Last Updated:
January 6, 2023

A comprehensive guide to creating a wine menu

Designing a wine menu can be difficult. There are many factors to consider when designing the wine list, and it's not as simple as just choosing red or white.
A comprehensive guide to creating a wine menu
By
Pamela Romano
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Developing an exquisite wine menu demands a great deal of time and effort, yet is worth the investment. Many factors must be taken into account when curating your ideal selection of wines - it's far more than deciding between reds and whites! Restaurants and bars have to carefully consider their target customers, the types of food they serve, and ultimately the type of atmosphere they wish to create.

In this article, we will go through designing your own restaurant's wine list by going over all these aspects in detail. We will also explain why designing a separate wine menu is essential for any restaurant, as well as provide useful tips on how to identify the best wines that can be paired with your food offerings. Keep reading!

Different types of wine

It is critical for any restaurant to create the perfect wine collection, due to the extensive number of types and flavors available. When formulating this selection, it must account for your menu items, customer base, and overall restaurant concept you're trying to cultivate. Ensure that these wine lists match both what style you are aiming towards as well as how seriously (or not) you plan on taking wines!

Wines come in a variety of flavors and colors, with four main types: red wine, white wine, rosé wine, and sparkling wine.

Red wine

The most popular type of wine in the world is red wine, which is made from fermented black grapes using the entire fruit; the seeds, the skins, and the stems. Because of this, red wine is usually more bitter and dry as it has the highest tannin content.

This type comes from grapes that have been crushed and fermented, and the best ones come from France, Italy, and Spain.

Depending on the type of red wine you choose for your restaurant menu, note that wines darker in color have increasingly more tannins, meaning they are dryer and more bitter. You also have the option of choosing aged wines, as they typically contain fewer tannins over time.

Red wine is best served at room temperature with meat dishes, pizzas, and pasta, as the tannins in it help break down proteins and fat, making for a more flavourful meal.

Some top brands are:

  • Burgundy
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Merlot
  • Chianti
  • Shiraz
  • Pinot Noir
  • Beaujolais

White wine

The other popular type of wine is white wine, which is usually tart and fresh, with a higher alcohol content than red.

White wines, however, do not have as many tannins as red wines do which makes them more acidic. Acidic wine is best when aiming to cleanse your client's palate, so keep this in mind.

White wines are made from black and white grapes without the skins; that have been crushed but not fermented before being placed in an oak barrel for aging - to give them their color and flavor.

White wines are best served on the colder side with salad, cheese, bread, fish, seafood, or poultry dishes.

Some top brands are:

  • Chardonnay
  • Riesling
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Fumé Blanc
  • Pinot Grigio

Rosé wine

Rosé wine is made throughout a shorter period of time when black grapes are fermented with their skins to make it pinkish in color and sweeter than your typical dry red.

Rosé wine is best served on the warmer side with snacks or lighter dishes such as fruits, chips, crackers, dairy, poultry, or dessert; it's also a great wine to drink in place of Champagne!

Some top brands are:

  • Pinot Noir Rosé
  • Chardonnay Rose
  • Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé
  • White Zinfandel (Reds)
  • Riesling (Blush wine, White Zinfandel)
  • Dessert Wine

Sparkling wine / Dessert Wines

Sparkling wines are usually sweet with their signature bubbly texture and are the lowest in alcohol content. They can be white or pink in color and come from grape varieties that have been fermented from black and white grapes.

Sparkling wine is best served chilled in a taller glass of wine to retain the gas and temperature it's known for. It is paired well with desserts, fruit, seafood, and salad or at the end of a meal.

Some top brands are:

  • Champagne
  • Moscato (Dessert wine)
  • Cava
  • Prosecco (Dessert wine)
  • Fumé Blanc (White Zinfandel)
  • Sauvignon Blanc Sparkling Wine

The most popular type of dessert wine is Champagne, which has notes of citrus fruit, apples, and honeydew melon; it's crisp but also buttery with a long finish.

Wine Selection: Dry wine vs. Sweet wine

Pairing the perfect type of wine with food is a craft based on the flavor profile it contains. It's important to understand this when designing your restaurant's menu, as diners will often want certain wines selection to be available for purchase with the menu items they decide to order.

For example, if you offer spicy foods then sweet reds or whites would be a better choice, however, if you have salty and fried dishes then dry reds or whites would be the best option.

Note: Spicy foods pair best with wines having a lower alcohol content.

Wine pricing

Wine pricing is determined by the actual quality of the wine, brand, and age. The price of a bottle of wine may differ depending on its country or region of origin, as well as the location it's sold; be it in local stores or restaurants.

