Wine Talk

Snooth User: Faron S

What you'd like to see in Wine Bars

Original post by Faron S, Aug 13, 2010.

What are the "must-have-wines" when you visit a wine bar?  Or just stuff you'd really like to see. This can become tricky with "by-the-glass" stuff, because I imagine people can become quite cautious with a glass of wine above the $12 figure. Any insights??


Reply by lingprof, Aug 18, 2010.

Great thread!  I've been to quite a few wine bars recently and have a few thoughts. 


INFORMATION:  one of my favorite places is Vino Volo, in several airports: (

They give you a little paper coaster with a description of the wine.  I've had several great wines there that I bought later.  They lean toward higher end wines.  But maybe little keywords on the menu, like "Atrea Old Soul Red:  'velvety... kirsh notes... licorice'"

VARIETY:  Many people have mentioned this.  But I think having a few wines from a great grape that is less well known (to the public in general), like Negroamaro, Primitivo, or even Vinho Verde is smart.

LOCAL or SPECIAL selections:  Someone mentioned this, but lesser known vineyards, local or other, give the servers a chance to say, hey, try this special thing that you will never ever see in the grocery store or even BevMo.  People love that.

FOOD: to me the quality of the food does influence how often I go back, and how forgiving I am of the list itself....  doesn't have to be fancy, but good quality & a little creativity bring me back every time.

Good luck!!!  -Carmen

Reply by Lucha Vino, Aug 18, 2010.

Thanks for getting back on the topic of what you would like to see at a wine bar.  Great information getting shared!

lingprof reminded me that the Karma winery we visited in Chelan gave out cards (like coasters) for each wine they served with tasting notes, AVA and for their blends the varietals + percentages. 

The more information you can share with your patrons so they go away feeling like they learned something about the wine the enjoyed the better.  Having a simple take away like a coaster or note card is great.  I know I refer back to cards like this I have received at a wine bar in Seattle that provides a business card size card with their wine flights - another great idea to help you learn and explore the world of wine.

The notes about buying power are a good reminder of how buying in volume can be a consumers friend (and nemesis).  This really seems to emphasize the necessity for a wine bar to find less common wine makers and varietals to show off and hopefully make a good margin on too. 

Then, if you can make your margins on the less known wines you could offer up the common stuff at a "discount."

This also illustrates how a wine bar owner/manager needs to be on top of their game and not just take the advice of their distributor.  I can just hear the distributor say "I just sold 1,000 cases of this to Costco and they sold it out in two weeks.  This wine will practically sell itself..."

Reply by Faron S, Aug 19, 2010.

Thanks Carmen, Vinovolo is one site I checked, pretty cool stuff. I think everyone is onto something when comparing the  by the glass prices being as high as the retail bottle prices. It just doesn't feel right, even if the customer doesn't know a lot about wine.

Carmen, you also bring up a good point of describing wine with only a couple of keywords. It might make the menu look less complicated (not that I wouldn't want to educate customers). That's where staff can score extra points. And also the cards Vello mentioned, I've seen those in an Orlando wine bar as well. All great ideas.

Just some other wines I'm considering: Some smaller distributor wines I've come across are Orzada (Malbecs), Gouguenheim, Hanzell, and Ghost Block.

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Aug 19, 2010.

What a great series of responses. I think I'm going to dig through this and see if there's an article here!

Reply by hhotdog, Aug 19, 2010.

Great read here guys and gals!  Hmmm.. someone actually asking the consumer and interacting with the responses?  nice for a change!  have a couple of fast food rests. and I too get great info from customers and some customers to be!  they love to toss around ideas.  I get great responses and they seem to like it when I explain why something they ask for will not work. no one likes to be b.s.'d.  one receives a thousand ideas and maybe one or two will work it seems.  I always say “just because we make it look easy doesn’t mean it is”!  Lol!

  love a lot of the ideas you're getting.  at one place I went to a waiter had a few "stories' about some of the wines we were interested in.  things like how it was made and some history about the winery itself,etc..  I just love the "stories" behind the lesser-known wines.  They make the wine more intimate and special to me.

