Wine service is a surefire way to increase profits. Many restaurants and bars, especially those catering in upscale wine presentation, work directly with distributors to bring in wine in bulk at a much cheaper price point. And wine is in demand, having gone through a renaissance of sorts starting in the early 2000s.
Guests are seeking this experience, and that means there’s profit opportunity. The average restaurant markup on bottle service is 30%, often resulting in a profit of 200%. For wine by the glass, restaurants typically charge for one six-ounce pour what they paid for the bottle. Do you hear that? That’s the sound of opportunity knocking.
There are many caveats to providing guests with the full wine experience. There’s a never-ending surplus of things to know, like what type of wine glass you should be using to serve varying types of wine. Here, we focus on the serving aspect. Wines can be sensitive and need to be treated accordingly for guests to get the most out of the aroma, flavor, and experience. From pouring and aerating to open up hidden flavors, to understanding how the serving temperature can enhance or degrade the taste. We seek to extend helpful tips to up your wine presentation and give your guests the experience they came for.
It’s important to remember that to glean the most out of your margin potential for wine service, you’re not going to want to go crazy by overpouring. A standard bottle of wine typically holds 750 milliliters. For glass service, try to get at least four pours out of every bottle to maximize profits. This can be achieved by limiting your pours to around six ounces per glass.
Limiting your pours can be hard to eyeball right off the bat. Fortunately, there are solutions. Some manufacturers have released specialty wine glasses with clear lines that bartenders can easily view when pouring.
Some have even taken this approach a step farther by allowing for glass customization. Our friends at Libbey Glass, for example, can customize certain wine glasses so your logo can be front and center, and serve as the cutoff line for convenient portion control.
Inserting a spout into the bottle can also help with precise pours and portion control by cutting off the flow of wine automatically when the desired amount has been reached.
Quick Notes on Aerating Wine
Most types of wine (reds and whites alike) should be exposed to air after opening but before drinking to bring out the flavor. This is often referred to as “allowing the wine to breathe,” and can make a huge difference in the experience, especially when serving younger and bolder wines, like cabernet sauvignon. This is accomplished through aeration, and there are a few ways to achieve this:
The most common way is to swirl the wine after it’s poured. This is one of the reasons why it’s always best to serve in a stemmed wine glass, as opposed to stemless glassware which is best reserved for home use. To swirl, first ensure the base of the glass is set firmly on the tabletop. Pinch the stem and draw small circles for five to ten seconds. You should see the wine move around the sides of the bowl, bringing in fresh oxygen.
Pour the freshly opened bottle into a decanter and use it to serve. Just the act of pouring into another vessel is enough to bring in air and unfurl the flavors.
Insert an aerating device into the top of the bottle and pour. These gadgets enable air to flow through a funnel to interact with the wine as it’s being poured. Whereas swirling wine is the most common method, wine aerators are arguably the most convenient, and ideal if you offer tastings.
A misconception about allowing wine to breathe is simply uncorking the bottle and letting it sit for a few minutes. The hole at the top of the bottle is just too small to enable steady airflow. Unless you plan to leave the bottle out for hours (which is NOT recommended), you’re not going to notice a difference.
Though most wines benefit greatly from the addition of oxygen, it’s not true that all wines need to breathe. In fact, older, lighter wines like pinot noirs and red burgundies could fall apart if aerated. This is because they’re too sensitive and aeration may dull the flavor profile (read: How to Taste Wine Like a Pro to learn what the experts look for when sampling a new wine).
Wine serving temperatures vary by wine type. The perception of the wine’s alcohol, acidity, fruitiness, and balance can change given even a slight adjustment in degrees.
Traditionally, red wines are best served close to room temperature. If served too warm, the flavor can come off as coarse and alcoholic. Served chilled, it can taste thin. Aim for around 60°F to 65°F.
In general, white wines should be served more chilled. This accentuates the acidity and can bring out a fresh crispness. Aiming for 50°F is typically your best bet, but even this varies depending on the body of the wine.