However, in restaurants, the price markup is between 2 to 3 times the cost of the original. At some establishments, customers can get a bottle for $35 but if they go to an upscale restaurant with higher-priced wines their wine might cost $85.

Types of restaurants have different pricing structures for wine because their customers generally enjoy wines at a variety of price points, whereas with a high-end restaurant the customer is looking to find that quality wine they are willing to pay more money for.

The type and volume of food offered also influences price points since certain dishes will require higher-priced wines in order to pair well with them.

Below are the most common wine price ranges:

  • $20 - $49 ($)
  • $50 - $99 ($$)
  • $100 and up ($$$)

If you want to sell high-priced wines, keep in mind that the cut-off should be around $500, unless you are serving an exceptional wine such as a vintage wine or one of the top wines in the world. Otherwise, all your customers will be seeing it as dollar signs and not a high-quality product.

Of course, you do not always need to have high-priced wines in your restaurant to be successful. It is essential that you offer wines at cost-effective and affordable prices, reasonable ones that still provide you with a profit margin. To remain ahead of the competition, create a bespoke wine list for your restaurant that is exclusive to you. That way, you can continue to elevate your brand and offer something no other clubs are offering.

However, if you find your customers asking for a wine that may be offered by your competitors pretty often, consider adding it to your wine selection to avoid losing to your competition.

Recognizing wine by taste and price

Wine professionals state a wine's body is a measure of how much sugar has been converted into alcohol in the fermentation process and can be classified as light, medium, or full-bodied with many styles within each classification - like Pinot noir which falls under the red "medium" category. Medium-bodied wines are best for food pairings that require a wine with fruit, but not too much tannin.

Full-body wines are best for food pairings where the wine will be tasted briefly with other flavors mixed in like red meat dishes or chicken dishes. The texture of the wine is also determined by what type of grape juice was used to produce it and can either be smooth or rough.

1. Red wine

Red wine is often the most expensive type of wine, but Sauvignon Blanc and Champagne can also be pricey. Red wines are usually more expensive than white wines because they require more care in the making process, such as care that white wines do not.

Young red wines have a bright color just as young whites have a bright color, but each will darken slightly with age. The best way to identify if a wine is mature and ready to drink is by tasting it carefully!

When tasting red wine, it should have an aroma that is fruity and the taste should be tart. If the wine doesn't have an aroma or if the taste is too harsh, then it is not mature enough to drink.

2. White wine

White wine should taste light and refreshing. Most white wines will have a body that is slightly off-dry, so they will not be too sweet.

For example, if you enjoy light-bodied crisp dry white wine like Sauvignon Blanc for its clean flavor that resembles fresh lemon juice and grassy notes; then avoid purchasing over-ripe fruity heavy-bodied oaky Cabernet Sauvignon.

3. Rosé wine

Rosé wine should ideally taste light and refreshing with a body that is slightly off-dry. There are many rosé wines out there, but one of my favorites to try is called "Rosa Regale." This wine has a refreshing pink hue that enhances the light fruity flavor. The wine is made in Italy, and it's made with concentrated grape juice and a varietal blend of different grapes from France. This bottle of wine costs $25-$30 per bottle and you can find it at any local liquor store. It would be perfect for hot summer days!

4. Sparkling wine

If crafted correctly, marvelous sparkling wine can deliver a delightful taste that is slightly sweet with an invigorating finish. The flavor of this wine will vary due to its concoction from various grape varieties. In the most simple terms, a good sparkling wine is bright like Champagne and Pinot Noir but has more alcohol (12.5-13%).

It should be livelier than table wine, but not as lively as Champagne or Prosecco. A proper palate will find that the flavors in any great bottle of sparkling wine are nuanced yet consistent from sip to swallow — never harsh or overtly alcoholic on the finish, always crisp without being austere.

Serving wine at your restaurant

To offer a truly one-of-a-kind dining experience for your customers, you must create custom wine menus tailored to their tastes. For example, an Italian restaurant might offer great wines with heavy tannins whereas one that serves more delicate foods would want to offer lighter wines.

It is essential to recognize the different varieties of wines when creating your own wine list, as some restaurants may even feature separate menus for each type of cuisine they offer!

Wine pairing ideas for your restaurant

When creating an in-house wine list for your restaurant, it is critical to consider what type of cuisine you provide and which wines the best match your establishment's menu.