Reply by StevenBabb, Aug 20, 2010.

check out the wine bar/restaurant that i work at, bin 38.... our wine list in my opinion has been put together PERFECTLY.... tell me what you think....

Reply by GregT, Aug 20, 2010.

As mentioned, the cost structure of a wine bar or restaurant is very different from that of a store.  Volume pricing aside, the store can keep a bottle on the shelf for a month or a year until it's sold. The wine bar opens a bottle and they need to finish it.  The preservation systems are nice, but costly so now you're back to increasing your prices to cover the extra costs of amortization.  More importantly, if you're handling food, you have costs a retail store doesn't need to worry about.  You have the health inspectors, the food storage facilities, the high staff to customer ratio, etc. 

All that said, there are in fact a few restaurants in NYC that price their wine at "normal" retail.  They sell nothing by the glass so if you buy, you're taking a whole bottle.  Their idea is to turn their inventory fast, so they don't have a large selection of older wines or offbeat wines, but even so, they're still one of my favorite places because they've forced the local industry to re-think its pricing. A lot of competitors grumbled when they first opened and some wished they'd fail, but they're still here.

The VinoVolo story is an interesting one.  They are in several states so they buy half of their wine locally and try to take advantage of volume discounts for the other half.  But they run into the three tier system that screws everything up.  In addition, their cost structure is sky high because it's so difficult to get product to them in the airports.  As a result, they make a concerted effort to seek out the uncommon, where it's unlikely a customer will find the wine in every shop in the city.  They shop for value and the buyers tend to be fairly experienced, having tasted more widely than at some places.  It's a very good example of what I was talking about.  Of course I especially like them because they're customers but they really thought about their audience before they opened their first place. THey don't have a huge list, but it's thought out and they change it quarterly to keep it interesting.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Aug 27, 2010.

A little off the point, but I love VinoVolo because I can get through security early and buy a bottle in the airpiort to give as a present. (A present that assures my hosts have at least one good wine in the house... selfish, eh?)  Even though I live in a place with terrific stores and competitive pricing, if I go to visit family in Chicago with just a carry-on, I can bring them a bottle that's not dreck, which I couldn't get thru security if I bought it outside.  I pay for the privilege, but I compared using my smartphone and it wasn't all that bad.  In our post-9/11 airport world, they do wonders by me. If I had the time to have a glass, I would consider that, too. But a wine bar not in an airport has so many choice.  GDP, this IS a good topic for an article--wine bars are flourishing again, but they aren't all created equal.  wine by the galss is a good topic to talk about generally--the limits, the economics, etc.

BTW, if you go to Vegas, on the NW side, there's a wine shop and restaurant called Marche Bacchus. Quite good, and you can drink any bottle in the store with dinner BUT they have the explicit "in the restaurant" price--which doesn't reflect inventory issues, since they are selling it in the store, too--and it's spelled out that it's $5-10 more.  Still less than corkage, but it does kind of rankle.  Except that they have better prices for better wine than almost anywhere in Vegas, which is not a great wine town IMO. So I am not only willing to put up with it, but willing to recommend the place to friends who like wine. 

Reply by napagirl68, Aug 29, 2010.

@StevenBabb.. I LOVE, LOVE bin 38!  Great part of the city too!  I agree... those interested should ck out your location.

Reply by Girl Drink Drunk, Aug 29, 2010.

SB, I'm being critical, but you asked.  ;)

No vintage Champagne.

Almost every wine is way too young to drink.

No vintage depth (vert's or semi-vert's).

I hate the way the list is laid out, but that's probably my own peeve.

Lastly, and most importantly, there's nothing really interesting on the list.  It's basically all the usual suspects (at least in the bottle section- the btg section is more interesting).

Reply by napagirl68, Aug 30, 2010.

GDD... hmmm.. don't wanna argue at all, but I like  bin38's list.  Yes, they could include some more verts, but they are catering to a young, hip crowd in the marina/cow hollow district, and they have designated themselves as New World wines, hence more of that choice on the menu.  This happens to be very California, which I REALLY do understand is not for everyone.  I love the 40% off discount of a wine you like and want to purchase... similar to CAVA wine bar in Capitola, CA, which I like as well.. 

