Value Wines Deliver

Discover Wines that are Accessible to Both Servers and Guests

Creating a wine program for your bar or nightclub is no different than selecting the right beers or liquors. You have to lead and entice your customer base with product selection that is attractively presented and profitable — without straying too far out of their comfort zone. Particularly in a busy drinks- or beer-oriented environment, you can’t be too exotic with wines. Most patrons won’t read menus, so you have to be able to picture your staff easily making a recommendation or answering a question about what you carry.

Having said that, what’s the main thing on everyone’s mind today? Value, however you define it. Even in establishments where guests have been hit less by the slumping economy, people are more conscious of their spending. This doesn’t mean operators have to sacrifice profitability, it just means being aware that flaunting is out and making a smart buy is in.

Where do we find value in the world of wine today? And how can we use this information to put together a profitable, easy to sell list of selections? Here are my tips.

1) Look South: As in South America. The only two countries consistently selling more wine in the U.S. in 2008 and 2009 than in previous years are Argentina (up more than 30 percent each year) and Chile (surging especially this year, with double-digit growth). Why? Both countries are making wines with prominent fruit flavors and soft, easy to drink textures at prices that beat the competition in head-to-head comparisons. Both countries are making wine from grape varieties that we’re intimately familiar with as well as adding some spice with a signature red grape variety, such as Malbec from Argentina and Carmenere from Chile, the better examples of which are rich and luscious with dark berry and chocolatey flavors. People who taste them for the first time can’t believe the prices. Some categories to look for: Casablanca Valley Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay from Chile, Mendoza district Malbec from Argentina, Carmenere from the Colchagua and Rapel Valley in Chile and Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile’s Maipo Valley.

2) Riesling is on fire: White Zinfandel drinkers are dying for a less embarrassing alternative that is sweet but balanced, and Riesling is not only all that but it also has a cool image. Where to find value? Germany (look for the “Classic” designation, which indicates a medium dry style but will satisfy a fruit and sugar craving in a glass), Washington State (the wines are a bit milder and less crisp than Germany) and New Zealand (perfectly balanced between tart and fruity).

3) Spice it up: If you want to catch the next wave of value fashion but also want to find wines that are easy to describe, add some of the following bottles and descriptors to your program: South African Chenin Blanc (“light to medium bodied, fruity but dry with a pear-like flavor”); Petite Sirah from California (“big, bold and gutsy, with a hot peppery finish”); Sicilian Nero d’Avola (“nice and plummy, with a little hint of raisins”) and, of course, the already mentioned Chilean Carmenere (“round and delicious, with rich black fruit”) or Sauvignon Blanc (“clean and lemony, a great alternative to New Zealand”).

4) Don’t forget the bubbles: People may not be popping Dom as much anymore, but they still want that festive feel. To satisfy, offer some non-Champagne value alternatives: Prosecco (made in a dry or semi-sweet style from Italy), French Cremant (from either Burgundy or Alsace — it looks like Champagne, sounds like Champagne, doesn’t taste quite as complex but is one-third the cost), or Spanish cava (the deep value option, dry and mild).

If you want to find real value, you have to venture beyond the safe and easy and into those areas your competitors have yet to discover, but are not so far out of your customers’ or your employees’ experience that they have no idea what they are. NCB


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