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Understand Wine Labels to Provide Better Restaurant Service

Understand Wine Labels to Provide Better Restaurant Service

From posh eateries in upscale urban neighborhoods to bustling suburban destinations, establishments across the country boast wine lists to match the carefully planned menus. But there's more to great wine than the name on the bottle, and the label can tip you off to flavors, style and quality, which will help you add value for your customers -- and may help bolster your tips.

While wine label requirements vary by country, which may affect the detailed information, there are common descriptors. Alcohol content, type of wine (determined by growing region or the type of grape used to produce the wine, also known as the varietal), producer and vintage (the year the grapes were harvested) all come standard, according to

"We do extensive wine training on every bottle and every varietal that comes in," says Kyle Drewniak, restaurant manager at Va de Vi. The Walnut Creek, California, restaurant stocks an average of 200 bottles of wine from boutique and mainstream vintners. "It's more than presenting a vintage and varietal."

Drewniak instructs his servers to recognize aesthetic characteristics of the glass bottle, which can tip them off to varietal as well as connect with the package through the label. He says knowing whether the guest has an affinity for classic wine (wines from traditional wine-growing countries like France) or is more of an avant-guarde consumer (wines from countries that have recently become big producers, like Australia and South Africa) helps in the suggestion process to determine which wine they will find appealing just by looking at the label. "The label broadcasts the varietal and style," he says. "From appellation and vineyard site to producer and weight of the grape, a waiter who understands the label means a lot to the table [ordering the wine]."

Wine Training

Drewniak says three main characteristics his wait staff must know above all others is name, appellation and vintage. Meghan Carpenter, manager at Blackhawk Grille, couldn't agree more. Servers at the Danville, California-based restaurant tell guests which of its 350 wines will go well with French-Asian fusion cuisine based on what the chef recommends. But servers also go through Internet-based training on wine service techniques.

"They go through a training process that includes how to read labels and what each part of the label means," Carpenter says. "Learning how to present to the table is also part of the service."

During presentation, guests at Blackhawk expect to hear and see the name of the wine and vintage. The year says a lot about the quality and price of a bottle, according to Carpenter. It's also a way for servers to recommend a comparable substitution if a bottle is out of stock.

Drewniak insists his staff also follow a rigid approach to serving wine that includes reading the label to guests. But he says the proper presentation doesn't mean the service is stiff and stodgy.

"I would like to say that we present wine at the table using the proper presentation," Drewniak says. "From explanation of the label to pulling of the cork, it is classic, and we make it more friendly. We'll bring bottles to tables and discuss vintner and bottling, and it engages customers and makes them want to explore the wine list."

Take a tip from the experts: Know your wine labels. Customers buying a bottle of wine expect the presentation to be as gratifying as the taste.

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