Will Costello, Master Sommelier
What is the best practice when a “sure thing” turns out to be a “disappointment” on your wine list or by the glass? That amazing Côt you knew would succeed as the perfect Malbec replacement. The Malagousia that works perfectly with the crudo Chef just prepared is being poured down the drain more than in glasses. The small grower-producer champagne you curated is left deflated. How can you revive an obviously amazing wine choice which is being overlooked by all of your guests? When I am stuck in this situation, I always do my best to recognize the problem from its roots and find a meaningful solution; one which will see an amazing wine shine on your list and end in a profit and not an upset.
On initial thought, training may be a great way to solve the conundrum of a slower moving product. Pour a bit at pre-shift for the team. Ask Chef to prepare a small bite of the dish which you think will shine with this pairing. Use the moment as a learning opportunity to further the education of the whole staff. After all, a rising tide lifts all ships.
However, in my humble opinion, training can only go so far. We know there are staff who show up to work for the paycheck, and not the experience. We know guests who choose to order on their own, feeling they don’t “need the assistance.” I found success when I highlight the offending wine on the list with a box or a feature line. As opposed to hoping the staff will immediately get behind it, or need to offer an incentive to sell it, highlight the wine in writing (See inset photo).
Go even a step further and tell a fun story.
Malbec has a synonym in the Loire Valley known as Côt. Use this knowledge to sell the wine to a guest who loves Malbec but had no idea it was grown outside of Argentina. Entice them with a brief but interesting line of prose which will draw their attention with not only eye, but also mind.
In the situation, that the amazing grower champagne or the Malagousia (which is tough to pronounce) just isn’t selling, remember that to order wine, you need to say it. One of my successes came from changing the name of Champagne Bernard Gaucher on the wine list to Champagne BG. Guests who were not comfortable with the subtleties of French pronunciation felt much more at ease saying two letters BG.
Or Greek. Who knows how to accurately say any of those words? Not I. Try phonetic spelling on the wine list. Simple Malagousia becomes “Malagousia (Mal-uh-goo-zee-uh).” The wine was not better, nor worse, because the guest couldn’t say it. It just made ordering it that much easier.
Experiment with your own list. Maybe being proper is not the best. Call the Malagousia “Liquid Sunshine” or the Côt “Inky Black Goodness.” Have fun with it. After all, its only wine.