The Grapevine

Luke Richardson
Picture: Isabel Kronenberger

Luke Richardson has worked in a range of venues across the UK, specialising in wine, and is now general manager at Haar restaurant in St Andrews. In his column for SLTN he shares his thoughts on all things wine-related and answers your questions about wine. If you have a question for Luke email it to

Hi again all.

I thought I would continue on from last month’s column on wine list styles with some information as to how to make your wine list more appealing, mainly through descriptions and format.

I feel some people are put off from being descriptive about wines as if it is necessary to master some dark art or other, or indeed only for the fine dining environment. This is simply not true – we are, after all, only talking about fermented grape juice; and besides, all these perceptions of taste are fairly subjective.

Putting some simple descriptions beside the wines on your lists – no matter what size those lists may be – can help in a myriad of ways, from helping the customer to make the best possible selection to increasing their perceived value of their experience in your establishment and even having your establishment perceived in a totally different light.

I know that it makes a difference for me as I definitely end up judging a place on how much love is put into its wine list!

The key word in all of that, however, is ‘simple’ – much better to keep it simple and get it right than get all waffly and sound pretentious in my experience!

So where to start?

I always try and list wines in the following format – vintage, name of wine or cuvée, name of producer, appellation and/or region, country, price. Sure, it takes a little upkeep, but if you’re finding that suppliers are changing vintage very often, you can pre-empt that by listing the current vintage and add the next year in too – 2020/2021, for example – and save yourself the hassle of reprinting.

An example would be: “2019/2020 Chablis, William Fevre, Burgundy, France, £30”.

Another way to get around the vintage changing is to simply put a note at the bottom of your list saying “vintages are subject to change” or the like.

After this. I would then include all grape varieties, whether the wine sees any oak, an idea of the body of the wine and some simple tasting notes… thus, for the wine mentioned above:

“100% Chardonnay, unoaked. This is a light to medium-bodied wine with classic citrus fruit notes, a mineral mid palate and a crisp and dry finish.”

Or, a little more expanded: “2015 Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, 2eme Cru Classé, St Julien, Bordeaux, France, £100. 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot. A medium to full-bodied red wine that sees some time in oak. Aromas of blackcurrant, dark cherries, leather and a hint of smoke. On the palate the wine is generous, with a multi-layered, long finish. Delicious with steak!”

If you are serving food in your establishment, it is super helpful to mention food types that would go well with the wine, such as “great with our scallop dish” or even “a great seafood wine”, as is the case with the Chablis aforementioned.

If you’re not sure about the wines themselves, my first instinct is to recommend opening a bottle and trying it, but the more sensible approach is probably to ask your supplier to help with some tasting notes – many suppliers will offer a wine list service and construct the whole thing for you. Happy compiling 🙂