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What makes a wine list? Joel Bastian, Kitchin Group

Published:  14 June, 2023

In this series, Harpers is going back to basics with members of hospitality to find out exactly what is the secret sauce that makes a modern wine list successful.

We continue with Joel Bastian, head sommelier, Kitchin Group and The Kitchin Restaurant.

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

Affordability. It is important to offer a range of wines to suit a variety of budgets for guests, both by the glass and by the bottle.

Diversity. Offering guests a wide range of grapes and regions. We always want to showcase a wine list that has something to complement the dishes on our menu, which are ever changing with the seasons. 

Originality. Many guests enjoy discovering something new, so we aim to take particular care in finding unusual grapes and promoting emerging countries and their local particularities. 

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?

A good wine list needs to be clear and easy to read, and the size of the menu should also be taken into consideration to ensure it is easy for guests to peruse at the table.

We offer a Sommelier’s Selection at the beginning of our wine list at The Kitchin and find this is welcomed by our guests as it offers them a collection of Champagnes, white, red, rosé and sweet wines by the glass, offering a flavour of the full menu and making it easy to navigate.

Clear categorisation – geographically or by style of taste – makes a wine menu easy for guests to navigate. Diners often approach menus in different ways: some know what they like and seek something they have tried before, while others look to the sommelier for advice and recommendations. Though it is still important to ensure the menu is clearly organised, to ensure guests feel relaxed and the sommelier can direct guests to their recommendations in the wine list.

Suggested pairings on a food menu can often be a nice way to help guests navigate the wine selection and provides some recommendations if they are seeking to try something new.

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

It is important to include recognisable categories that give guests comfort in what they know and enjoy.  We aim to make guests feel relaxed, so we aim to categorise our wine lists clearly. The key is to know your market and if guests are dining, it is important to create a menu that flows with the food menus. We aim to give guests what they like, while at the same time suggest alternatives to allow them to explore new things.

We’re also starting to see trends emerge for low alcohol wines, as well as options such as vegan, organic, natural or low sulphate wines, so we try to also make these clear for our guests when requested.

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

We have certainly seen a shift in wine lists post-Covid, due to a number of factors including rising prices and staff shortages.

We’re also seeing some new emerging producers from countries such as Bulgaria and Romania offering great wines at affordable prices, presenting great value for our guests and an exciting opportunity to explore a new region.