Gone are the days when drinking wine is looked upon as something that warrants fine cutlery and dishes, only done in fancy high-end establishments. Social media is filled with proclamations of people preferring to have a glass of wine or two during a night out or to cap off the day at home. Casual dining, modern fusion, and even family restaurants now include a selection of this liquor to pair with their offerings.

Wine consumption in the Philippines has seen steady growth over the years, according to a Global Agricultural Information Network report published by the United States Department of Agriculture-Foreign Agricultural Service in 2018. The country remains the largest market in Southeast Asia for US wines specifically, with imports reaching almost four million liters in 2017. This number was forecasted to increase by 10 percent last year despite the imposition of higher taxes and tariffs.

It would be a shame for restaurateurs not to tap into the existing market and explore the opportunities presented by the increasing number of Filipino wine drinkers today. Including a well-put-together wine list can become a restaurant’s unique selling point or the deciding factor on whether or not someone chooses to dine there.

WINE 101

Before you start creating your restaurant’s wine list, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the different types you can source. Wine Folly lists wine into five general categories: sparkling, red, white, dessert, and rosé. Then, each category is further classified according to the intensity of flavor, the level of sweetness (dry, semi-sweet and sweet), and how much of the sugars are fermented.

Here’s a rundown of the different styles of wine and what you may know them as:

  • Sparkling wine (champagne)
  • Light-bodied white wine (pinot gris and sauvignon blanc) – Light, zesty
  • Full-bodied white wine (chardonnay) – Slightly creamy
  • Aromatic white wine (riesling) – Dry or sweet
  • Rosé wine – Dry or sweet
  • Light-bodied red wine (pinot noir)
  • Medium-bodied red wine (grenache) – Dry or sweet
  • Full-bodied red wine (cabernet sauvignon) – Deep, bold flavor
  • Dessert wine (port) – Dry or sweet, intense flavor

Each variety works well with certain cuisines, depending on the main taste that the dishes feature. It’s more than just saying that red wine goes with meat, while white is best with fish. The basic rule is that wine must be able to complement the flavors of the food you’ll be drinking it with, provide balance, and not be too overpowering.

While Filipinos would mostly reach for beer, cocktails or local spirits, the wine of choice is usually full-bodied red wine as our taste buds are used to bold flavors that something like a cabernet sauvignon can offer.

As for storing wine, it’s important to dedicate a space that’s cool and dark. Experts recommend keeping the temperature of the cellar or storage area with temperature from seven to 12 degrees Celsius. Avoid direct contact with sunlight as UV rays make the aging process quicker. Humidity of about 70 percent and stacking the bottles horizontally prevent the corks from getting moist and developing mold that will ruin the quality of the drink.

Experts also encourage separating wine from food with strong aromas as there’s a tendency for the liquor to pick up the smell, thus affecting the overall flavor.

As for storing wine, it’s important to dedicate a space that’s cool and dark. Experts recommend keeping the temperature of the cellar or storage area with temperature from seven to 12 degrees Celsius. Avoid direct contact with sunlight as UV rays make the aging process quicker. Humidity of about 70 percent and stacking the bottles horizontally prevent the corks from getting moist and developing mold that will ruin the quality of the drink

PUTTING THE WINE LIST TOGETHER

As you begin crafting your wine list, keep in mind that there are a number of factors you should consider. Your restaurant’s wine list must be organized and well put-together. It must not be too overwhelming for someone who’s not a regular wine drinker yet not too amateurish for enthusiasts.

1. Consider branding

The wine list must also be reflective of your restaurant’s own branding. What kind of restaurant do you have? Who are your target customers? If you’re a modern or fusion type, for instance, then you can include variants from regions like Israel or South Africa.

2. Consult your chef and a sommelier

Don’t be afraid of asking the experts. Meet up with your head chef and ask him to describe the dishes he’ll be making. Keep in mind that some wines work well with certain dishes, so it’s important to know which ones can complement the food you’ll be serving. Additionally, a sommelier can provide wonderful insight and informed suggestions on what types and brands to include.

3. Write the list with categories in mind

Once you have your selection, classify these according to regions or type. You can group reds and whites together, or go with where they were made and sourced. Add a short snippet of information for each offering. Be as descriptive as possible, especially with its flavor and taste. You can even add suggestions on what dishes pair well with the particular wine.

Make sure to cover all price points, but don’t categorize your list by price. Your diners must be encouraged to explore their options first rather than instantly picking the cheapest wine on the menu. In general, the common practice is a mark-up of up to three times from the wholesale bottle price. If you’d like to offer by-the-glass options, make sure that buying the bottle will be cheaper than buying multiple glasses.

4. Diversify your selection

A great wine list is one that is not only organized but is also exciting and adventurous. While you should follow your restaurant’s overall theme, allow room for creativity. Besides common brands, you can add boutique or locally-made wines, and even upcoming variants like orange wine. Consider creating an exclusive list for specialty wine, too. After a certain period of time, you can adjust your list based on your client’s preferences.

5. Empower your servers

Servers will mostly be interacting with your customers, so it’s a good idea that they also know the wine list by heart. Let them have a taste of what you’ll be offering, along with the suggested dish pairing. Educate and train them so they can be confident enough to give suggestions, especially if the diner is overwhelmed and unsure of what to order.

6. Find a reputable source

It’s important to choose a reputable place for you to buy wine that will give you the best quality for its price. Here in the Philippines, there are a number of companies you can choose from that can meet your needs.

Wine by Chris Urbano is one that puts the focus on the Filipino customer. Their selection, composed of handpicked premium wines made in Australia, is based on what will work best for the Philippines’ food and client. They take pride in sourcing from small companies and boutique enterprises that they personally know, located in remote wine regions such as King Valley and Rutherglen.

Another option is Winery Philippines, whose claim is they “only sell wines we love.” They focus on quality as well, sourcing products from the best winemakers in California, New Zealand, and Australia. When wine arrives in the Philippines, they have a panel of experts and non-wine drinkers who taste the wine and see how well it can be consumed in the country. Beyond providing wine, they have also created a community for the market, hosting events and socials with not only members but Filipinos who have yet to discover wine.

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