The type of cuisine your restaurant offers can vary whether or not to offer different types of wines in order to pair with specific foods on your menu. Wine pairings with food can bring out the best flavors in each dish and can elevate the dining experience. If you own a classic American steakhouse, then Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the perfect wines to showcase in your restaurant. Alternatively, if you run a seafood eatery, opt for more tart whites such as Riesling or Pinot Grigio- both of which will provide an excellent accompaniment to your dishes!

Some wine pairing ideas:

  • Sauvignon Blanc wine paired with butter garlic shrimp
  • New Zealand Riesling pairing with BBQ ribs
  • Rioja Tempranillo wine with roast beef and potatoes, or grilled pork chops
  • Chimay Rouge with Game, duck
  • Chianti Classico with Fettuccini Alfredo
  • Riesling with light flavours like shellfish or desserts
  • Sancerre with lobster
  • Shiraz with lamb
  • Albarino with scallops, crab, or shrimp
  • Chardonnay, preferably from California, with risotto dishes and salads
  • Vouvray with crab or shrimp
  • Merlot for poultry dishes
  • Pinot Noir with meat, such as steak, lamb, and venison
  • Cabernet Sauvignon with a burger and fries
  • Grüner Veltliner with fish or chicken
  • Chenin Blanc with seafood
  • Cote du Rhone wine with roast beef and potatoes, or grilled pork chops

Rules for wine pairings

  • Match the wine's acidity, tannin, and sugar levels with the food
  • Match the type of wine with what you’re having. For example, if you're eating beef, match a Cabernet Sauvignon
  • For spicy dishes, pair wines that are high in acidity or tartness.
  • Pair wines with strong flavors with other wines that have similar flavors. For example, when drinking a Port or a Syrah (which should be served at room temperature), drink it alongside foods that are also served at room temperature
  • The best way to enjoy wine is simply by tasting it all on its own without food. This is a good way to get a sense of the wine's taste and strength.

Customer suggestions

Treat your guests to a unique experience by proposing wine pairings that let them test out various kinds of wines. The safest wines to choose from are those that offer a wide range of flavors and are lighter in the body.

A wine that is too heavy or can have a lot of acidities may not be the best for beginners. As such, avoid wines from countries with very high temps and rainfall year-round. Instead, go for wines from cooler climates such as New Zealand's Sauvignon Blanc, which is quite pale and light body while still being zesty and acidic. A common example of this would be Beaujolais Nouveau, which is made from Gamay grapes that are harvested right before the end of the harvest season in order to make them

To ensure your wine list complements the cuisine of any restaurant, it is recommended to avoid light and acidic wines as these will be overpowered by the food. For example, if you are creating your own wine list for an Indian restaurant with spicy dishes then choosing robust varieties of French or Australian grapes would work perfectly! On the other hand, if Vietnamese cuisine is being served, look no further than Asian sections in your local store; there’s sure to be something suitable available.

If your Italian cuisine is laden with rich tomato sauces, it's wise to opt for either a full-bodied red or white wine. On the other hand, if you are offering lighter fare such as garlic, herbs, and spices-infused dishes, then selecting a crisp white wine will prevent flavors from becoming overpowered by each other.

How to find wine staples

When it comes to selecting a signature wine collection for your restaurant or bar, the options are endless. All that matters is to find wines that are perfect with whatever type of cuisine you offer. A good example is choosing wines by their country and noting if they have higher acidity or not. This will help you find wines for your establishment's menu.

You may also look into what your customers order the most often through trial and error, or ask them why they order certain wines over others. You also may find price ranging more helpful, offering some lower-end versus higher-end wines so those with different budgets can be served.

Creating a diverse selection of wines is an effective way to stand out from the competition and attract more customers. It gives diners an array of options, making it easier for them to find something they will enjoy - thereby increasing your chances of success! As such, head over to the wine section at your local supplier and take note of what is offered there.

Old World vs. New World wines

It is important to understand the difference between Old World wines and New World wines when designing a wine menu.

 

Old World wines are those that have been around for centuries, such as French or Italian varieties. European wine regions are renowned for their cooler climates, which leads to grapes that don't fully ripen. This yields light-bodied wines with refreshing acidity and low alcohol content - characteristics unique to Old World wines.

 

In contrast, New World wines have been crafted in the last few decades and are typically more fruit-forward with higher alcohol content. Winemakers from countries around the world benefit from increasingly warmer temperatures that cause grapes to reach their peak sweetness quicker, yielding smooth yet intensely flavorful wines such as those boasting lower acidity levels and stronger ABVs.

 

With all of this in consideration, it's still hard to definitively decide which world creates better wines; ultimately, it comes down to individual preference. Old and New World regions both create truly remarkable wines – so try them out for yourself and pick your favorites! And don't forget the importance of carefully selecting a wine glass that will bring out their flavor profiles even more. By understanding these differences, you can select wines that best suit your restaurant's menu.