I really enjoy many things here... there are some wines I like, the ambiance and location is great (VERY important, in my book) and the discount for purchase is wonderful. 

If you are looking for aged french wines, don't waste your time here...but do ck it out for new world wines, and for the ambiance/environment. 

A big part of the wine bar appeal for me is a balance of the list (stuff I like) vs. the environment. A wine bar is for hanging out, not buying and leaving.  If you were discussing a wine shop, I would tend to agree more so.  A wine shop should offer choice, educate, etc, etc,..  A Wine BAR has to ENTERTAIN (that includes everything... food, wine, location, music, decor, etc).  You have to WANT to hang out here vs. your place... see?

Reply by Girl Drink Drunk, Aug 30, 2010.

SB didn't ask for us to critique the ambiance/environment, just the list, which I did. It seems to have been put together by someone who enjoys wine, but doesn't have much background in it; it's amateurish.

Perhaps it's regional, but where I live, the "young, hip crowd" doesn't drink much CA wine.  They seem to drink globally and are interested in trying new things and constantly learning more.  In fact, some of my best sellers, like Falanghina, Volnay and Gigondas, aren't the most well known wines, but once people try them, they can't get enough.

That said, I'm not saying every list should be the same, and variety is the spice of life.  But he asked for a critique, and I gave it.


Reply by dmcker, Aug 30, 2010.

I downloaded the PDF files, thanks to GDD's prodding, and took a look. Didn't like the beer listings as much as I wished, since there was too much Begian, and not enough German, British or US microbrew. Personally I think hot Belgian beers in general are less interesting than a certain subsection of beer critics seem to. Had a long discussion with a German friend who is trained in the profession and moved to Japan to help the first wave of microbrewery startups more than a decade ago (the total number still up and running is less than 10% now, a decade later, unfortunately). He just opened a beer bar where you can do tastings, etc. last week, and I was drinking local versions of Belgian styles last Thursday night from barrels on top of the bar. Got into it a bit with the bartender and my friend. ;-) Anyway, my tastes aside, I think Bin38 is missing out on a lot of good microbrews in CA and OR.

Regarding the bottle list, I tend to agree with GDD about 'the usual suspects', and think the sparkling and chards lists are definitely stunted, and the European listings are effectively non-existent. But how much business at a place where you can do half-glass flights with your food is about bottles, anyway? I've also never understood why a winebar that sells bottles doesn't offer bottles of the wines they serve by the glass. Nor, at first glance, did I see a single bottle of rose on offer.

Both the by-the-glass menus (sparkling/white and red) were more interesting. If I were at the bar I'd probably be twisting the bartender or server's arm to give me full bottles of some of those.

I'm in total agreement with you, Napagirl, about overall ambience, and feel of the place, including its location. Would be very, very happy if there were a Bin38 transplanted or otherwise reproduced in Tokyo. Alas, there ain't....



Reply by Downingj, Aug 30, 2010.

"must haves" for me in wine bars are generous pours ;-)

Reply by Matchupichu, Aug 30, 2010.

If I were you, I would just figure out your target group, sell a bunch of the wine they like and also carry the stuff that interests you.  You can't make everyone happy, but you can try.  Get your money from your target group, develop a relationship, then try to expand their tastes.  That's what I would do.  As for the must have wines, I would go for half bottles, (Rombauer Chardonnay is a popular one with the baby boomer generation, especially my mother!) people can buy what they want and not feel daunted about having to pay for an entire bottle and then perhaps not liking it.  There are plenty of great wine being sold in half-bottle format, from BV to ZD (I was trying to find a decent winery that started with an A but my mind drew a blank).  I hope this helps! 

Reply by Richard Foxall, Aug 30, 2010.

