October 1, 2021

A comprehensive guide to creating a wine menu

Designing a wine menu can be difficult. There are many factors to consider when designing the wine list, and it's not as simple as just choosing red or white.
By
Pamela Romano

Designing a wine menu can be difficult. There are many factors to consider when designing the wine list, and it's not as simple as just choosing red or white wines. Restaurants and bars need to take into consideration what types of food they offer, who their target customers are, and what type of restaurant or bar they want to be. In this article we will go through designing your own wine menu by going over all these aspects in detail.

Types of wine

Wine comes in many different styles and flavours, so designing a wine list needs to reflect this.

There are four main types of wines: red wine, white wine, rosé wine, and sparkling wine.

The type you serve is largely determined by what food menu you offer as well as the customers coming into your restaurant. Your wine collection will vary based on your restaurant concept and your approach to wine.

Red wine

The most popular type of wine in the world is red wine, which is made from fermented black grapes using the entire fruit; the seeds, the skins, and the stems.

Because of this, red wine is usually more bitter and dry as it has the highest tannin content.

This type comes from grapes that have been crushed and fermented, and the best ones come from France, Italy, and Spain.

Depending on the type of red wine you choose for your restaurant menu, note that wines darker in color have increasingly more tannins, meaning they are dryer and more bitter. You can also opt for older wines since as they age they also have less tannins.

Red wine is best served at room temperature with meat dishes, pizzas, and pastas, as the tannins in it help break down proteins and fat, making for a more flavourful meal.

Some top brands are:

  • Burgundy
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Merlot
  • Chianti
  • Shiraz
  • Pinot Noir
  • Beaujolais

White wine

The other popular type of wine is white wine, which is usually tart and fresh, with a higher alcohol content than reds.

White wines, however, do not have as many tannins as red wines do which makes it more acidic. Acidic wine is best when aiming to cleanse your clients palate, so keep this in mind.

White wines are made from black and white grapes without the skins; that have been crushed but not fermented before being placed in an oak barrel for aging - to give it its color and flavor.

White wines are best served on the colder side with salad, cheese, bread, fish, seafood, or poultry dishes.

Some top brands are:

  • Chardonnay
  • Riesling
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Fumé Blanc
  • Pinot Grigio

Rosé wine

Rosé wine is made throughout a shorter period of time when black grapes are fermented with their skins to make it pinkish in color and sweeter than your typical dry red.

Rosé wine is best served on the warmer side with snacks or lighter dishes such as fruits, chips, crackers, dairy, poultry, or dessert; it's also a great wine to drink in place of Champagne!

Some top brands are:

  • Pinot Noir Rosé
  • Chardonnay Rose
  • Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé
  • White Zinfandel (Reds)
  • Riesling (Blush wine, White Zinfandel)
  • Dessert Wine

Sparkling wine / Dessert Wines

Sparkling wines are usually sweet with their signature bubbly texture and are the lowest in alcohol content.

They can be white or pink in color and come from grape varieties that have been fermented from black and white grapes.

Sparkling wine is best served chilled in a taller glass of wine to retain the gas and temperature it's known for. It is paired well with desserts, fruit, seafood, and salad or at the end of a meal.

Some top brands are:

  • Champagne
  • Moscato (Dessert wine)
  • Cava
  • Prosecco (Dessert wine)
  • Fumé Blanc (White Zinfandel)
  • Sauvignon Blanc Sparkling Wine

The most popular type of dessert wine is Champagne, which has notes of citrus fruit, apples, honeydew melon; it's crisp but also buttery with a long finish.

Dry wine vs. Sweet wine

The best type of wine for a particular food is determined by what flavor profile it has.

It's important to understand this when designing your menu, as diners will often want certain wines to be available for purchase with the menu items they decide to order.

For example, if you offer spicy foods then sweet reds or whites would be a better choice, however if you have salty and fried dishes then dry reds or whites would be the best option.

Note: Spicy foods pair best with wines having a lower alcohol content.

