known wines from Greece, Croatia and Georgia can, and do, compete at the punchier end of a wine offering. It takes a confidence in ones’ customers and team to list these wines ahead of another, more familiar name, from more recognisable countries and regions, but this is what can really separate a wine offering in this increasingly competitive space. Customers rarely talk about what a great Chablis they’ve had, because they get what they expect; whereas a fantastic wine which they have not had before – or even perhaps had a negative perception of previously – is often noteworthy enough to tell friends about.
I love wine lists which tie together the whole concept of a business. The opportunities here are hugely varied, but traditional French and Italian restaurants are renowned for having the majority of wines from their respective countries. If you were in Bordeaux you would do very well to find a wine from anywhere more than 30 miles away, and the same goes for Burgundy, Alsace and many other wine regions. This is because the wine and food of a region grow up together, and so work harmoniously to create the perfect experience. This same concept can be mirrored elsewhere, now that we have the range of wines available to manage it. An Argentinian restaurant no longer has to look to Europe for fresh, aromatic wines, they can look much closer to home in Cafayate or Patagonia where the extremes of climate are being utilised to increase the diversity of wines being made. Wines from India, Japan and the Middle East can all be used to add some locality to a respective wine list. The world in general has become so much better connected, and alongside cheaper travel, cultural knowledge has spread much more readily making local, regional gems easier to find. This too can be said for winemaking, which through shared experiences and practices is developing at a fast pace.
Push the boundaries. Your customers, team and accountant will thank you.
-David Shearsby, Account Manager, London