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Tips to craft a winning wine list

Tips to craft a winning wine list

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Nobody wins when a customer sends back a bottle of wine. It’s a major buzzkill for the customer and a financial loss for the restaurant. Operators will never be able to predict accurately which individual wines customers might choose to reject. But there are some likely suspects. That’s why the certified sommeliers at The Wine Elite have identified seven wine styles that should be nonstarters on any restaurant’s list.

Here are the wines you want to avoid, with a preferred alternative for each:

1. Many great varieties of wines come from Italy, but Pinot Grigio isn’t one of them. A restaurant’s wine list is better off with Pinot Gris from Alsace. It’s “worlds apart” between the two, the sommeliers say. 

2. California is home to many fine Zinfandels and plenty of White Zinfandels too. But you’re better off selling customers who seek the latter a rosé sourced from France. The sommeliers dub White Zinfandel a “sweet flabby rosé leftover from the stone age of American wine exploration.” Ouch.

3. Offer some Chianti from Tuscany on your list and you can bet it will be a steady seller. It might be an ok choice, but wines from the Chianti Classico sub-appellation within Tuscany are going to please a lot more customers.

4. A small percentage of restaurant operators may choose to offer Pinotage from South Africa to their customers. The Wine Elite suggest you not be one of them. Why? “Burned rubber and rusty nails are interesting flavors, but don't hold your attention for long,” is their broad-brush review. Even proponents agree getting people to love Pinotage is a struggle.

5. There’s plenty of Pinot Noir from Chile on the market, often at very favorable price points. Aim higher, say our experts. They argue that Chilean Pinot is the right grape but grown in the wrong terroir. “New Zealand is more reliable,” they suggest.

6. It’s a somewhat similar story if you choose red wines from Germany. The climate is just too cold to produce good reds, no matter the grape. That same climate is what makes German Rieslings so great—you can’t go wrong with those on your restaurant’s list. 

7. When it comes to dry wines from Portugal, the Wine Elite admits a few worthy options can be found, But the odds are not in your favor, they argue, so stick with port.

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