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How to draft your wine list

Today, Malta boasts a large number of restaurants, but how many of these truly satisfy the needs of wine enthusiasts and professionals? How many could contribute to obtaining an international recognition such as the Michelin star?

As a distributor, the justifications that most of the times I have to deal with are:

  • “In my restaurant I struggle to sell my wine and if I succeed the price does not exceed 20 euros”
  • “My clientele is too young”
  • “Here on the island people only drink what they already know”
  • “Are you crazy? Spending more than 5 euros for something that is not Bordeaux?”

Now, let me share a secret with you. People go to the ends of the earth to eat and drink well.

A clear example? Here’s one, there is a starred restaurant on the Faroe Islands called Koks. If you do not know where the Faroe Islands are, just google them. You see? Pay attention to where exactly this restaurant is located. Even being in total nothingness, it has managed to obtain the much coveted Michelin star.

So, now stop complaining. The truth is that your offer is not interesting enough. 

But believe me, there is a simple remedy to all this. Roll up your sleeves and plan to do better.

Where to start? Let’s see how to draft your wine list:

  • Do you have such a beautiful wine list all coloured, printed on precious paper, carved in stone with gold inserts? Very good, but how much does it cost to renew it? It’s a waste of money, right? This forces you to update it once a year eventually. The best of you do it every six months. Wouldn’t it be better to have a more dynamic wine list printable in-house and that you can easily update without having to hire a graphic designer? Be aware that a wine lover has absolutely no interest in all the doodles you put on your wine list.

They are interested in wine and trust me, there are more people than you even imagine in Malta, tourists or not, who will not present themselves as such but if they do not find good wine … they will drink water, rather than poor wine.

  • Does your wine list contain the following information?

Wine list:

Gavi 14 euros

Vermentino 15 euros

Chardonnay 17 euros

Barbera 19 euros

Dolcetto 16 euros

Amarone 30 euros

Bordeaux 40 euros

Barolo 43 euros

Good! Then I suggest you take it and throw it straight away.

The enthusiast will never ever buy a glass of wine from a card drafted in this poor way.You could (but I assume this is not the case) have included the best wine in the world but they won’t buy it because they won’t realize it.

  • Now, I am imagining your comments at this stage “ But no, Claudio, what are you saying?  Who is so insane to draft a wine list with so little information? I also highlight the name of the producer. “. Then, well done, very good. But this is not enough.
  • So, to sum up, here are some tips on how to draft a killer wine list

The following example might be a good structure: 

Country/Region      Winery                    Name             Vintage     Grapes          Price

Italy/Tuscany            Stefano Amerighi    Cuveè Syrah   2016          Syrah            30 euro

Italy/Latium Damiano Ciolli Silene 2016 Cesanese 25 euro

Italy/Latium Damiano Ciolli Cirsium 2015 Cesanese 35 euro

At this stage, we have discussed what to include and what to avoid in our wine list.

Is it really enough to attract new customers and entice people to drink your wine?

I’m afraid my answer is no, because their focus will always be on the quality of the liquid inside the picked bottle. Let’s try to understand together what quality means and with a brief calculation, let’s see where the price of your wine comes from:

On average, 90% of the labels of restaurants covers a price range of 15-40 euros, the remaining 10% is dedicated to a higher category wines (not always present).

Let’s assume that an importer/wholesaler has bought a wine for 6.5 euros (VAT excluded). He decides to import this bottle to Malta, spending around 1 euro per bottle for the shipping and around 0.50 cents for excise and bottle stamps. So, the total cost would be 8 euros.

He will sell it to a restaurant applying a standard mark-up of 40/50%, reaching the final cost of 11/12 euros (VAT excluded). The restaurateur consequently will decide to price it on his wine list applying his mark-up, which is most of the times a *3, then 36 + VAT = 42.5 euros final price to the client.

Doing the exact same calculation for a wine that has as final cost of 20 euros, which corresponds to the most common price range a guest opt for, an importer has paid that wine to the producer: about 2.5 euros !!!

It’s now up to you to imagine the quality of that wine especially if we consider that for the glass, the cap, the label and the capsule the producer has paid around 1.5/2 euros, the rest of the value is for the liquid inside?

I call it liquid because for sure it’s not possible to call it wine anymore. 

With a brief calculation, I have revealed to you why your wine does not exit the wall of your cellars. A politic of high mark-up for poor quality wine, bunches of bottles available in any other European supermarket at 3 euros, we find it here for 20 euros.

And that is why most wine lovers will decide to drink water instead of a good bottle of wine.

Moral of the story and impartial advice? The solution is lower mark-ups and better quality of your wines. Only doing this will get people back to drinking wine at your place and increase your earnings.

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