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What makes a wine list? Lucy Hjort, Melton’s

Published:  12 June, 2023

As we continue online our 'What Makes a Good Wne List?' series, Harpers is going back to basics with members of hospitality to find out exactly what is the secret sauce that ensures a modern wine list is successful.

Next, we head over to Lucy Hjort, owner of Melton’s in York.

In your opinion, what are the three main things which make a good wine list in 2023?

I think a good wine list should have variety (of both wines and prices).

It should be readable (an overly stylised font can lose attention – certainly mine) and not everyone carries reading glasses. Also, too long and whilst I am entertained, my guests are thirsty!

It should be easy to handle, physically. It is not relaxing for customers to be fighting with pages which won’t stay turned, or may seem likely to tear.

Wine lists are essentially the supermarket aisles of a restaurant. In your opinion, what is the best way to approach organisation and design? How do diners ‘browse’? Are there any elements of psychology which should be considered and how should lists facilitate that?

We have a pdf of our winelist on our website. Some customers like to browse ahead of their arrival.

There are still customers who prefer wines of particular nationality, so our list is still divided geographically with France being separate from other European, then New World.

Tasting notes are provided for most wines, some intentionally not. If those wines are chosen, it is because the customer either knows the wine already, or has sought our opinion.

Because of Covid regulations and the requirement to sanitise the lists between customers, we developed our single use, one sheet, Short List.

Our short list contains wines which are served by the glass to match with certain dishes. About 65% of the clientele choose wines from that. The eight white and eight red (in addition to the House Wines) are presented in price order.

It seems to be our experience that people seldom order the least expensive, or the first listed, on that list.

What are the ‘must include’ categories or sections and what are optional? Must certain categories / styles go in certain places?

Must include a house wine – some are not comfortable with choice or pronunciation challenges. Bordeaux lovers would expect to find them in one place, likewise Burgundy, or New Zealand. Likewise, whites, reds or roses.

Must have Fizz.

Must have selection representative of light to full-bodied, and staff to be aware of the progression.

It must state the grape, country, and in the long list, the vintage, though not necessary in the short list.

How have wine lists changed over the past few years, particularly with regard to Covid?

The rise of the QR code winelist is not my preference. I did not enjoy the few experiences I had with this form of presentation and did not wish that for my customers. They often keep a finger in place while they flip between pages, and you can’t do that with a phone.

I kept my cellar during Covid lockdown. I have about 150 bins, but some of those are very low in stock.

On re-opening I noticed the jump in vintages caused by wine suppliers opening themselves to the public during lockdown. I have expanded the list to provide better value alternatives to the stalwarts (Sancerre/Chablis, etc) that everyone expects to see. However, I have found several of my fine wines are impossible to replace. That is of concern. Other wines have just become just more expensive and I have to pass that directly on.

Brexit, production difficulties (from climate events to sourcing glass bottles) and the competition from other markets seem more influential than the effects of Covid in my opinion.

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