What Makes For A Winning Wine List
Last month, OpenTable announced the Diners' Choice Awards for the top 50 restaurants with the most notable wine lists in the United States.
With its high profit margin, wine is something full-service restaurant operators shouldn’t miss, but what can we learn from the restaurants that made the top 50 of the most notable wine lists?
Rmgttalks to OpenTable’s Scott Jampol, who oversees the Diners’ Choice awards program, and he offers these highlights from the winning restaurants:
- They don’t necessarily have the largest selection of wine, but they have very approachable wines—not just big ticket bottles of wine.
- Their wine education programs are significant. They don’t just rely on one sommelier to talk about and recommend one type of wine. All employees have been educated on why a wine is on the list and what role it plays with the food.
- Many do a lot of on the job training. It’s almost a philosophy of how does wine fit into what they’re doing.
- The restaurant pays as much attention to wine as to food.
- They often showcase wine in a unique way. The cellar at Addison at the Grand Del Mar in San Diego, for example, is the centerpiece of the restaurant. Other restaurants have spectacular viewing areas of their cellars.
- The restaurants typically showcase wine on the menu, too. They feature unique pairings, with different pour sizes, so that people can sample different amounts.
- Wine is also front and center on the restaurant’s web site, with their wine list published, and information about how it was created and what role it plays in meals.
One of the selected restaurants was RN74 in San Francisco, a Michael Mina restaurant.
“Our restaurant is named after a road in Burgundy and we try to have the wine list inspired by Burgundy so there are a lot of wines from there,” says Rajat Parr, wine director for Michael Mina’s restaurant group. “So it’s a very focused wine list and that’s the inspiration for the restaurant and the cooking.”
Parr put together the wine list and says it took about a year. “It was challenging finding value, and wines at all different price points and styles,” he explains.
Parr continues to visit Burgundy three or four times a year to work on his wine list.
“It’s very important to have a selection of wines but also wines that are at different price points,” he says. “It’s also important to make it approachable—to write the list by varietals and regions.”
Another of the 50 restaurants is Frasca Food and Wine, Boulder, Colorado. Its master sommelier, Bobby Stuckey, says the most important thing when creating a wine list is to make sure it’s progressive.
“Meaning … you have to go from say $30, $45, $55, $75, up to where your threshold is. If you have a bunch of $60 bottles of wine and then a super high-end wine there is no progression to help the guest.”
It’s also vital to have the wine list match the food, he adds.
“If your restaurant has a style of food, make sure you address it. If your chef’s kitchen is based on light delicate dishes inspired by Asia maybe a list dominated by big Cabs and Chardonnays wouldn’t work.
"The sommeliers at the winning restaurants put as much passion into carefully curating their wine lists as chefs put into their menus," says Caroline Potter, OpenTable's chief dining officer.
"Similarly, creating a wine list isn't a one-time venture for these professionals; they constantly adjust their selections to reflect what is happening in vineyards and wineries each year—as well as in their own kitchens each season. The honorees on this list understand that restaurants are where diners discover new wines and they continue to honor this by pouring the finest wines at the right time."
By Amanda Baltazar