Tips for Creating a Dynamic and Balanced Wine List

The world of wine can be overwhelming with topics like natural winemakers, sustainable ethos, stylistic differences, and esoteric varietals. These boundary pushing changes are exciting but can create intimidating barriers in developing a menu for a new or existing restaurant. Whether your goals are fine dining, a small café, or a burger joint; here are some tips that should help you gain confidence in developing a wine menu that strengthens a balanced, dynamic, and versatile list.

Utilize your distributors. Their knowledge can be a profitable tool that can help gain confidence while learning about what is happening in the industry. Some of them are in it for sales but many of them are valuable resources for education and guidance. If you are in a larger city you will have access to more distributors that may be focused on specific ethos, regions, and styles so take a moment to do some homework on what is available. In smaller cities there will be fewer distributors but they will have larger portfolios that encompass broader territory. Both have their benefits! Reach out and start doing some tastings. It can be very beneficial to let the distributor know the style of food that will be served or what your concept is. You don’t have to give them a full menu but an idea of primary ingredients or the approach to food is going to help direct them in supporting the vision. Keep an open mind, there may be some lesser known varietals or chilled reds that would make great pairings for summer dishes. This could help create equilibrium while strengthening the sales of your red selection during hot summer months. 

Seasonality is an approach that can help guide and create a harmonious and versatile list. A dynamic list can be your ally and doesn’t mean you need to change the menu once a week.  When spring begins to flourish, it is fun to get excited about rosé and crisp whites to pair with the bounty of radishes, asparagus, and peas. As fall transitions us into cooler and cozier months with roasted squash, braised meats, and heartier soups; wine can help warm us with bigger and fuller reds. The wines that parallel the climate will naturally transition into adaptable pairings on the menu. Swapping a few bottles around during these passages creates a compelling list that can keep guests interested and staff engaged.

This approach to balance isn’t based on the ratio of reds to whites. This is symmetry based on people’s desire to engage with their surroundings as they move through the seasons. Tying both formulas together and maintaining an active relationship with distributors will help build a solid foundation for your restaurant that allows the wine list room to evolve while promoting unity in pairing.


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