Hotel Professionals

House Wines.

House Wines


Many restaurateurs treat house wines as a necessity to generate some revenue, or as an afterthought since their competition has them too.

I remember how in PEI (Prince Edward Island) I so wanted to have a decent glass of wine with my lobster meal, yet they had no wine at all and two “ mainstream beers “ on the menu.

In reality house wines can be a very profitable beverage category on your list. They not only generate revenue but also increase the enjoyment of a meal, thus encouraging repeat visits.

First it is important to mention that house wine originally meant, and still does mean in practically all wine producing countries, a specially selected, value wine, specific to a winery or more often as was the case, blended according to the instructions of the restaurateur. Often it is a small winery with a restaurant or a restaurant with a winery or the restaurant is next to a vineyard. Obviously food was designed to complement the wine. I use the term food since mostly there was simply a table d’hote menu consisting of seasonal food. In southern Europe people still enjoy food in season! The idea of eating tomatoes and cucumbers in December is still alien to most Mediterranean people and in fact frowned upon!

House wines

should be selected with due care, taking into consideration your clientele, the food, pricing, and generally their taste orientation!

While in the past one red and one white house wine sufficed, in most restaurants today, patrons’ want a range of house wines. You could offer four two being Canadian and two imported. Widening the choice to more than two could create problems in less busy restaurants. Many restaurants in downtown Toronto or larger centres are now offering more or less all their wines by the glass and charge according to the full bottle cost, but at the end of the day a large number of partially sold bottles represent a cost that few restaurants can absorb! Nitrogen flushing, or specially designed machines are used to prolong the shelf life of partially used wine, but in my experience the product still suffers, and people with a good palate can detect the staleness of the wine

A house wine must be appealing to your clientele. It must be versatile and represent good value, and not be the least expensive wine obtainable.

A party of two for dinner may consume a full bottle with their main course after being talked into ordering a glass of white wine with their appetizer or as an aperitif, but seldom consumes two bottles. The idea of 500ml bottles was to get people to order two half-litre bottles for their meal, but it never really caught on! To my knowledge there is not a single restaurant menu in Toronto that lists 500ml bottles!  Obviously servers must be trained to describe all house wines appropriately and know exactly which one would be best for each dish. Selecting house wines has always been a flawed process, where one or at best two senior employees and/or the owner made the decision based on little more than cost and availability. Obviously their background and upbringing had a lot to do with their selection and often their choices appealed less to their clientele than to themselves.

An unalterable rule of retailing states that you must satisfy the needs of your guests. Some restaurateurs understand this and offer a range of house wines, which may work well in busy restaurants, but in small establishments cost accumulate fast.

Often an open bottle without any attempt of preservation is offered for sale after two and sometimes even four days. Ultimately when a guest is served a wine which was exposed to air for such a long time, he/she will be either disappointed or send the wine back. In either case the restaurant loses.

Here is a proven way to select one or more house wines.

Select judiciously 10 – 12 of your regular house wine consuming clientele making sure that a cross section is represented.  Select five wines from the general listings of the LCBO or your regular purveyor in each category

(white, domestic, imported etc)  They must represent good value, complement your food in general and satisfy the palates of your clientele.

In California restaurants offer local wines, the same is true in Washington or Oregon. You would be hard pressed to find a bottle of wine from Burgundy in Bordeaux let alone house wines! Why shouldn’t all Canadian restaurants carry an Ontario or British Columbia wines? I believe all restaurants in this country should carry at least two VQA quality wines on their list.

Invite the chosen group and explain what you are trying to accomplish, offering some kind of incentive. Once the panel is assembled, pour all the wines blind and provide the form shown below asking each participant to complete it after tasting the flight:




After analysing completed forms you will be able to determine at least three wines from each category acceptable to your clientele; this will allow you to switch if the LCBO or your purveyor is out of stock.

Obviously the process must be repeated for each category. Most wine agents and/or wineries would be happy to provide a sample.

Wine by the glass sales is particularly brisk at lunch in business and family restaurants. It   should be actively encouraged by means of displays at the entrance of the restaurant and by servers should guests  “ forget  “ to order a glass.

“ You must ask for the order  “ goes the saying, if you want to sell anything.

Make sure all your house wines are in good condition before you serve them and make it a policy to sell by the glass or 500 ml carafe, never larger!

House Wines

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