Wine pricing

Wine pricing is determined by the actual quality of wine, brand and age. Pricing will also vary depending on where the wine is sold – this could be at a liquor store or in restaurants. However, in restaurants, the price markup is between 2 to 3 times the cost of the original.

At some establishments, customers can get a bottle for $35 but if they go to an upscale restaurant with higher priced wines their wine might cost $85.

Types of restaurants have different pricing structures for wine because their customers generally enjoy wines at a variety of price points, whereas with a high-end restaurant the customer is looking to find that quality wine they are willing to pay more money for.

The type and volume of food offered also influences prices since certain dishes will require higher priced wines in order to pair well with it.

Below are the most common wine price ranges:

  • $20 - $49 ($)
  • $50 - $99 ($$)
  • $100 and up ($$$)

If you want to sell a higher priced wine, keep in mind that the cut off should be around $500, unless you are serving an exceptional wine such as a vintage wine or one of the top wines in the world. Otherwise, all your customers will be seeing it dollar signs and not a high-quality product.

You do not always need to have high priced wines in your restaurant to be successful. It is essential that you offer affordable prices, reasonable ones that still provide you with a profit margin. As long as you keep up with what your competition is offering, you can stay on top of your restaurant by offering wines that no other wine clubs are offering.

However, if you find your customers asking for a wine that may be offered by your competitors pretty often, consider adding it to your menu to avoid losing to your competition.

Recognizing wine by taste and price

Aa wine professionals state, a wine's body is a measure of how much sugar has been converted into alcohol in the fermentation process and can be classified as light, medium or full-bodied with many styles within each classification - like Pinot noir which falls under the red "medium" category.

Medium bodied wines are best for food pairings that require a wine with fruit, but not too much tannin.

Full body wines are best for food pairings where the wine will be tasted briefly with other flavors mixed in like red meat dishes or chicken dishes.

The texture of wine is also determined by what type of grape juice was used to produce it and can either be smooth or rough.

1. Red wine

Red wine is often the most expensive type of wine, but Sauvignon Blanc and Champagne can also be pricey.

Red wines are usually more expensive than white wines because they require more care in the making process, such as care that white wines do not.

Young red wines have a bright color just as young whites have a bright color, but each will darken slightly with age.

The best way to identify if a wine is mature and ready to drink is by tasting it carefully!

When tasting a red wine, it should have an aroma that is fruity and the taste should be tart. If the wine doesn't have an aroma or if the taste is too harsh, then it is not mature enough to drink.

2. White wine

White wine should taste light and refreshing. Most white wines will have a body that is slightly off-dry, so they will not be too sweet.

For example, if you enjoy light-bodied crisp dry white wine like Sauvignon Blanc for it's clean flavor that resembles fresh lemon juice and grassy notes; then avoid purchasing over-ripe fruity heavy-bodied oaky Cabernet Sauvignon.

3. Rosé wine

Rosé wine should ideally taste light and refreshing with a body that is slightly off-dry.

There are many rosé wines out there, but one of my favorites to try is called "Rosa Regale." This wine has a refreshing pink hue that enhances the light fruity flavor. The wine is made in Italy, and it's made with concentrated grape juice and a varietal blend of different grapes from France.

This bottle of wine costs $25-$30 per bottle and you can find it at any local liquor store. It would be perfect for hot summer days!

4. Sparkling wine

If it's made right, great sparkling wine should taste slightly sweet and refreshing with a clean finish. In the most simple terms, a good sparkling wine is bright like Champagne and Pinot Noir but has more alcohol (12.5-13%).

It should be livelier than table wine, but not as lively as Champagne or Prosecco. A proper palate will find that the flavors in any great bottle of sparkling wine are nuanced yet consistent from sip to swallow — never harsh or overtly alcoholic on the finish, always crisp without being austere.

Serving wine at your restaurant

Different types of restaurants also require different wine menus as they cater to different customers.

For example, an Italian restaurant might offer robust wines with heavy tannins whereas one that serves more delicate foods would want to offer lighter wines.

Some restaurants may even have a separate wine menu for each type of cuisine they serve, so it's important to understand the different types when designing your own wine list!

