You’re sitting in the restaurant browsing the wine list. The selection looks amazing and you’re pretty sure that any choice you make will be a good one.
Finally, you pick the perfect Italian wine for the occasion and the waiter goes off to grab the bottle.
As you sit back and wait for everything to come out, an idle question crosses your mind…
How do restaurants decide which Italian wines they should add to their wine list?
After all, there are literally thousands of wines that a restaurant can choose from. How do they whittle things down to the dozen or so that you see on the list when there’s so much choice available?
That’s the question we aim to answer with this article. And it starts with…
Location plays a big part in a wine list, especially in Italy. Many restaurant owners want to offer their diners a slice of the local culture, which means they’ll tend towards wines that come from producers within their region.
At least, that’s often the case in Italy.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that a restaurant will only have wines from its region. Most of them will have a few standards, such as Chardonnay or Prosecco. But that added local flavour can really add a unique touch to what the restaurant has to offer.
The Food Also Plays a Big Part
We often talk about choosing the right wines to complement your food.
Any restaurant has to consider their menu when making their selections for a wine list. A Mexican restaurant, for example, will likely offer very different wines to an Italian restaurant.
Mexican food tends to be a little more on the spicy side, which means that any wines offered must be able to work well with the more intense flavours. An Italian restaurant, on the other hands, may focus more on pasta dishes. As such, lighter wines work better because the flavours aren’t quite so rich.
That’s just a microcosm of the decision-making process that might go on here. Particularly good restaurants will make their choices on a dish-by-dish basis to ensure they always have a wine that suits a particular meal.
To keep it simple, the wines you see on the restaurants list have to work with the food that the establishment serves. If they don’t the diner’s experience won’t be as good as it should be.
There Are a Few Common Standards
These are old favourites that a large bulk of the client base will recognise and enjoy. Unless the restaurant’s going for a really exclusive air, it’s always a good idea to pick some old standards to go along with the more unique choices.
Other wines that you’re likely to see include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc. Again, these are all familiar choices for most people, whether they’re avid wine drinkers or not, which makes them a safe bet for any wine list to wishes to be inclusive.
Bringing in the Professionals
Let’s shift our focus to the more elite establishments out there. How do they select the wines their carefully curated lists?
On rare occasions, the owner of the restaurant may be a wine buff themselves. If that’s the case, they may be able to handle choosing more exclusive wines based on their own experiences. But more often than not, the owner will bring in a professional to do the job for them.
Enter the sommelier.
This is a professional who’s undergone extensive training with Italian wines, which means they’re well-placed to make appropriate selections. Sommeliers have very wide and cultured palates, which means they’re able to make selections based on everything from the wine’s tannins through to its individual notes.
Typically, the sommelier will spend some time learning about the restaurant and the foods that it serves. From there, they will choose wines that complement specific dishes, as well as providing notes for the restaurant on which wines will work best with which types of food.
Price is a Factor
Any good restaurant will offer a range of wines for different budgets. Failure to do so could exclude some customers from buying a bottle, which could ruin the dining experience.
The exact boundaries of this range will depend on the restaurant.
High-end establishments might have a “cheap” wine that still costs somewhere in the €100 region, with the more expensive stuff being several times more than that. But in regular restaurants, you’ll typically see wines in the €15 to €25 range at the lower end of the scale, going tup to €100 to €200 for the wines at the higher end.
It really depends on the clientele that the restaurant expects to attract.
Trends Play a Part (But They’re Not Everything)
Ultimately, a restaurant wants to sell as much of its product as possible. As a result, most restaurateurs will keep an eye on the prevailing wine trends so they can figure out what’s popular with consumers at that point in time.
As such, you can expect to see a few very consumer-friendly wines on any list. However, the restaurant has to walk a fine line here. If it sticks solely with wines that are trending in the industry, it runs the risk of coming off as unoriginal or uninspired.
This means you’ll usually see some allowances made for trends, combine with the old standards and a couple of more unique and interesting choices.
The Final Word
The amount of work that goes into an Italian wine list will often depend on the type of restaurant.
General eateries, cafes, and smaller restaurants will typically favour the old standards without digging much deeper than that. However, high-end restaurants have more discerning clients, which means they must put a lot of work into choosing the right wines. That’s where the sommelier usually comes in.
All you need to know, as a consumer, is that the restaurant doesn’t pick wines out of thin air. You should always find something that complements your meal, no matter what dish you choose.