The Buyer
Harry Crowther: How brave and ambitious is your wine list?

Harry Crowther: How brave and ambitious is your wine list?

Vaccines are boosting wine drinker’s confidence to go out eating and drinking again, but Harry Crowther questions whether all operators are playing up to that confidence in the wine ranges and choices they are offering. Here in his latest article looking at how best to train your staff with the most relevant on-trade wine skills he calls on restaurants and bars to be braver in the wine lists they are offering and makes the case for why now is the ideal time to introduce more diverse and adventurous wine lists.

Harry Crowther
3rd June 2021by Harry Crowther
posted in Opinion,

The national vaccine roll out gathers at quite a pace with all 18 year olds set to be offered the vaccine in the coming weeks, so why not welcome them back with more diverse wine lists says Harry Crowther in the latest article to help promote his Grape to Grain wine education and training website.

I think it’s clear that the most Covid compliant and altruistic operators are best placed to get bums on seats, providing those measures are communicated well to the public. According to a CGA report health concerns of the public are up 4% since November 2020. Unsurprisingly data points to a successful vaccine rollout being a key confidence booster for on-trade visits. Almost half (47%) now have more confidence in going ‘out’ now the majority of the all-important vulnerable have been vaccinated, a figure that rises to 59% once the vaccine is rolled out to everybody.

So, whilst the correlation between vaccination’s and confidence is as clear as day, how can your team and your wine list help to boost consumer confidence, if at all?

The recent report published by CGA and The Buyer about the consumer thirst for wine fromemerging countries, suggests that drinkers might be looking for a mix of the ‘old and new’ in 2021. With tourism in the gutter, could there be value is there in taking your guests to far flung corners of the world through the medium of wine? I can think of some fun tasting notes for this exercise…

This got me thinking, is there an important link between an eclectic wine list and guest confidence? Will a more unconventional wine offering help to coax drinkers into your venue? Maybe not, but once they are in, it will pay dividends, I promise.

At the end of the day, Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc, Chilean Merlot and all the other wine list warriors that fill the off-trade shelves have been consumed religiously for the last 15 months, so why leave the house after a year of stalwarts just to drink for more of them?

Wine List Diversity (in all the ways)

Trivet’s wine list in London has just won the International Special Jury Prize in Star Wine List awards for the fact its wine list is so adventurous and is willing to take risks

Diversity and balance is the key to a successful list. Period. Consideration should always be taken at the entry-level, and it is here that the biggest wins for esoterica can be gained. But diversity doesn’t just mean finding a skin contact Riesling from the Czech Republic; it wears many dresses.

Diversity of pricing is critical. Push the boundaries of how much somebody will spend on a ‘classic’ wine, and you will also push perceptions of quality. It really is OK to spend £32 on a bottle of Pinot Grigio, it can be that good and doesn’t have to be considered entry, or volume, anyone with a Pinot Grigio as the ‘house’ option is committing wine list suicide.

It’s also super important that the quality message is communicated to patrons, if it is, they’ll go for it. I’ve seen this first-hand with clients who got it right with a few key lines, and their category saw some serious growth, in some cases, overnight. The only way to get this message across is to make sure that your team is confident in their ability to communicate this with your customers.

Same same but different

Familiarity with originality is another diversity-winning approach. Bridging Old World wines with stylistic alternatives that tick the same box is a great way to take a guest on a walk of discovery (whilst still holding their hand).

Soif on Batttersea Rise in south London helps showcase off beat and diverse wines from Les Cave de Pyrene. Picture by Paul Winch-Furness

It is important to be strategic with this.If your Sancerre sells in spades, I’m not suggesting that you swap it out for a Savvy B’ from a lesser known region. I am suggesting that you consider alternatives to that style from esoterica. “If you like that, then you’ll love this…”, introducing customers to new things is the best way to get them coming back for more.

There is no harm in a menu tasting note that says “Sauvignon Blanc, Romania: move aside, Sancerre”… you’d be surprised how well it’ll do.

Service and staff that sell

Realistically I doubt too many people will be swayed post lockdown by a wine list with some quirky bins, but they will be by a team who can sell them.

There are two halves to listing a wine. First:finding and positioning the right wine, at the right price, in the right place on the list. Second: activating it with the team – 35% of guests will go for a dish or wine as long as there is a solid recommendation from a member of staff.

Making sure that your team is well positioned to do this will be integral to building the confidence that your guests have in your establishment and brand.

If you are trying to push the boundaries with your customers, then staff need to be the focal point for spreading the wings. Has the team bought into the wine(s)? Do they know what it is? Most importantly, have they even tried it?

How many times have you been at the table as a customer and asked your server, “what does this one taste like”, it’s a bit of a turn off and when you realise that they have no idea what the wine tastes like. You either choose to go for it because what the hell, or you go for something different. Either way, the service hasn’t delivered.

Overall, I would want to walk out of a venue thinking:

  1. “That is a COVID-safe, great place to visit”
  2. “They have a good wine list with great value and service”
  3. “I just drank something I would never have bought from Tesco… fancy going back next week?”

If you can tick all three of those boxes then you have me hooked, as far as the wine list goes, anyway.

Whilst R numbers and rates of vaccination will clearly play the biggest part in consumer confidence and getting them out of the house, your approach to what you are listing, and, more importantly, how your team sells your quirky listings, might just help to tip the balance in your favour as we bounce back better than ever.

  • If you want to learn more about what wines to list and how to effectively train your staff to sell your best wines and create the best possible experience for your staff, drop Harry a line at and go to his website here.