Wine pairing ideas for your restaurant

One of the most important considerations when designing your own wine list is to find out what type of foods you serve and how they pair with specific types of wines.

The type of cuisine your restaurant offers can vary whether or not to offer different types of wines in order to pair with specific foods on your menu!

For example, if you are serving Italian dishes that have heavy tomato sauces then it's best to choose a red or white wine with lots of body.

If you are offering lighter dishes that use garlic, herbs and spices then a white wine is the best option as it will not be overpowered by these flavours.

For example, if you are designing a wine list for an Indian restaurant with spicy dishes, then it's best to opt for wines from warmer countries such as France or Australia where there are many varieties of grapes that suit this kind of cuisine.

Some wine pairing ideas:

  • Sauvignon Blanc wine pairing wit butter garlic shrimp
  • New Zealand Riesling pairing with BBQ ribs
  • Rioja Tempranillo wine with roast beef and potatoes, or grilled pork chops
  • Chimay Rouge with Game, duck
  • Chianti Classico with Fettuccini Alfredo
  • Riesling with light flavours like shellfish or desserts
  • Sancerre with lobster
  • Shiraz with lamb
  • Albarino with scallops, crab, or shrimp
  • Chardonnay, preferably from California, with risotto dishes and salads
  • Vouvray with crab or shrimp
  • Merlot for poultry dishes
  • Pinot Noir with meat, such as steak, lamb and venison
  • Cabernet Sauvignon with a burger and fries
  • Grüner Veltliner with fish or chicken
  • Chenin Blanc with seafood
  • Cote du Rhone wine with roast beef and potatoes, or grilled pork chops

Rules for wine pairing

  • Match the wine's acidity, tannin and sugar levels with the food
  • Match the type of wine with what you’re having. For example, if you're eating beef, match a Cabernet Sauvignon
  • For spicy dishes, pair wines that are high in acidity or tartness.
  • Pair wines with strong flavors with other wines that have similar flavors. For example, when drinking a Port or a Syrah (which should be served at room temperature), drink it alongside foods that are also served at room temperature
  • The best way to enjoy wine is simply by tasting it all on its own without food. This is a good way to get a sense of the wine's taste and strength.

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Create a profitable wine menu

Customer suggestions

Suggesting wine pairings to your customers is one way to give them an opportunity to experiment with different types of wines. The safest wines to choose from are those that offer a wide range of flavours and are lighter in body.

A wine that is too heavy or can have a lot of acidity may not be the best for beginners. As such, avoid wines from countries with very high temps and rainfall year-round.

Instead, go for wines from cooler climates such as New Zealand's Sauvignon Blanc, which is quite pale and light bodied while still being zesty and acidic. A common example of this would be Beaujolais Nouveau, which is made from Gamay grapes that are harvested right before the end of harvest season in order to make them

It is usually best to avoid any wine that is very light and acidic as it will be overpowered by the food on your menu.

For example, if you are designing a wine list for an Indian restaurant with spicy dishes then it's best to opt for wines from warmer countries such as France or Australia where there are many varieties of grapes that suit this kind of cuisine. If you are a Vietnamese restaurant, you may offer Vietnamese wines that can be found in the Asian section of your wine store.

How to find wine staples

There are many types of wine that can be a staple in restaurants and it is completely dependent on the type of cuisine offered.

A good example is choosing wines by their country and noting if they have higher acidity or not. This will help you choose the best wine for your restaurant's menu.

You may also look into what your customers order the most often through trial and error, or ask them why they order certain wines over others.

You also may find price ranging more helpful, offering some lower end versus higher end wines so those with different budgets can be served.

You are more likely to succeed when you offer a diverse range of wines which differ from your competition because it gives customers a variety of wines to choose from and sets your restaurant apart.

As such, head over to the wine section at your local supplier and take note of what is offered there! If you are designing a Vietnamese restaurant wine menu then look for wines from France or Australia.

How to create a wine menu

The wine menu designing process entails first determining which types of wines you want on the list, and then designing a layout for them.

The best way to design your wine list is designing it with the customer in mind, and designing it around what they might like or order. You want them to have an enjoyable experience at your restaurant after all! There's no point in having a large selection of wines, if no one is ordering them.

