How to create the perfect wine list, in 8 easy steps

After two years of torturously slow tourism, Bali has finally opened up for business again. And what better way to celebrate open borders than by opening your favourite bottle of wine?

As the C.E.O of Go Drinks , the fastest growing direct to consumer drinks platform in Indonesia, I found that I suddenly had new opportunities waiting for me in our revitalised tourism industry.

These opportunities came in the form of creative collaboration: some of the best chefs and business owners on the island wanted to design new wine lists for their patrons, and were seeking my advice on how best to captivate the connoisseurs. But good advice is like good wine: it should always be shared. So read on to learn how to make an unforgettable wine list for your customers.

Step 1: Visualise your vino

For me, the modern wine list is a personal creation. Considered and conscious. Every wine chosen for a purpose, telling an intimate story, elevating the ambiance of your business. The perfect wine list transcends the bottle, and transports the drinker to the beyond.

Ideally, a wine list should work seamlessly with a food menu, with the ability to reflect not only the complex flavours and aromas, but also the atmosphere of your dishes. It shouldn’t be overly long. Too many options run the risk of delaying or disorientating your customers. It also shouldn’t be completely changed from one menu to the next. A good idea is to retain some of your best selling wines as permanent fixtures on your list, gradually adding new items for the more adventurous patrons to enjoy. Remember: keep the classics, then launch the latest.

Most important of all, a wine list should be dynamic. Wine is, at its heart, a celebration of what nature has the power to produce. For this reason, a considered wine list must always reflect the changing of the seasons. Perhaps this might be achieved by pairing your wine choices with the seasonal ingredients in your food menu, or by selecting wines that complement the current weather. However you choose to reflect the seasons, your customers will be pleased to discover that it’s always the season for good wine at your establishment.

Key Points

  • Make your wine list personal, fitting the tone of your business
  • Don’t include too many items
  • Keep core classics that sell well
  • Pair your wines choices with your food menu
  • Reflect seasonal ingredients and weather

Step 2: Age is not just a number! Keep it fresh.

Ah, the vint(age)-old question: does wine always get better with age? Contrary to popular belief, not all wines do. In my consultations with chefs and restaurateurs around Bali, the very first thing I noticed about their wine lists was the age of their wines: they contained vintages which were already too old to be appreciated at their best. With many wines, fresh is actually best. And because your patrons deserve the best, the freshest wines should always be present on your wine list.

So which wines are best while fresh? White wines in particular need to be consumed while still reasonably young: around one to two years after bottling. After that period of time, white vintages tend to lose their fruitful and aromatic vibrancy, becoming duller in flavour, and therefore less exciting to your clientèle. This is especially true for ‘New World’ wines, cultivated in Chile, Australia and New Zealand. For select red wines, fresher is also better. Some young reds should be enjoyed within one to two years, when they exhibit their richest and most expressive flavours. 

Key Points

  • Some wines are best while fresh
  • One to two years after bottling: wine retains its best flavours
  • White wines are best while young: true for New World wines
  • Some reds are best while young

Step 3: Categorise: tell your wine story in chapters

A considered wine list should always proceed in categories. Depending on your type of establishment, you may choose to organise your wine list by region or country of origin, by grape varietal or by style of wine.

I personally recommend introducing wines in different style categories. Starting with sparkling wines, I like to proceed to white, followed by rosé and then red. Finally, dessert wines make for the perfect, sweetly indulgent end to your wine tasting. This procession allows your customers to adjust to each style’s innate flavour profile. To enjoy but not to be overwhelmed. After all, your wine list is not just a list: it’s a rich story of taste from start to finish.

Key Points

  • Choose categories for your wine list: organise by country, grape or style​
  • I recommend: sparkling to white, rosé, red and then dessert wine.

Step 4: Choosing Sparkling Wines

Nothing says ‘Welcome’ like a glass of Champagne! For an elegant start to your wine list, begin with sparkling wines. I would recommend keeping at least one Champagne and a couple of other sparkling choices on your menu, such as Prosecco from Italy, or Cava from Spain. Sparkling rosé is a relative newcomer on the sparkling scene, but has become exceptionally popular very quickly: always leave at least one on your wine list to excite your more adventurous clientèle. 

While it’s challenging to keep sparkling wines fresh after they’ve been opened, there are ways to economise your use of ‘bubbly’. You can always use the same sparkling wine as the base for Spritz cocktails and other items on your menu.