How to create a wine menu

As you create your restaurant's wine list, start with a selection that appeals to your guests. Designing the layout around their preferences encourages them to have an enjoyable experience in your establishment and ensures they're ordering wines from it. After all, what is the point of having an extensive array of wine selections if no one ends up buying any? Keep the customer at heart when creating the perfect wine list!

Choose the right suppliers first

Developing a stellar restaurant's wine list begins with finding the right supplier - it's an essential step. You can choose to include wines from around the world, or you could keep it focused on one country and different regions. Whichever route you take, make sure that each wine selection complements every other choice's unique flavors.

If you'd like to serve French wines, the best option is to source them directly from France instead of relying on an importer. To ensure your restaurant provides only the finest quality and broadest selection of wine varieties, it's essential that you select a supplier who meets these criteria.

Furthermore, many restaurants source their wines directly from vineyards. If you wish to provide top-notch quality or local varieties of wine on your menu, ordering right from a winery is an excellent idea. This way, you can ensure that your offerings meet both the standards and flavor preferences of guests in your region!

Note: If you don't have access to a local vineyard, think about importing directly from one! This will give your restaurant and bar an edge that can draw in the most sophisticated of customers - who knows, maybe even land you on a "top restaurants to try" list.

Separate the wine from your main menu

Make the wine menu a distinct entity from your main menu, allowing customers to explore and select their ideal glass without becoming overwhelmed by too many selections. By separating both menus, you will give them an easier time selecting what they want while avoiding confusion.

A good rule of thumb is showcasing 8 to 10 different types of wines that fall under a wide variety of categories. This is particularly true in restaurants where food and drinks are usually consumed together. Customers will appreciate it because of how easy and simple they can find what they want as the menus serve separate purposes. They'll be more inclined to order from you when there's an easier way to get what they want on one list. Another tip is to consider the type of restaurant or bar you are in. If you offer fewer food options, be diverse in your wine selection.

Wine list arrangement

Creating the wine lists should be done with care, as there are two options: an order-by-price listing that includes a description and cost for each choice, or treating it like a food menu with wines listed underneath. The impression you desire to make on customers is determined by the manner in which your menu is presented.

 

Do you want it upscale? Do you only serve cocktails? These are questions that come into play in designing your wine list layout.

It should be a top priority to organize the wine list strategically - starting with classifying wines by type. However, it's equally important to include descriptions of the ingredients and origin after listing each title.

  • Guide customer choices
  • Explain the wine flavors better for those who are inexperienced
  • Help establish your restaurant as specialized in certain wines

 

It is also important to specify whether there are sulfites or not since they are a common allergen. Avoid listing the calories though as this will deter customers from ordering wine or even complicate the wine selection process.

 

When choosing how to rearrange your establishment's menu, keep in mind that high-profit items should be listed first and some should be placed in the middle region as the eye is usually drawn to these regions of a page. However, less profitable items are usually listed at the end.

 

A wine list shouldn't have more than thirty to fifty wines on it, and that includes all types of wine offered in your restaurant. If you offer a large selection then customers will feel overwhelmed by having so many choices before them.

 

Presenting your wines in an organized, easy-to-navigate manner is essential if you want customers to be able to make their selections quickly and easily. Group them by type of wine, brand, or country/region that specializes in a particular kind – with thoughtful placement on the list making all the difference when it comes to increasing visibility and sales conversions. After all, not only will proper positioning impact how often people notice and purchase from it but also what types of guests are likely to buy it!

Offer wine tasting

Introducing wine tasting is a superb way to make your customers feel like their money is well-spent. It's not unusual for them to move from sampling one glass of wine, then purchasing the entire bottle afterward. With this approach, people can try various wines and not commit to buying an expensive whole bottle first! It could be an excellent way to draw more people and enhance customer loyalty.

Wine-tasting specials are a great way to attract customers who may not be wine drinkers but want an enjoyable experience at your restaurant, and the opportunity for some sort of 'experience' in drinking what they're trying out!

A good example would be designing flights with three different wines you offer on your list that best represent your food menu.

You could offer a flight of three red wines to best represent your meat and red wine dishes for example or a combination of two whites and one rosé for seafood lovers. This is a solution to offering the whole bottles and the customer no longer liking it after they pair it with their food.

Wine portions

Most dining establishments typically serve their wine either in glasses or bottles, enabling guests to enjoy their preferred variety. A higher-end establishment might serve wines by the glass on their tasting menu with specials like flights made up of three various glasses offered alongside them.