I actually prefer the half bottle format with dinner--that way we can have a drink first or after.  Wine bars do need to focus on the BTG business--people go there, or should, to try things they don't want to risk buying a whole bottle of at restaurant prices.  SB, I will come check Bin38 out one of these days.  I think the list has a lot of the usual suspects, but that's partly necessary to keep the Marina crowd bringing their friends who are afraid to ask questions and like to act as if they already know.  (I know a couple JUST like that.)  GDD, folks in Boston have always (going back to the 70s when I was there) leaned toward Europe, partly because a lot of them think this is Indian country.  Yes, they may appear more cosmopolitan, but you have to remember that California is as big as France, nearly, and has climates for wine of just about every kind.  Learning our landscape will cause our winemakers to work harder and make a better variety of wines; it's a pretty big endeavor.  I spent 25 years learning our California wines so that, when I branched out, I had a good wine vocabulary. I could have started in France, but here I am in northern California.  Also, a lot people like "the usual suspects"--mainstream Bordos and Burgs, included--because those grapes and those regions make good wine and it's a no-risk use of your hard earned money.

SB, one more thing I gotta say, though, if I am going to pay $52, I don't wanna know that I could buy it at Cost Plus for $24 or less.  (See Brancaia Tre, for instance).  The fact I can get it to go for 40% off is a tip off that your markup is pretty serious. That's why I suggest staying off the beaten path.  Also, some value Spanish would be good.  If you can sell St. Cosme (in my opinion an overrated and overpriced, even at its modest price, CdR), you can come up with something from Spain for a lot less than $60 a bottle.

Reply by napagirl68, Aug 31, 2010.

Good points, Foxall, and also, good points GDD :-) 

Foxall has put it kindly... California folks are a whole different breed.  and Yes, DB did say to review the list... but the original post was also about what you like in a wine bar (all aspects).  I know MANY a wine SHOP owner here in the SF bay area that has a hard time selling anything non-Californian except in a few locations.. SF and Oakland fair a bit better, but not much. Californians are in love with California wines (and so are our tourists)... for the most part.   Foxall said it perfectly.. depending on where you are located, the wines that are preferred and bought will vary geographically (if available).  For example, being raised eating monkey brains as a delicacy in Indonesia .. well, you'd have to convince many masses that this was YUM... 

What I am trying to say, is, I think it can be a very local thing for many, especially the beginners.  Being a third gen Cal girl, (2nd gen cal berkeley girl! whoo hoo!), we DO have a different palate here.  And having literally a thousand wineries within a 60mi radius just makes the issue worse :-) :-):-)

GDD, your recommendations are GREAT, and I STILL promise to branch out more and TRY to like old world wines :-)

Interesting post with GREAT varying viewpoints.

Read more:
Reply by dmcker, Aug 31, 2010.

Second gen Berkeley myself, and all my siblings went there, too. Even had five gens in Cal. agriculture (animal husbandry included) on both sides of the family. Nonetheless, the world's a big place and I've managed to learn about the wines out in it, Napagirl.  You're only limiting yourself by not learning the languages those foreign wines speak.... ;-)

Reply by napagirl68, Aug 31, 2010.

Dmcker- you are correct!  But it is not just me... almost everyone that I know here in my area that drinks wine, drinks California almost exclusively.  I have heard many of them say, "Why drink anything but California wine?".  I asked our local wine shop owner why he doesn't have more French wines, and he told me no one wants them.. They won't sell. 

I don't agree with this, and I do believe in expanding one's horizons- just making observations. 

Reply by Stephen Harvey, Aug 31, 2010.

My mothers family came to South Australia on the first settlers ship in 1836, which almost makes me indigenous!!!!!

As many have said before you are and should have a passion for local product, particularly as it provides local jobs.  The wine industry is a great employer - directly and indirectly in many non big city urban type areas and it is a product that forms an integral part of regional culture.

But one of the best things about wine is you can compare your region with others and have some great fun debating differences with friends, enemies and onliners.  But to enjoy the fun of the debate you do need to try stuff from other regions.

Back to wine bars - I would still like to se more wines in 187ml/200ml/6oz bottles with screw cap in wine bars rather than have wine by the glass from a stale bottle!

Continue to the end of the thread to reply
Back to Categories

Top Contributors This Month

127503 Snooth User: rckr1951
18 posts
1464471 Snooth User: William Djubin
1464471William Djubin
12 posts
2197009 Snooth User: hotplaydollgmailcom
7 posts


View All

Snooth Media Network