Key Points

  • At least one Champagne should stay on your menu
  • Other classic choices: Prosecco and Cava
  • I recommend: Sparkling rosé
  • Economise: use leftover sparkling wine as bases for cocktails

Step 5: Choosing White Wines

After sparkling, proceed with white wines. In the hot and tropical climate of Bali, nothing refreshes customers better than a crisply cold, white wine. For your perfect wine list, I recommend a selection of 10 to 15 white vintages, ideally with four to be served by the glass. Without a doubt, the most popular white grape varietals are Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay , so be sure to include these wines first on your menu to appeal to a wide range of consumers. Riesling and Pinot Grigio, though of lesser fame, are still delicious and reliable choices, and should be the next to feature on your list. For the more adventurous at heart, I like to include some unconventional varieties, such as Gruner Veltliner from Austria, or Furmint from Hungary. 

In one versatile selection of wine, you should be able to travel around the world. To create the ultimate ‘vintage voyage’, I always choose to balance wines from the ‘Old World’ and the ‘New World’. Regions renowned for their wine-making, like Burgundy (Chardonnay) and the Loire Valley (Sauvignon Blanc) , can appear alongside their lesser known counterparts: vineyards from New Zealand, Australia and Chile. After all, good wine can be found in any place on earth, and the best wine lists will be able to transport you there.

Key Points

  • White wines work well with hot climates
  • Include 10 - 15 white wines
  • Unconventional wines: I recommend Gruner Veltliner and Furmint
  • Serve two to four white wines by the glass
  • Include Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay first
  • Riesling and Pinot Grigio next
  • Balance Old World and New World wines

Step 6: Choosing Rosé Wines​

In Bali, where the weather is hot and the food is light, nothing is more welcome than a pink, perspiring glass of rosé. The ideal partner for cuisine and climate, rosé has been gaining popularity fast on our little island. For your wine list, I would recommend including a classic Provence rosé, followed by a Spanish rosé made from the Tempranillo grape varietal. For the perfect pink finish, include a ‘New World’ rosé from Australia or Argentina.

Key Points

  • Rosé works well with hot climates
  • I recommend: Provence rosé first
  • Then Spanish rosé
  • End with New World rosé

Step 7: Choosing Red Wines

In the inimitable words of Kipling, ‘One can never have too much red wine.’ After rosé, delight your patrons with a sophisticated selection of red vintages. Beginning with lighter wines, the first reds to appear on your wine list should be well-known classics, like Pinot Noir from Burgundy, or Tempranillo from Rioja. Then proceed to fuller-bodied wines like Cabernets from Bordeaux or a Syrah from Spain, for a more robust tasting experience.

For your affluent clientèle, I recommend including several of the most premium wines to your menu. Older vintages can add that essential element of luxury to your wine list, elevating not only your selection but also the air of your establishment. A red vintage that has already been aged in its bottle for at least 10 years is the ideal standard for an older, more expensive wine.  

Key Points

  • Begin with lighter wines, then move to full-bodied
  • I recommend: Pinot Noir and Tempranillo first
  • Then Cabernets and Syrah next
  • Older vintages for a more expensive option

Step 8: Choosing Dessert Wines

Always save room for dessert. And always save room on your wine list for dessert wines. A small glass of delicious dessert wine is the perfect note on which to conclude a sumptuous meal, leaving your customers with a sweet palate they’ll be savouring long after their dining experience has come to an end. For a honeyed finish to your wine tasting, include dessert wines like Sauternes from Bordeaux or Tokaji from Hungary. And if you’d like to match the sweetness of your servings, you can always offer a glass of your favourite dessert wine to loyal patrons as an indulgent complimentary gift.

Key Points

  • Always end your wine list with a dessert wine
  • I recommend: Sauternes and Tokaji
  • Can be offered as a complimentary gift with dessert

Your Result: The Perfect Wine List

And there you have it. The perfect wine list, from start to finish. A wine list that is considered and conscious; that transcends the bottle, and transports the drinker to the beyond. A wine list that celebrates nature, and all the people and places that cultivated it.

It has been an absolute pleasure to share my wine list advice with you. If you are planning to open a new wine business or restaurant, please take a look at our online portfolio of the finest wines, all at the fairest prices. And because we know good business like we know good wine, we’re happy to offer you special wholesale discounts on all of our products if you open a Wholesale Business Account with us today. But that’s not all: we also provide free delivery to any location in Bali, every day of the week. So why shop around? Go Drinks is the best way to buy wine in Bali. And your business deserves the best.

If you’d like to create a wine list that is personally tailored to the needs of your business, we’re pleased to offer you our exceptional advice. With over 25 years of experience in the industry, Go Drinks knows how to make wine work for you. You can contact us here if you’d like to know more about our premium wines, free delivery and industry advice.

So elevate your business with the perfect wine list, and enjoy the good life. With Go Drinks