How a wine bar should construct their wine list

I’ve been working with two NYC wine bars of late.  In the past I have done some consulting, but this time I am doing it from the sales side.  I’m working with an amazing Israeli wine producer and these two wine bars are interested in carrying at least some of our products.  But they are deciding which wines to carry in very different ways.

So how do the ever important wine buying decisions get made???

coin flip

OK, so it is not that simple or arbitrary.  And like everything else about wine, there really isn’t any “right or wrong”.  But what I want to discuss tonight is the two different approaches of the two wine bars I’ve been selling to this week.

The first and more conventional method is to taste the wines, decide which ones you find of interest or intrigue, and purchase those for your wine list.  This is basically how one wine buyer is doing things.  This buyer had me come meet him at his wine bar with some wines (we spoke about his preferences before the meeting) and we tasted through them together with the bartender working that night.  At this initial meeting I only had 3 wines, and of the three he liked one.  Which is great.  I have others I hope to show him, and I really hope that the wines do well at his wine bar.  He seemed to be a good guy, I liked how he involved the bartender, and for it to be successful for me it has to be successful for him.

The best part of this tasting in my opinion was the involvement of the bartender.  It is the bartender that becomes the salesperson of the wine.   And if the bartender likes the wine they will be more likely to recommend it.

The method employed by the other wine bar was in many ways similar, but in actuality quite different.  The second wine bar is the one I wrote about last week where I held a wine tasting.  They had me come down with several bottles and pour the wines for their customers.  Sure they tried the wines and of course they were only interested in wines that THEY liked themselves.  But the owner was aggressively seeking input from the customers regarding the wines they tried that night.  Which led to a theory the owner has – one I am not sure I buy into 100% but that seems to have some merit.  He told me that he has learned about the palates of his customers.  While watching him interact I can certainly believe this, yet what is most amazing is that he believes that people in his neighborhood (most wine bars are neighborhood establishments) have a common palate that is different from people in other NYC neighborhoods.

Now I suppose that if you were to travel around the different areas of Manhattan you would notice different personality types, different dress, and maybe even different food preferences.  But different wine palates???  Hey, this guy is a mathematician and former professor, who am I to argue with him?

So I guess it comes down to whose wine preference is more important, the one serving (and recommending) the wine or the one drinking (and paying for) the wine.  One might initially think it is obviously the consumer preference that is most important.  But the truth is, with the power of suggestion being as strong as it is with wine, I ‘m not so certain…

Happy favorite wine bar wine tasting!


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