Photos by Iona Renfrew
|House of Townend Wine Merchants, Melton, East Yorkshire|
Beers and lagers are often seen as the ideal tipple to accompany curries and spicy food but a good wine list can help restaurants maximise profits. Stuart Shenton, Manager at House of Townend Wine Merchants in Melton, uncorks the secret of creating the perfect wine list and recommends six wines that go well with curry …
|Stuart Shenton, Manager , House of Townend Wine Merchants|
ZR: Stuart, how important is an effective wine list in a restaurant?
SS: In my opinion the wine list is incredibly important. A quality restaurant spends time creating a fantastic menu, good ingredients and innovative cooking styles, so I don’t understand why you would want to ruin it by having a boring, bog standard wine list. Also, customers are drinking better wine now; you tend to have a lot more wine savvy people out there and putting together a good quality wine list can really add value.
What’s the optimum number of wines for a restaurant wine list?
I don’t think there’s a blueprint as to number – it all depends on the size and style of restaurant. If you have a Michelin star type venue, you’re probably going to want a pretty extensive list with a sommelier who can talk people through the wines. However, if you’re a small, 20-cover, quick in-and- out restaurant, you may want something a bit easier. I would say a standard quality restaurant with 40 seats would be looking at a 20-40 bin wine list. In my experience people like to be guided so it helps to narrow down choice and utilise your wine list as much as possible.
How would you advise restaurants to increase their GDP on wine sales?
The majority of restaurants supply a GDP percentage and, whilst that works well with your house wines, it doesn’t work so well for wines higher up the list. For example, if you buy your house wine at £4 ex VAT per bottle, most restaurants would look at making a 65% GP margin. That means you’d be selling it for £13.95 per bottle which isn’t unreasonable for a good quality wine. But, if you apply the same 65% per cent margin to classic wines, like a Chablis or Sancerre, you’d be spending about £9-£10 for a bottle and charging customers £35 – that sounds an awful lot! My advice would be to charge the customer around £23 for such wines which would be good value for them and still profitable for you. It’s a common perception that by having a blanket per cent margin, you’re going to make loads of money but if you’re not selling it, you’re not making anything either.
One thing that definitely could be done is to offer more wine by the glass. Most restaurants serve glasses of house wine or maybe a well known grape variety, but one way to encourage customers to try new wines, would be to use a special cork which takes the air out of the bottle and reseals it. This enables you to offer around 20 wines by the glass. You can get up to 10 to 15 days out of the bottle without losing any of the quality – if it takes that long to finish the bottle!
How can restaurateurs balance their food with wine?
Good food can enhance a great wine and a good wine can enhance great food. If you spend time creating a quality and diverse menu, the wine list should reflect the different styles of dishes available. For example, if your restaurant is well known for a particular style of cooking or signature dish, make sure your wine list mentions a wine that works really well with that dish.
Food and wine matching is a fine art, but at the end of the day, if a customer loves a big Australian Chardonnay, they’re going to enjoy it no matter what. Nevertheless, if you have signature dishes on your menu, I would definitely recommend approaching customers with: “Why not try this fresh, crispy white that goes perfectly with such and such a dish ...?”
How important is it to train your staff about wine?
Staff are your best asset when it comes to getting more from your customers. Find out what type of training is available from your wine merchant. Training and tasting programmes give staff that background and knowledge so that if a customer asks for advice, they feel confident enough to recommend a certain wine.
In terms of external training, there is the Wine & Spirits Education Trust examination which can be taken at colleges. This is the recognised qualification of the wine trade and some restaurateurs fund staff to go through this at Intermediate or Advanced level.
How would you balance your wine list between old favourites and more esoteric varieties?
Most people think in terms of the bigger brands like
Gallo etc. You won’t get these from a good, reputable wine merchant, but the
choice of wine list comes down to striking a balance between recognisable
grapes and more esoteric choices that add interest. Echo Falls
For any new restaurant wanting 10 reds and 10 whites on their list, there are some classic elements I could pinpoint straight away. For example, you’re going to need a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc; a Pinot Grigio; a Chablis or a Sancerre. These will cover your bases but that’s when you can afford to go on and add something a little bit more unusual. You need to balance wine not just in terms of country, but with styles so that you have something dry, something a bit sweeter, bone dry or medium. Then, if you get your staff trained up, you can add slightly more esoteric wines so they can recommend something at a slightly higher price according to the customer’s preferences.
How can layout and design of the list help?
This is an area where you can definitely improve your wine list by giving it a more interesting appearance. In a more traditional approach everything is laid out in terms of bin numbers. That often leads customers to opt for the House wines because there isn’t enough info or description. A standard list means people tend to go for the house wine because they’re not being challenged.
One thing that really works well is to split the list into styles rather than countries so that, if people come in saying they like crisp, fruity wines or big full flavoured reds that will be reflected in your choice of wines. The brands won’t be available in the high street so people won’t recognise them but what they will recognise is grape variety and style. So, if they usually like a Pinot Grigio and further up the list you’ve got a Verdicchio with similar qualities, you’ve got a fair chance of trading your customer up.
Obviously make sure you have a nice looking wine list – get a professional to design it, taking into account the style and character of your restaurant i.e; trendy or traditional. Make sure you have got tasting notes; not huge, in-depth descriptions but may be two or three lines that reflect the personality of the wine. It’s important to avoid certain terms like ‘acidity’ or ‘tannin’ – replace them with words like crisp, fresh, grassy or warming, right and fruity. A good quality wine merchant is always worth their salt just to explain how and why a wine list can be put together.
Finally, which goes best with Indian food – wine or beer?
Beer and lager go well with Indian food but it all depends on the restaurant or occasion. Beer is great in certain situations but in my opinion, for a special occasion in a high quality establishment, a bottle of wine takes a meal to an entirely different level.
Stuart’s recommendations for six wines that work with curry? (PRICES MAY VARY)
1. Torrontes 2011, Zohar de Susana Balbo House of Townend price (HOT) £8.35 ex VAT,. Classic and fragrant grape variety from
The aromatics work really well with food that has spice and heat.
2. Basa 2011, Rueda, (HOT price) £6.99 ex VAT A really good Spanish wine from an area in Rueda. Nice and light, fresh and crisp but also quite elegant. It works really well with fish. Would probably be a good match for less contemporary style meals, for example, a buttery style dish.
3. Reisling 2008 (HOT price) £7.58 ex VAT – A wine from
Valley in South Australia
which has some of the best Reisling in the New World.
Again you get lovely aromatics, a bit of lime and lemon but a little drier with
a more refreshing finish.
4. Gaba do Xil 2009, Valdeorras (HOT price) £7.72 ex VAT Quite an unusual wine from northern
The grape variety is Mencia. It’s a really aromatic and fragrant red but has a
little more weight and body than a Beaujolais.
Delicious with any type of spice.
5. Côtes du Rhône ‘Caprices’ 2010 (HOT price) £7.36 ex VAT - Really classic, popular wine. Suitable for anyone looking for a more traditional style of wine to go with the food, Cotes du Rhone has all-round appeal because it has weight and body but is also quite soft and subtle.
6. ‘Pitch Fork’ Shiraz 2010 (HOT price )£6.58 ex VAT – A bit of an old favourite at House of Townend - a really good quality, big, bold and rich flavoured Shiraz that works well with a meaty dish or lamb kebabs .