The traditional wine list ‘is dead’

The traditional wine list is dead according to the former wine buyer and head sommelier of the Soho House Group.

Speaking at a seminar during the London Wine Fair, Christopher Cooper of drinks consultancy Drinkonomics said:

“Wine lists are becoming obsolete – sommeliers need to be much more creative than they are at the moment and start delivering complete drinks lists.

“The standard wine list is dead – boring lists and wine bibles are crap and don’t fly. People are seeking something more concise.

Craft beer should be served in Michelin-starred restaurants

Cooper believes craft beer should be served in Michelin-starred restaurants

“Wine should be more enjoyable and fun. It’s not the only thing people are drinking in restaurants now so the category has increasing competition.

“The hospitality industry is too focused on wine – sommeliers and wine buyers need to start thinking outside of the box.

“In some instances, consumers are being forced into buying wine rather than other drinks in restaurants as it’s profitable – there is often no alternative.

“Sommeliers need to work harder, take more risks and open their eyes to the bigger world of drinks, taking in beer, cider, cocktails and spirits.”

In terms of what he believes consumers are seeking from a wine offering, Coopper put “freshness, vibrancy and excitement” at the top of the list.

“A good wine list is one that’s balanced, quirky, varied and well thought out. You need to fill a list with exciting wines people want to buy and shouldn’t be afraid to inject some humour into it – avoid boring tasting notes at all costs,” he warned. Cooper singled out London as spearheading more diverse drinks lists.

“The best restaurants in London aren’t just about wine. There has been an explosion of new drinks brands onto the scene and millennial consumers are keen to taste them.

“Younger consumers are curious, keen and willing to spend a bit more on a decent bottle of wine when they go out,” he said.

“Saké is a big deal and sommeliers need to get their heads around it. Craft beer is also hugely important and should be served in Michelin-starred restaurants. The revolution is here.

“There’s also a growing interest in locally made drinks like mead and perry. These shouldn’t be a token gesture on a list, they should be done properly,” he added.

Cooper thinks sommeliers could learn a lot from bartenders and their open-minded approach to flavours and ingredients. He also said social media could “make or break” a restaurant.

15 Responses to “The traditional wine list ‘is dead’”

  1. Sorry, but I’m not drinking cider or spirits with my Dinner. Except in rare occasions, I haven’t found one in either category to complement (or be complemented by!) my meal… Disagree that “the hospitality industry is ‘too’ focused on wine”; in fact I think they need to redouble their efforts. If there’s anything I see in the hospitality industry when it comes to wine, it is TOO little attention on the importance wine plays in the dinner experience!

    • Phil crozier says:

      if you knew how much work goes into my wine list then I beg you to reconsider your comments.
      I agree that wine list need to be vibrant, but I spend 20 percent of my year in Argentina to ensure that my list is innovative, current and exciting. I spend a lot of time with winemakers.
      I would love to discuss this with you in more detail. We have a great many very talented and committed wine buyers and somelliers in the UK who spend time with their guests and staff to educate and make wine fun and, above all informative.

  2. Laurent Richet says:

    I can’t agree more. You should see my wine list. A different design and way of presenting wines.

  3. James Lulble says:

    Are you kidding me? When I go to a restaurant and ask for the wine list, I expect it to contain an appropriate selection based on the restaurant’s food.

    Keep the mixed drinks and beer/cider on the bar/spirits menu.

    Wine lists will never die. The only thing that you correctly pointed out is that; “a wine list needs balance.”

  4. Mark says:

    Very true, last i had some wines of this brand, they have new different blends and a very nice name and philosophy
    its about style and taste, rather than AOC as far as i am concerned

  5. Paul W Taylor says:

    I disagree with the comments of Bruce and Laurent. When I go to a fine restaurant, I expect them to provide a variety of different options designed to pair with the food. I expect the waiters to be able to recommend a beer as they would a wine, and provide at least a small handful of cocktails. There is no excuse for not meeting this standard if you expect to be considered a high quality establishment.

  6. Farouk Chaabi says:

    I disagree with you. What are you suggesting it might work for a short time but not for long term. Your suggestion is similar to a pop song. How long would it stay in the top 10 until it die. I would suggest the sommelier or restaurants to help young people to learn more about wine. I don’t know how Meade or sake would work with a duck confit, shaved truffle risotto, a filet mignon, …, etc. I know you try to be hip but it is not Silicon Valley. What’s the next gadget that would be the next big hit. We are talking about food and wine that have hundreds and maybe thousands years of history.

  7. laurent, is your list published somewhere? Would love to take a look at it. I agree with his point of view to a degree. I’ve been to many a tasting where the food would have been better suited to a sake or a tequila or (another wine). I’m never opposed to other beverages if it would accomplish a better pairing.

