Do’s and Don’ts Of A Good By-the-Glass Wine List

What makes a good wine-by-the-glass list?

Thankfully,  quality wine-by-the-glass lists are becoming easier to find while dining out. It’s the age of adventurous diners and drinkers, so customers are willing to try something new. And a glass pour of wine is a great way for customers to try something they’ve never had before.

But what actually makes a good glass pour list?

At first, it might seem like what makes a wine-by-the-glass list attractive to the customer and worthwhile for the restaurant would be at odds. But it doesn’t have to be this way. A great glass list should serve the restaurant and the customer equally well. These lists should highlight the restaurant’s style and palate, and be a sort of roadmap for the types of wines you will see on the bottle list. For consumers, prices should be fair and the wine choices should have variety and appeal.

Have a variety of glass pours

Many restaurants feature a small wines-by-the-glass list. When options for wine are limited it makes guests feel restricted in their choices. A customer doesn’t want to feel like they’re being forced into making a decision they really don’t want to make. And when a restaurant only has two or three by-the-glass choices, customers wonder how good those wines actually are. No one wants to be forced into purchasing a low-quality glass, so they may altogether forgo ordering wine.

It’s important for a restaurant to create a by-the-glass list that generates a sense of value and interest for the customer. A good  list should offer a variety of red, white, sparkling, and dessert wines. This ensures that guests have appropriate choices for any drinking scenario, whether it’s a light white to sip while perusing the menu, or a bold red to accent a hearty dish, or even something sweet and satisfying for dessert. A varied glass selection allows room for a guest to flex their independent thinker muscles and make a decision that suits their palate.

Also, if a discerning drinker gets to make an informed choice, maybe by trying a taste before purchasing, then they will feel more comfortable in their wine purchase. This adds value to the wine because a customer feels like they are driving their experience in the direction of their choosing.

Offer a selection of familiar and unfamiliar wines

If a high quality wine-by-the-glass selection should provide many different choices of selection, it should also vary those selections between well-known favorites like a fruity Pinot Noir or a Pinot Grigio- wines the restaurant know will sell- and some less familiar wines like a Spanish Tempranillo or Grenache Blanc. This ensures that you are catering to multiple customer personality types. There are those whose hobby is dining out and trying new wines. They will be the ones more likely to spend a few more dollars on a wine they’ve never had before. There are also those who want what is familiar. A classic Pinot Noir featuring notes of bright red fruits may be just what they’re looking for. A good wine list is a balancing act. It requires the sommelier or beverage director to understand what their guests want, and also provide gentle guiding hand that may steer them towards something new and exciting that adds a point of difference for their restaurant.

This adventurous behavior is also aided by a guest being given more information about a wine. If your guest is better informed about a wine, they are more comfortable in spending more money on a glass.

This correlation between information and higher purchase points is something we’ve written about before at Uncorkd. We’ve seen from experience how a better informed guest will behave differently than guests making decisions without information about a wine or beverage. So make sure your servers are informing your customers about new wines, because a well-educated staff can increase restaurant sales. Allow your staff to taste your glass pour options. And connect with the kitchen to offer go-to food pairings for your glass list.

Don’t gouge prices on glass pours

People are skeptical of wine-by-the-glass prices. There’s a fear of being gouged on the glass pour because restaurants have been known to significantly mark-up wine prices.The unwritten rule of a glass pour is that a single glass of wine purchased will match the wholesale cost of the bottle. So, If a restaurant bought a wine for $10, they will charge the customer $10 for a glass of that wine. This is why wine-by-the-glass is often seen as a profit center for restaurants and a deterrent from ordering glass pours by customers. The mantra is that a bottle is better because  the bottle price isn’t as marked up as the glass pour price.

But there are some situations that purchasing a bottle at dinner isn’t practical. You may be the only wine drinker at the table. Or just grabbing a quick bite at the bar and want to unwind after work with a single glass. Restaurant’s should offer customers affordable options that are still of high quality and reflective of the restaurant’s standards.

Proper Storage of Open Wine

One main reason vino enthusiasts might turn away wine-by-the-glass is the idea that the wine has been opened for too long, has oxidized, and will no longer be fresh. Savvy customers know that if you come into a restaurant on a Monday, that bottle of wine on the back bar might have been opened late Saturday night. I’ve been asked many times to open a fresh bottle for a glass pour by customers who fear the opened bottle. It’s sort of like Anthony Bourdain’s theory about not ordering fish on Monday. The idea is that there’s a greater chance with wine-by-the-glass that the wine won’t be fresh.

Customer’s aren’t wrong for thinking this way, and they’re right to protect their interests when they’re spending money on a meal out. But restaurant’s should work hard to ensure that any wine they serve a guest will be of high-quality.

One way to be a gatekeeper against bad wine is to have your bartender or server smell and taste a wine that’s been opened before serving it to a guest. This is especially important at the start of a shift if a bottle is already opened. Your staff should be able to recognize if a wine has turned and offers a faint noise of vinegar. If that’s the case, then it’s time for the bottle to be handed over to the kitchen for cooking wine.

Another systemic fix at keeping wines fresh is to date the bottles when opened. This practice should be done at the end of the night. There’s no need to mark every bottle of Pinot Noir you open during the dinner rush on Saturday night, but you should make sure to check and date bottles as part of the bar staff’s closing duties at the end of the night. Also, have a firm shelf-life for bottles so staff knows that if a bottle has been opened for longer than the pre-determined time, it won’t be served.

When storing a bottle of opened wine you should also try to eliminate any contact the wine has with air. You should always re-cork the bottle after opening it. White wines should certainly be keep in the refrigerator and red wines, if not kept in a wine cooler, should be kept out of the light and in at room temperature. A couple tricks for storing wine that’s open is to re-bottle the wine by pouring it into a smaller container. This limits the amount of air in the bottle. A bottle of wine that is 1/3 full will oxidize and spoil faster than a bottle that is 2/3 full. This is because the bottle with more wine has less air in it.

A common way for restaurant’s to keep air out of wine is to use a pump like the Vacu Vin Wine preserver (around $15). The air pump comes with a small hand pump and rubber wine stoppers with tiny holes at the top. You pump the air out of the bottle through the wine stopper and it creates a vacuum seal on the bottle. This helps wine stay for many more days after opening.

Wine-by-the-glass should be a great compliment to a meal and quality option for customers. These lists can act as a road map for your bottle selection, and a glass pour may turn into a bottle purchase if your wine list is done right.

Kyle Thacker

Kyle Thacker

Kyle handles marketing and PR for Uncorkd. Aside from bartending and restaurant management, he's covered the Chicago dining scene as a freelance writer. He enjoys Miller High Life and getting yelled at by Chicagoans for supporting Boston sport's teams.
Kyle Thacker