How to Create a Great Wine List

Creating a great wine list, is a little like creating a guest list for a party.  You would like them to have some things in common, the ability to get along with each other and be comfortable with their surroundings.

In a commercial context, a wine list should be created to match with the cuisine that is being offered.  Both regional cuisine and their accompanying wines have carefully evolved through hundreds of years to create a gastronomic harmony. 

For example, Italian wines are made to retain a slight acidity that brings out the flavor of tomato sauce, garlic and herbs. 

Choose from Chianti, Barbera, and Montepucciano d’Abruzzo.  These are relatively inexpensive wines that will enhance the classic Italian food that diners love.  It is very helpful to the dinner guest to arrange the wines in categories of red and white, and from full-bodied, medium bodied and lighter bodied in each category. 

As many restaurants specialize in one cuisine or another, pairing regional wines with their appropriate cuisine is the surest way to guarantee an appropriate food and wine combination.

But it is important that top flight restaurants serving gourmet fare, go the extra mile and have some high-end selections. 

A good French restaurant should have some estate bottled Bordeaux of Grand Cru status or higher end Italian wines like Barolo or Brunela di Montecino for the rich, meat-laden cuisine of Tuscany.  After all, great food deserves great wine. 

Steakhouses should have a strong representation of the various red wines, including some New World wines from California and South America.  This style wine has come into vogue and is a popular choice with grilled or broiled meat dishes.  Check the wine list of any good steakhouse, and you will see red wines, from France, Spain, Italy, Argentina, Australia and California. 

Though a seafood restaurant may rightly concentrate on white wines, hearty fish like salmon, tuna or sea bass may pair well with some lighter, fruitier wines like Pinot Noir or Zinfandel.  This is especially true when prepared with a rich cream or butter sauce.

The most popular white wine is Chardonnay, and the restaurant should have rich oaked or crisp, unoaked styles.  Crisp Sauvignon Blanc pairs particularly well with cold seafood salads and lighter floral wines like Vernazzia or Vouvray with crab and other shellfish.

For the best possible wine list, the executive chef, and wine manager should work together to create a well-balanced and diverse list to appeal to a broad segment of the public.  The chef and wine manager should sample each other’s work and come to a consensus on the wine that is chosen for the restaurant. 

If the wines are well chosen, there is no need to present a mind-boggling array of wines.  However, if the restaurant is putting its wine selection in the forefront, you should have as many types of wine as your storage capacity can handle.  Having taken the time to create an excellent wine list, proper storage and service is essential.  If the proper cellar conditions are not available, at least keep the wine in a cool, dark place, with the bottles turned on their sides.  A red wine presented at the table should feel slightly cool to the touch. 

Proper glassware should be provided, but an all-purpose wine glass for casual dining may suffice. 

Have an ample supply of ice and ice buckets for white and sparkling wines, as well as clean service napkins to avoid dripping water on the table or the customer’s food. 

Finally, train your wait staff in basic, unpretentious wine service to make sure that the wine is opened and served professionally. 

Following these basic guidelines and looking for new wines with an eye towards quality and value, you will create the perfect wine list. 


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