  8. Shepard Ross says:

    The movement toward shaping our lists around “beverages” rather than just wine, has been in motion for years. The author of this article seems years behind what’s been going on in our industry. Cocktails and beer are, almost always, more profitable than wine. I would think the author, a former wine buyer, would know this. Eat out more often and look at what we have been doing to elevate beverage programs in the last twenty years. As a restaurateur and sommelier, I have witnessed incredible talent and creativity in these programs across the U.S.
    I would think this article was written in the ’80’s…
    Shepard Ross
    Houston Restaurateur

  9. RC Woodberry says:

    ‘Rumours of my death are greatly exaggerated’ comes to mind, as well as all those individuals who consider Latin to be a “dead language”; somethings never die, and a good/appropriately match wine with a meal can never be replaced by any other kind of spirit/beverage—–the complement isn’t there, and never will be.
    Perhaps what Monsieur Cooper meant to say is that “The traditional whine list ‘is dead’ “—-and to ‘present’ this ‘variety’ of opinion to grab some focus on marketing wines in restaurants differently/more aggressively? Individuals who can afford & enjoy an evening out at a fine restaurant often appreciate the importance of a well-educated source of information; they often are something of that themselves in something or other.
    The singular difference between a good wine experience with a sommelier and a bad one (I’ve enjoyed both!) is the love of wine for it’s own sake; not to up-sell or introduce ‘something different’ just to ‘bring attention’ to ‘the restaurant’ as being ‘in vogue’ by being “out of the box” (which is not a wine I would recommend).
    Traditional Wine Lists are to be expanded and made even better; they’ve aged well, and will continue to do so for years to come.

  10. Burgpoodle says:

    Where has Christopher Cooper been for the past 20 years ? A huge number of lists already include a wide diversity of drinks, and have done for many years, including many smaller, artisanal and craft producers where the choice is better than it has ever been. His comments are simply outdated. Secondly, he blows his argument apart when he seems to encourage the explosion of new “drinks brands”. Sorry, but the shortest route to turning diners off is to offer them re-hashed brands.

  11. Charlie Deal says:

    Funny, some here are saying this article is hogwash because wine is, and will always be the center of any proper beverage program and others are saying that this article is already behind the times.

    I agree with this article and think the dissenters prove that list haven’t already moved on. Also, I don’t think the author is saying to do away with wine, but rather that the “book o’ wine” should be replaced by a well-curated but far shorter list that also makes room for better beers and other drinks.

    I find it the mark of a lazy beverage director to have an impressive selection of wines and then just punt at the rest, be it a beer list straight from the inbev catalog, some cheesy martini list, or some such. And, yes, beer, sake, and cocktails can go well with food. Maybe Cosmos don’t, but if you build a cocktail with an appropriate amount of acid and balance, they can go wonderfully with food, at least appetizers.

    As for the length of the list, I think it is the duty of the merchant to pair down the offerings to just what they’re excited about and can get the staff behind. Presenting a list that is pages long is basically saying, “here’s every wine in creation, you figure it out” to the consumer. It becomes masturbatory at a certain point. Now, this is less true for trophy properties that pride themselves on libraries and have at least a few people on staff who can navigate someone through every offering, but I would argue that I’ve been to far too many places whose list is too ambitious for their own good. Far better, I think to have a well-chosen but manageable list that I can glance at, ask the waiter for a suggestion, pick something tasty, and get back to the real purpose of my meal; enjoying the company of my dining companion. More often than not, I’d rather not wade through some tome of wines.

  12. Thanks Charlie, that’s exactly what I was going to say.

    Its more about diversifying the book of wine to include all beverages and create a balanced offering. Sommeliers are all too focused on wine, and even more so on their favourites. Its this blinkered approach that’s leaving sommeliers way behind bartenders in terms of creativity and open mindedness.

    What I said at the London Wine Fair is nothing new, though possibly a little controversial. Yes, there are many places that are already doing this, and I applaud them for they are amazing venues to go to, but there are many that are not; and many that will continue to keep doing the same things ‘because that’s the way we’ve always been doing it’. Change is good and if these places don’t change then the world will overtake them.

    Consumers want choice, so let’s give them it!

    Consumers want to be inspired by a sommelier’s knowledge on everything (not just wine), so c’mon guys… start thinking outside the wine box.

    And finally, bartenders are making a great case for recruitment in their industry as its sexy, cool and creative. I just can’t say the same for sommeliering… yet!

  13. Rene Reed says:

    I don’t think I will be offering cider or sake with my Italian menu. But I am all for an adventurous wine list, even if it is a small wine list. The more I look for wines outside the Tuscany, Piedmonte, Napa areas, the better values I find for my customers… which allows them to be adventurous!

  14. Tony says:

    Everything should have balance – sake with Italian food is just plain wrong !
    But an Italian meal with an interesting beverage not nessacerily a chianti could be a great thing –
    It really is all about balance .

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