For me, wine is a fun, elaborate sect of the food and beverage industry. From finding the right wine to pair with right food to the structures and characteristics of a grape, to the history and geography of different varietals, there is an endless amount to absorb. Most important to the server or bartender, is being able to get people to buy good wine without having a sommelier’s mastery of knowledge.

The Basics

First thing’s first: having basic knowledge of the varietals and characteristics of the wines will greatly improve your ability to sell. At the very least, become very familiar with one or two wines in order to show that you have some knowledge and are not only BSing your guests.

Before we get into selling, here are a few notes to use when selling wine:

  • Body: (Light-Medium-Full); this describes the structure of the wine on your pallet. Pinot Noir, for instance is a light-bodied red while Cabernet Sauvignon is Full-bodied
  • Tannic: Referring to the presence of tannins, this is almost all about the finish. The grippy, lasting taste at the finish is primarily caused by the tannins.
  • Acidic: having a distinct feeling and taste of acid, almost tartness
  • Dry vs. Sweet: these are opposites and a wine can not be both. A wine is either sweet and fruity or dry.

Other terms I like to use to indicate the character of wine include: bright, fruit forward, buttery (mostly for Chardonnay), peppery (Cab. Sav.), crisp, earthy, elegant, jammy, refined. These are mostly broad terms that will help you designate tastes and characteristics that are attractive and accessible to your guest.

Since wines differ so greatly by varietal (grape type), vintage (year produced), location (where wine or grape is made) and taste, there are countless ways to describe a wine and it is important to find what works for you.

Selling wine

1. Plant the Seed

When greeting a table, make sure to mention the ‘great wines’ you have to offer and indicate that you are there to help them with pairings or explanations.

Immediately, this plants the seed of drinking wine even if that was their initial intention. If you are convincing in your approach, you can use their eagerness to guide them toward a food and wine pairing that you are familiar with and have confidence explaining.

Mention the ‘great wines’ you have to offer.

2. Upselling

Upselling wine is crucial to your check average. If you can get a guest to buy a $13 glass of wine over a $9 glass, you’re on your way to a higher check average.

My style of upselling is to offer 3 different wines, explaining them in depth. The goal here is to not deprecate the cheaper glass but to simply use more elegant verbiage as you describe the higher-priced wines. Instead of saying that the $13 glass is ‘better’ than the $9 glass, explain that there are great qualities to the $9 and that $13 glass has these qualities PLUS many more.

My style of upselling is to offer 3 different wines, explaining them in depth.

For instance. If you have two pinot noirs ($9 and $13, respectively), the first one should be described as a “solid, light-bodied pinot with soft cherry flavors.” Easy, simple, to the point.

The second glass, however, “is a bit lighter and more finessed, with a much more approachable finish and a brightness that pairs well with everything on the menu.” Here, you see that you’re speaking vaguely and using words like ‘finesse’ and ‘approachable’ to express that, even though you said nothing bad about the first, the second is the clear winner.

3. Tastings

If you work at a restaurant that allows you to offer tastings, use this to your advantage! Tastings are the easiest way to gain a tables trust and get them to conform to the service that you are most comfortable with.

Again, using the 3-tier system, offer tastes of a cheap, medium and expensive wine. The goal here is to showcase your knowledge and get them to trust it. Always be sure to be well-versed in the wines you choose to taste and have a recited explanation for both.

Wine A is light-bodied with ‘these qualities’ and ‘this type of finish’ and goes well with ‘these food items’. Wine B has a ‘more complex body’ offers ‘these qualities AND these qualities’ and pairs with ‘these foods’. Wine C, however, has ‘great structure’, ‘these characteristics’, AND ‘pairs with almost anything on the menu’.

it is always easiest to sell something you actually care about.

It is crucial to show both knowledge and interest in the wines you’re selling. For me, it is always easiest to sell something you actually care about. If Wine C is a wine you would drink on your own time, it is a much easier sell to your customer. Show passion for your sales and they will respond to that.

4. Pairings

Pairing wines is a refined skill but there are some basics that are important to know as a beginner.

Start by trying to pair similar flavors of the food and the wine. For instance, a Sauvignon Blanc is a light, crisp varietal that usually contains some type of citrus (lime, grapefruit) and would do well with light, citrusy, acidic foods like ceviche, light fish, sushi.

On the other side, heavy food and heavy wines typically go well together. A Cabernet Sauvignon with a full body and peppery, tannic finish will do well with red meat like steak.

With this knowledge, it is easy to decipher which wines pair with which foods simply based on taste profile and the heaviness/lightness of the dish vs. the wine. One of the most important things to know is that a wine should not over power food.

Always opt for wine as an enhancer as opposed to a dominant flavor for your food.

Do not pair a big, oaky, buttery chardonnay with a light, citrusy cod because the wine will overpower your fish. Always opt for wine as an enhancer as opposed to a dominant flavor for your food.

Here they are, all my tricks for selling wine! Remember, the more wine knowledge you have, the better, so study up.

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