Jon Harris, Hallgarten’s Director of Scotland and NW England has pondered the future of long lists and just what a short list would comprise of.
First up, I agree the question is quite ambiguous – the answer really is dependent on the kind of venue you are talking about; however for this piece I am considering a long list being one that is 60 bins or so.
In my opinion there are still some places where a wine list should be a leather bound tome, covering every country, region and producer imaginable – the type of wine list you can happily spend a few hours flicking through. Wine is hugely emotive and romantic for many, and the UK market is one of the most exciting and diverse in the world. It is vital our top sommeliers and buyers keep this tradition alive. 67 Pall Mall is the shining beacon of this.
All that being said, for a huge proportion of the UK On trade it is simply not a sensible option. With a move to a more casual cooking and dining style (just look at Nathan Outlaw’s announcement in June closing his 2-star Michelin flagship restaurant to replace it with a ‘more accessible’ dining option) it is important the modern wine list keeps pace.
I am sure some of the traditionalists even within my own business will disagree, but I believe you can build an exceptional, balanced and exciting list in under 40 bins. Here’s how it could look:
- 3 or 4 sparkling wines. You can cover entry-level, an interesting upsell or Rosé and a Champagne
- 10 to 14 whites and reds. Anything less than this and you run out of room for the more esoteric wines, certainly once you include the “must haves” (Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec, etc)
- 3 Rosé allows a range of styles and regions to suit customer pallets and price points
- 2 or 3 sweet wines, including fortified – unfortunately a declining category but essential for a quality restaurant. Try adding them to your dessert menu as well as or instead of the wine list.
There are a number of benefits of a shorter list. Firstly this approach allows a range of list design options, from the more traditional by price or alphabetical by country, to a modern style-based model. I am a big advocate of a list constructed by style/flavour profile: it forces the customer to read the list to find what they actually want to drink, rather than purely selecting by price or grape variety. It also makes sure the list’s creator is offering an even(ish) balance of styles, not simply what they like to drink.
Having a more concise list also allows you to include and give focus to some exciting and esoteric wines at key price points. On a larger list these quirkier wines can often get lost as customers search for something they recognise, or rely on a Sommelier’s recommendation. Here they are front and centre.
The shorter list gives you the opportunity to offer a large majority (or all) of the list by the glass. This not only has margin benefits, as the GP on glasses is usually higher than by the bottle, but offers the customer the chance to experiment and experience the range.
A shorter list by no means removes the need for a Somm or buyer; in fact, it arguably makes their role more important – shorter lists need to be regularly changed, usually seasonally, in line with food menus. This means the link between food and wine is more important than ever, and any decisions must make real commercial sense and not purely be whimsical.
An important financial consideration is stockholding value. A more concise list will automatically help control par levels and stock management. In the On trade where margins and cash are almost always tight (particularly at the moment), it is vital not to tie up too much in stock.
Finally team training. This has become increasingly important over the years and can have a huge impact on wine sales. A couple of years ago, one large national customer of ours was able to attribute a 7% growth in value and volume directly to our training programs. A shorter list makes training easier, and opens it up to all the team, not just a select few wine specialists and Sommeliers. If all your team are selling better wine, it will drive incremental margin.
I understand that for the purists out there having a list with just one or possibly no Bordeaux or Burgundy mentioned will simply not cut it, but for much of the trade I believe an exciting, regularly changing, concise list is absolutely the way forward, not just financially but predominantly to enhance the guest experience.