Just finished the final day’s judging of Imbibe Magazine’s Sommelier Wine Awards. It has been an interesting experience, tasting with sommeliers and thinking about wines not only in terms of their intrinsic qualities, but also rather practically in terms of where they’d fit onto a restaurant wine list.
During a break in the tasting, I chatted to Peter McCombie MW, who assembles restaurant lists for a living. We were discussing, specifically, the need to have a Rioja on the list, even if it wasn’t your favourite wine, simply because so many punters are familiar with the name and will specifically order Rioja. After all, many people are pretty flummoxed by wine lists, and yet aren’t happy to trust a sommelier’s recommendation. The same is true for Chablis and Sancerre. You need these fixtures on the wine list somewhere.
I was arguing for the inclusion of an inexpensive but tasty Rioja, because lots of people would buy it and enjoy it. Peter made a very interesting point: by all means have a Rioja, but have a more expensive one. (Have a really good, expensive Chablis, and a good, expensive Sancerre.)
If you have a cheap Rioja that tastes good, it can sell too well. It can create a logjam in the list – people stop there and go no further. Put the familiar names too far down the list, and you’ll find it hard to sell really interesting, worthwhile wines with less well known names. The duller celebrities will cannibalise sales of the genuinely interesting, and better value wines.
I’d never thought about removing a wine from a list because it sells too well. But it seems that sometimes this can be a smart move – for both the restaurant and the customer.