- Light, dry white wines, such as pinot grigio and Riesling, as well as rosés and sparkling wines benefit from a cooler temperature, best served between 40°F to 50°F to preserve their freshness and fruitiness
- Full-bodied whites, such as Chardonnay, and even some light and fruity reds, should be served between 50°F to 60°F
Dessert wines are great to bring out at the end of the meal, often paired with a dessert or serving as the dessert itself, to top off the palate with something sweet. If you paired your main dish with a dry wine, the sweetness of a dessert wine should be fully accentuated, leaving your guests with a sensation of contentment.
In general, dessert wines should be served around 40°F, cooler than the above types of table wines. However, they should never be served icy cold. Too chilled and the wine may taste thinner and, as some wine experts put it, one-dimensional. One main flavor may dominate, neglecting the guests of the true robustness the wine may have to offer.
When opening a new bottle and serving it to a table, it’s best practice to pour a little in one glass for a guest (usually the one who placed the order for the bottle) to try before continuing to serve to others. This is a precaution to determine if the wine has spoiled during transport or storage. Ensure the label is facing out to be viewed. The label should always be visible while serving. After they approve, proper protocol mandates you serve the other guests first, in a clockwise pattern, finishing with the guest who first tasted and approved of the wine.
Pouring, serving, and providing your guests with a premium experience first begins with how it’s stored. Always store your wine in a dark, cool environment with no direct sunlight, lying on its side or upside down. Never store it standing straight up. Storing horizontally ensures the cork remains moist, which expands and prevents oxygen from getting to the wine until it’s ready to be opened. If you stand the bottle up, no liquid can get to the cork, which increases the risk of the cork drying and oxygen seeping through. Oxygen is important to open up flavors when serving; the wine is meant to be consumed during that sitting. But if oxygen seeps in for long periods, the wine will spoil.
The storage temperature matters because it can affect the rate in which the wine ages and matures. Aging wines correctly is imperative to its quality. All wines change with age, but it’s a myth that all improve. Some taste significantly better, while others may spoil. According to Kevin Zraly, author of Windows of the World: Complete Wine Course, more than 90 percent of wines produced around the globe are meant to be consumed within one year, while less than one percent are meant to be aged more than five. Wine will age much faster if stored in a warmer environment, which can result in a sharper taste and quicker deterioration.
To help with proper storage and temperature maintenance, many restaurants opt to install a wine merchandiser in which they have complete control over the storage temperature. They are available in a range of storage bottle capacities, some even offering dual temperature controls to separate full-bodied reds and light whites. Many establishments opt to use an insulated bucket when serving, to place the wine in to maintain the correct temperature throughout the dinner.
The ancient Greeks used to add honey to their wine because the sugar acts as a natural preservative. They would then pour olive oil on top to block out the air, and bury it underground to keep it cool.
Enjoy Your Wine Experience (And Newfound Profits)!
Learn from one of our customers’ wine serving experience in our Customer Spotlight: Mallow Run Winery article.
Continue upping your wine service game with our 12+ Types of Wine Glasses + Tips + Brands Buying Guide and Types of Wine and Popular Regions article.
Expand your knowledge of drinkware serving types with our Glassware Buying Guide.
Need help narrowing in on the right solution for your needs? That’s what we’re here for! Give us a call at 800.215.9293 to speak with a foodservice product expert.
Chase has been a Content Specialist at Central Restaurant Products since February 2016, bringing to the role years of various foodservice experience, including front-of-house service (slingin’ chicken wings and libations with a smile on his face) and back-of-house food prep using heavy-duty commercial cooking equipment to prepare for peak dining hours at his university’s dining hall.
He puts this experience to use writing for Central’s Resource Center, website, and print catalog. ServSafe certified, he enjoys educating on food safety in the commercial setting, researching new dining room and tabletop trends, and sharing innovative solutions to enhance operational efficiencies. He also enjoys (in no specific order) long hikes with his dog, bingeing 90s sitcoms, red wine, and live music.