Choose the right suppliers first

Finding the right suppliers for your restaurant is a crucial step in designing the wine list. Restaurants can choose to have their wine lists made up of wines from different countries, or they could stick with one country and region.

If you want to offer French wines for example, it might be best for them to come from France itself as opposed to an importer who may buy their wine from that country.

It's important to choose a supplier who offers the best quality wines for you restaurant, and also has an extensive supply of varieties.

When it comes to suppliers, ordering straight from vineyards is an option.

Restaurants who order straight from vineyards are doing so with the customer in mind, designing the wine menu to suit their needs.

Ordering wine straight from a vineyard may be a good option if you want to offer wines that are of a high quality, or wines that are native to your country or region.

Note: You may not have a local vineyard, therefore considering to import directly from one provides your restaurant / bar with a premium which can potentially attract elite diners, and may land you on a "best restaurants to try" list.

Separate the wine from your main menu

It's important to make the wine menu a separate entity from your main menu.

If you don't, then it becomes difficult for customers to choose what they want without being confused or overwhelmed by the vast amount of options available on both menus.

A good rule of thumb is showcasing 8 to 10 different types of wines the fall under a wide variety of categories. This is particularly true in restaurants where food and drinks are usually consumed together.

Customers will appreciate it because of how easy and simple they can find what they want as the menus serve separate purposes. They'll be more inclined to order from you, when there's an easier way to get what they want on one list.

Another tip is considering the type of restaurant or bar you are. If you offer less food options, be diverse in your wine menu.

Wine list arrangement

Designing the wine list also entails designing whether it'll just be an order by price list with a wine description and price, or designing it as a food menu with wines listed underneath.

The way you choose to display your wine list depends on what sort of atmosphere you want the restaurant to have.

Do you want it upscale? Do you only serve cocktails? These are questions that come into play in designing your wine list layout.

Listing it by types of wine is a start, however ingredient and origin descriptions should follow the wine titles to:

  • Guide customer choices
  • Explain the wine flavours better for those who are inexperienced
  • Help establish your restaurant as specialized in certain wines

It is also important to specify whether there are sulphites or not, since they are a common allergen.

Avoid listing the calories though as this will deter customers from ordering wine or even complicating the wine selection process.

When choosing how to rearrange your menu, keep in mind that high profit items should be listed first and some should be placed in the middle region as the eye is usually drawn to these regions of a page. However, less profitable items are usually listed at the end.

A wine list shouldn't have more than thirty to fifty wines on it, and that includes all types of wine offered in your restaurant. If you offer a large selection then customers will feel overwhelmed by having so many choices before them.

It is also important to list the wines in a way that helps customers make their choices easier because you want them to order from your restaurant. You can do this by designing categories for types of wine or naming different regions and countries according to what they produce best.

It's important because designing where it goes on the list will determine how often people notice and purchase from it.

It'll also determine what type of customer is likely to buy from it, so remember that when designing where your wine menu will be located!

Offer wine tasting

Offering wine tasting is a great way to get customers feeling like they're getting their money's worth.

It also gives them the opportunity for an enjoyable, educational experience at your restaurant.

You might want to consider designing specials around some of these wines you offer in tastings as well! Offer bottle discounts or special mixed drinks with different wines.

Wine tasting specials are a great way to attract customers who may not be wine drinkers but want an enjoyable experience at your restaurant, and the opportunity for some sort of 'experience' in drinking what they're trying out!

A good example would be designing flights with three different wines you offer on your list that best represent your food menu.

You could offer a flight of three red wines to best represent your meat and red wine dishes for example, or a combination of two whites and one rosé for seafood lovers. This is a solution to offering the whole bottle and the customer no longer liking it after they pair it with their food.

Wine portions

Offering glasses and bottles of wine are the two main formats that restaurants offer.

When designing a wine list, it is important to consider what type of restaurant you are designing for and the customers who will be coming in.

A higher-end establishment might serve wines by the glass on their tasting menu with specials like flights made up of three various glasses offered alongside them.

