Two Master Somms Tell You How to Write Your Wine List

BY InVine

One of the most critical aspects of running a wine program is the creation of a successful wine list.

This article from The Guild of Sommeliers presents the advice of two Master Sommeliers on this topic.

Here’s a summary of Geoff Kruth and Matt Stamp‘s advice.


// On organization and categorization

Stay away from “fun” categorizations and any taste profiles (full-bodied reds, aromatic whites, etc.) unless you really know your list inside and out and can be sure each category title is actually representative of its contents.


// On adding diversity of the same wine type

[…] better be for good reason and someone on the floor should be able to make an intelligent differentiation between them.

From what we have seen at InVine clients, this seems to be generally the case: good wine lists strike a balance between (not too little) variety and (not too much) subtlety. There was one point left unexplored in the discussion though: with a digital wine list, sommeliers can leverage not only variety along their wine list, but variety in time too.

This might be irrelevant for the one-time tourist patron, but for those local customers who you’re looking to convince to come regularly, a fresh and dynamic wine list is a great reason to expand experimentation beyond food, and come back often.


// On wine list size

For me, my favorite lists tend to be small-ish, with 100-300 selections at a range of price points reachable by an average, hard-working human being.


One way I like to think about the size and scope of the wine list is to imagine five different stereotypes of diners walking in and sitting down and asking myself whether or not each of them will be able to order a bottle of wine that they really want within five minutes. If the answer to that is no, you have problems.


// On pricing your wine list

[…] I would strongly urge considering a scaled markup. […] Any time I see a wine list with a universal markup percentage (or anything close) I always opt for the less expensive bottle and I save my splurge purchases for restaurants that encourage me to do so.


[…] Thinking about the contribution margin (hey I just made $100 profit on my bottle priced at $200 even though it’s only 2x markup) as opposed to just a simple margin percentage (I just made $40 profit on my $60 bottle of wine at 3x markup) can have many intangible benefits as well—from increasing staff tips on higher check averages to increased customer satisfaction to lots of Instagram pictures in your restaurant.

This is definitely the area we’re here to help restaurants with. Geoff is spot on, on his comment about fixed markups: not only are they not an incentive to pay for higher priced wines, and not really the way to think about margin (% instead of $), but at the end of the day it means you trust the wholesale price to reflect the consumer willingness to pay.

We’re allowing InVine clients to easily explore flexible and dynamic pricing strategies and we’re working to provide them with the data to actually measure how successful their pricing strategies are.


// On creativity and uniqueness

[…] a great list is a high-wire act of user-friendliness, expert salesmanship, and a little personal expression.


// On iPad wine lists

[…] These can be wonderful user-friendly tools or they can be an absolute disaster. They can allow the guest to quickly narrow down choices or they can invite confusion. Is the screen way too bright for your ambience?

This article (and reader comments) seem to agree that most instances of digital wine lists have failed to achieve the careful balance between the ability to narrow down the search process and facilitate the decision for the consumer, while not creating too much distraction.

At InVine we’ve worked hard at making sure the digital wine list (Front of House) is not “an App”, nor is it in any way a disrupting experience to restaurant guests. We started by replicating the traditional paper wine list and made sure everyone would be able to use it. We also worked hard on making sure the User Experience is lean and seamless, and not distracting.

We’re confident that our solution achieves that hard to reach balance (and solves the iPad brightness problem too) and feedback from restaurant managers and guests has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ll try to get Geoff’s and Matt’s opinion on the InVine wine list, and report back!