 

If they want to offer certain types of wine selection by bottle, they might have a list with descriptions and prices. A lower-end establishment will most likely focus on bottled wines that are served in containers like carafes or pitchers. They may also serve some varieties by the glass for customers who prefer it over an entire bottle. Hotel restaurants usually have lists of wines by bottle that are available for purchase.

 

In addition, glass selections do not provide much of a profit like bottles do, therefore consider having the bottle option more accessible and ask your staff to try selling bottles more often.

 

Adding some color

In order to provide your guests with a remarkable selection of wines, it's important that you take the time to comprehend their preferences. To truly make your guests happy, the best way to create a wine list is by customizing it to their preferences! Doing this ensures you are able to create an ideal menu that caters specifically to them.

 

Jazz up your wine lists with some creative label designs or icons to distinguish between colors! Giving your menu a personalized touch will add an extra layer of intrigue for customers, as there are so many different types and styles of wines.

 

When selecting the perfect hue for your wine menus, opt for intense reds to accompany a classic red wine. Whites, yellows, or cream tones are ideal complements when enjoying white wines. For rosés, consider shades of pink and red for a bold statement. If you’re looking to add some sparkle to the occasion with sparkling wines, go golden orange or light pink!

 

You can incorporate these colors in multiple ways - for example, use them as backdrops within each wine category, create style elements with them, or completely switch the color of your wine labels to one that complements its variety. For instance, "White Wine" could be written in a white font against a soft backdrop for an interesting contrast.

 

In addition to the aesthetic appeal of different colors, incorporating photos and wine encasing into your website can provide customers with a sense of what they are looking for when ordering from your menu. By allowing customers to imagine themselves tasting the wines you offer, it elevates their experience even before they make an order.

Catering to your customers

When creating a wine menu list, you need to cater to your audience. For instance, if the majority of customers at your restaurant are tourists visiting from abroad and don’t speak English well or know much about wine tasting, then it would be best for you as a restauranteur to have wines that taste similar in their flavor profile so they can be easily recognized.

If your restaurant is more of a wine connoisseur type, then it would be best to have wines that are known for their quality and taste profile so the customer can enjoy these bottles with specialty foods they offer on their menu.

It is also interesting to invest in imported wines, as this will set you apart from competitors. It does not hurt to update your wine menu and edit as you go. It would not be useful to serve a wine that keeps collecting dust in your stock room or bar.

Where to open the wine bottle

Opening the wine bottle at the customer's table is one of the newest restaurant trends we are seeing today. Instead of opening wine bottles at a bar or in the kitchen, wines are being opened and served to customers while they wait for their food.

Wine openings might be done as people are seated and waiting for their food to arrive, or as a complimentary service when they order wine with their meal, as well.

There are some benefits to an open wine bottle, such as avoiding the wait time of having a waiter walk up and down a full restaurant with a tray of opened wine glasses. It also allows customers to discuss their opinions on the wine menu with one another once they taste it.

Consider digital wine menus

In the modern era of electronic and online shopping, you can now extend a virtual wine menu list to your guests - an ideal option for those considering making a reservation in your restaurant.

You have the option of designing a website that is dedicated strictly to your restaurant wine list or incorporating it into the main site if you are already designing one with ease of access in mind.

This will allow people who are researching or looking for a restaurant to come and enjoy great wines with their food. They can browse through the wines you have on offer, see what they are like, then make an informed decision about whether or not it is something that will interest them.

You also have the opportunity to add more information about your wine collection, such as a detailed description that includes notes on why you chose this wine selection for your menu and what it tastes like with specific foods on offer at the restaurant.

For instance, if someone is looking for an Italian wine from Tuscany that can be paired well with a Mediterranean dish, you can offer them a selection of wines from Tuscany that have characteristics similar to the type they're looking for. This is an ingenious way to get your customers coming back again and again because their needs are being met every time they come in.

Note: Don't hesitate to update your social media every time you have a new wine selection. This will show your followers/customers that you are making efforts to curate your wine menu and that you are still relevant in the restaurant industry.

Final thoughts

When it comes to creating a perfect wine list, there is no specific to-do list. Everyday wines can perform just as well as aged wines depending on the restaurant/bar you are running. The above information reveals tips on how to get there based on the specific needs you have and the wine program you are planning to offer.

Deciding to create a separate wine menu requires your dedication and research efforts to get there. The most important takeaway is to continue curating your wine menu as you go; so that you not only foster your success, but you continue to impress your customers.

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