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What information should a restaurant include on its wine list?

wine list
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I have what I think is a decent wine list and formatted it to include as much information as possible about the producer, vintage, grape, etc. to help guests make their decisions. I have a regular who literally marked up my wine list, telling me how to put it in proper format. For example, he said I shouldn’t list the grapes on European wines and had to list the producer after the region. Is that right?

– Owner, upscale Indian restaurant, New York City


I think here we need to distinguish between two types of right or wrong: what is “right,” as in the proper way to do things, and what is “right for me,” meaning the best way to convey hospitality to your guest.

Broadly, yes, there is a proper way to list a wine on your list. The format can vary based on preference and house style, but generally includes: Producer, name of the wine, region, vintage. A large list will also include a bin number.

So, for example, a white Burgundy might read:

Domaine Laroche (producer), La Reserve de l'Obedience (name of wine), Chablis (region, which is also style, in this case), 2014 (vintage)

And, of course, a price.

Here we need to distinguish between what is right and what is right for you. If you listed wine in that format, are your guests sufficiently savvy to understand what you are offering and order accordingly given only the basic and proper information? If not, are your servers sufficiently versed to help your guests with their selection?

If yes, then thank the guest for his feedback and feel free to format accordingly. But I suspect you know your guests better than he does. Providing more information, while unnecessary to a wine snob, may in fact be providing good hospitality for a guest who struggles to navigate the list. For example, explaining that the Chablis is a chardonnay and that a reserve means a special bottling may help a guest who doesn’t recognize the region or domaine make a more informed choice, more delicious pairing and ultimately have a more positive experience in your restaurant. After all, that’s the goal for everyone, isn’t it?

This may be a case of the customer is always right—but you still know better and have to make decisions that are right for your operation. My advice is to put the list in “proper” format, but then list some helpful details and tasting notes below to help your guests make informed selections, especially if you have the sense that your clientele is not wine-savvy.

Looking at competitors’ lists and working with your wine vendors on how you present and describe your offerings may help to fine-tune your list a bit as well. Remember that the goal of any menu, food or beverage, is to help you maximize sales while providing an unparalleled guest experience. More on writing wine lists here.

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