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Boom in fine wines by the glass

Published:  11 August, 2011

High-end restaurants are offering more wines by the glass in an effort to up-sell, create more choice and add "theatre" to wine choices.

Restaurants which are prepared to reduce margins for top-end wines are being particularly successful, according to Bibendum director of marketing Fiona Cochran, who said the trend "is being bolstered by innovations such as Enomatics which reduce waste".

"With the law changing in October to allow smaller serves and wine flights, we expect to see a boom in premium wines being sold by the glass," she said.

Giles Cooke MW, marketing director at Alliance Wine said offering a greater selection of wines by the glass allows for more opportunities to upsell, create more choice and "theatre" in the on-trade.

"It's not an option to just keep ramping up the gross profit requirement so operators need to be more creative and improving breadth and reach of the by the glass programme is one of the most effective ways to do this. Those willing to take a lower GP but a higher cash margin and in the process offer their customers a special experience will be rewarded with return business, improved stock turnover, cleaner cash flows - not to mention the theatre and excitement of letting customers try something that they might not usually go for," he added.

Fine wines will be available by the glass at Holborn restaurant Pearl in a new try-before-you-buy initiative, which chef Jun Tanaka admits won't make a profit because of the relatively low prices the wines will sell for.

The rationale behind the offering is to entice a new audience to sample fine wines without having to shell out for an expensive bottle. "It's to give people an opportunity to try wines that they haven't had before," Tanaka said.

Pearl is following in the footsteps of Soho restaurant Bob Bob Ricard in Upper James Street, which earlier this year became the first UK venue to sell glasses of Château d'Yquem. A 10cl glass of the fine wine costs £29 or £14.50 for 5cl.

Restaurant co-owner Leonid Shutov bought 672 bottles of the famous dessert wine direct from the château in February and said he has since had to "buy more stocks".
"With dessert wine very few people are prepared to take a whole bottle of it," he said, whereas a glass is "less of a financial commitment".

Shutov said he can run the offer on Château d'Yquem without making a loss because of the volumes it shifts, whereas restaurants with lower volumes or higher margins would not be as successful.

"We are prepared to make a reasonable margin rather than taking the 75% or 85% margins that many restaurants charge for very expensive items," he said.

Will Beckett, owner of London restaurant Hawksmoor, said the venue offers "fine wines at very low prices generally (which helps sell them) and we are intending to get into more fine wines by the glass at our new restaurant, Hawksmoor Guildhall, in October". He added that it will also offer fine ports by the glass in order to "give our customers the ability to experiment with the wines".

An Enotria spokesman said that the "boom" of selling fine wines by the glass is forcing restaurants to reconsider how they preserve wines. "Restaurants that are able to provide well-maintained opened bottles create a whole buzz around the idea of experimenting to find your favourite wine, or being able to afford a glass of something really special. New venues like Bistro du Vin which focus on fine wine by the glass are really setting the trend. And it's not just top end outlets which are seeing the value in good preservation systems - everyone's getting wise to this, which is great news for the consumer."

Read more of Alliance Wine's Giles Cooke's views on selling wines by the glass in our blogs section.