There is much talk about which wines consumers are buying and this is of great interest to me. But just as telling is which wines the wine trade buyers are purchasing.
Consumers are likely to being making their decisions based on what is offered to them at their local wine store or restaurant.
Rather than make any sweeping generalizations or assumptions, I decided to reach out to a few wine buyers who purchase for some highly respected venues, both restaurants and retail shops.
You will see from their thoughtful answers that there is no one secret to success for wine sales. The one unifying theme I saw was passion. All of the people quoted below are clearly wine lovers, in addition to being wine professionals.
"I like to buy wines that I would enjoy in my own home. They should have elegance, balance, finesse, authenticity, typicity and value. Value at any price level is paramount in this economy. Ego-driven, trophy wines are so passe! Our customers are looking for wines that are delicious, have good table manners and don't require a second mortgage to acquire."
Corporate Fine Wine Buyer
Centennial Fine Wine and Spirits
"1.quality of the wine - personality, terroir-driven, the wine has to tell me a story, to show me a landscape, etc. - to be multidimensional (multilayered, with acidity, bitterness, balanced, little tannins, etc.), the "buvabilité" - very little additives, natural, etc.
2.the price according to the quality - I want good quality wines affordable for everybody - it is very easy to create a grand award wine list if you have the money (it is just verticals of big names), it is harder to create a short list accessible to everybody"
Rouge Tomate Group, Paris and New York
"On a list the size of ours, each wine needs to have a reason for being because for the most part I can't bring in duplicates of varietals or regions. As to how I decide, I start with my palate and sensibility, based on what pairs well with the food on our menu. Is it something that my guests will love even if I don't? (Malbec for example.) Is it something that I need to bring on because I have a hole in the list that needs to be filled? (currently Champagne) Is it something that is worth paying a bit extra for because of the name recognition that guests will pay extra for, even though equally good products exist at a lower cost? (Caymus, Molly Dooker)
In all honesty, though, proceeding this pragmatic process, are the combined factors of relationship and convenience. There are some reps and companies that I just really like working with."
Street Restaurant, Los Angeles
"I'm not trying to express myself through my wine list--I feel a bit like a
traveling ethnographer reporting on the interesting things I've seen. I am
always interested in tasting new wines from everywhere wine is made. That
said, I admit to being a biased taster with strong feelings about the wines
I love and the wines that I do not love. I only pour wines that I
love--perhaps this doesn't make me such a great business person, but I need
to feel passionate about the wines that I sell. I mostly drink old
world wine and that's what you'll find in the main at my place. I am madly in love with gamay so you'll always find a really good cru Beaujolais on my list, or something from Italy's val d'aosta, or Steve Edmund's Bone Jolly gamay. You'll typically find two or more wines from the south of France, a place where there's a lot of very
exciting winegrowing going on right now.
My list is organized by tasting profile rather than country. I like to offer
two or whites or roses that have fresh acidity, zingy wines that work great
as an aperitif, and on my list I have a heading right now for "Fresh and
zingy whites,". I will change up my list based on the headings I use. When I taste a new wine that I like I try to see how it can fit into one of the categories on my list.
I'm not dogmatic about it, however: the rubrics are there just to help me
I taste between 40 and 300 wines a week. Tasting wine makes me happy; I am
always pleased and interested to taste new wines from anywhere wine is made
(except prison--I draw the line at pruno). Oxidative winemaking is one of those doors--once I begin to"get" these wines I started falling for a constellation of other oxidative wines, e.g., starting with Amontillado sherry -> sur voile wines from the
Jura -> Madeira -> Amphora wines from Slovenia -> oxidative solera Banyuls,
Lou's Wine Bar, Los Angeles
"There are several factors that I consider when selecting wines for K&L.
1. Relevance; i.e. does the wine represent a particular wine region or style for the areas that I am buying for:
For instance, I try to have a well rounded and thorough selection of wines from the Languedoc. Perhaps one or two from Pic St. Loup, Corbieres, Minervois, Limoux etc. If I taste a wine and I a) like it b) and feel that it will represent the category well, I will select it.
2. Price/quality ratio. These I consider to be workhorse wines. Although they do not need to necessarily express a tremendous sense of place or terroir, they need to represent an excellent quality price ratio. In addition, their flavor profile needs to be one that many customers will enjoy. An entry level cotes du rhone might be such a wine, or perhaps a picpoul de pinet from the Languedoc.
3. Vintage. More applicable to higher end and collectible wines. Certainly if a particular vintage is given high marks or highly praised, chances are I will go broader and deeper in my selections for that particular vintage.
4. Critics reviews. certainly help drive sales and most retailers greatly depend upon them to help drive sales.
If a particular wine receives high marks from say Robert Parker, Wine Spectator, Tanzer or the New York Times, this will highly influence my decision in purchasing the wine for the store.
5. Customers will often inquire about a particular wine and the possibility of me bringing it into the store.
Often, I will take them up on their suggestion and in fact do so, especially if it fits into criteria #1 above.
Two recent examples include: 2007 Clos Marie Jurancon Sec and the 2007 Domaine Sang de Cailloux Vacqueyras "Floureto"."
Mulan Chan-Randel AIWS
Rhone Valley & French Regional Wine Buyer
K&L Wine Merchants
638 4th Street
San Francisco, Ca 94107
Here are a few thoughts on how we decide on selections for our wine lists:
2. By the glass pours at various price points with both well recognized and obscure grape varietals
3. Pricing to value perception
4. The mix of product
Virginia Philip M.S.
One South County Road
Palm Beach, Florida