If they want to offer certain types of wine by the bottle, they might have a list with descriptions and prices.

A lower-end establishment will most likely focus on bottled wines that are served in containers like carafes or pitchers.

They may also serve some varieties by the glass for customers who prefer it over an entire bottle.

Hotel restaurants usually have lists of wines by the bottle that are available for purchase.

In addition, glass selections do not provide much of a profit like bottles do, therefore consider having the bottle option more accessible and ask your staff to try selling bottles more often.

Adding some color

Labeling your wines by color with fun designs or icons can add some interest to your menu. With the wide variety of wine styles available, designing a wine list for your restaurant becomes personal.

The best way to design is based on what you want and who you are catering to. Creating an in-depth understanding of what customers like will help you create a wine list that suits their preferences.

You can opt for deeper reds for red wine. Whites, yellows, or creams for white wine. Reds or pinks for rosés. Gold, light oranges, or light pinks for sparkling wines.

You can incorporate these colours either as backdrops within each wine category, use them as style elements, or change the colour of the wine labels entirely - such as "White Wine" written in a white font with a soft backdrop for a light contrast.

Another way color can be incorporated is through your photographs or wine encasing. The photos you take of your wine can help customers visualize what they are looking for and help them picture themselves tasting your wine. It's all in the experience you can offer them, even before they order anything on your menu.

Catering to your customers

When designing a wine menu, you need to cater to your audience.

For instance, if the majority of customers at your restaurant are tourists visiting from abroad and don’t speak English well or know much about wine tasting, then it would be best for you as a restauranteur to have wines that taste similar in their flavor profile so they can be easily recognized.

If your restaurant is more of a wine connoisseur type, then it would be best to have wines that are known for their quality and taste profile so the customer can enjoy these bottles with specialty foods they offer on their menu.

It is also interesting to invest in imported wines, as this will set yourself apart from competitors. It does not hurt to update your wine menu and edit as you go. It would not be useful to serve a wine that keeps collecting dust in your stock room or bar.

Where to open the wine bottle

Opening the wine bottle at the customer's table is one of the newest restaurant trends we are seeing today.

Instead of opening wine bottles at a bar or in the kitchen, wines are being opened and served to customers while they wait for their food.

Wine openings might be done as people are seated and waiting for their food to arrive, or as a complimentary service when they order wine with their meal, as well.

There are some benefits to an open wine bottle, such as avoiding the wait time of having a waiter walk up and down a full restaurant with a tray of opened wine glasses. It also allows customers to discuss their opinions on the wine with one another once they taste it.

Consider digital wine menus

In today's world of digital and online shopping, you can now offer a digital wine menu to your customers, this is useful for those considering to come to your restaurant.

You have the option of designing a website that is dedicated strictly for your restaurant wine list or incorporating it into the main site if you are already designing one with ease-of-access in mind.

This will allow people who are researching or looking for a restaurant to come and enjoy wine with their food. They can browse through the wines you have on offer, see what they are like, then make an informed decision about whether or not it is something that will interest them.

You also have the opportunity to add more information about your wine, such as a detailed description that includes notes on why you chose this wine for your menu and what it tastes like with specific foods on offer at the restaurant.

For instance, if someone is looking for an Italian wine from Tuscany that can be paired well with a Mediterranean dish, you can offer them a selection of wines from Tuscany that have characteristics similar to the type they're looking for.

This is an ingenious way to get your customers coming back again and again because their needs are being met every time they come in.

Note: Don't hesitate to update your social media every time you have a new wine selection. This will show your followers / customers that you are making efforts to curate your wine menu and that you are still relevant in the restaurant industry.

Final thoughts

When it comes to curating a perfect wine list, there is no specific to do list. Everyday wines can perform just as well as aged wines depending on the restaurant / bar you are running. The above information reveals tips on how to get there based on the specific needs you have and the wine program you are planning to offer.

Deciding to create a separate wine menu requires your dedication and research efforts to get there. The most important takeaway is to continue curating your wine menu as you go; so that you not only foster your success, but you continue to impress your customers.

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