How to choose wine for an event

Spice chats to Cuttings Wine Merchants Director Justin Walters about how to choose wines that will 'wow'.


Spice chats to Justin Walters from Cuttings Wine Merchants about how to choose wines that will ‘wow’.

How do you choose a crowd pleaser that’s not boring?
The simplest answer is to taste every wine that you intend to serve in your beverage package or function list, and seek to offer wines with balance and identifiable varietal and/or regional characters that will complement the menu packages. Sounds like a ‘no-brainer’, I know; however this is often something that’s left as the last step in venues making their selection – the negotiations on price is often the primary concern – and the kitchen team are often not included in the discussion.

The larger wineries and a selection of medium and smaller producers have recently created some excellent wines in the so-called ‘banquet lines’ they offer; the opportunity is to provide wines in your function packages that is 60% wine from varieties and/or blends that have wide ranging acceptance, (e.g. Sauvignon Blanc and SSB/SBS blends, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris in whites, Cabernet blends, Pinot Noir and Shiraz blends in reds) to 40% in topical wine varieties; Pinot Grigio, Verdelho, Chenin Blanc, Spanish and Italian varieties are growing in interest and consumer acceptance.

How do you keep costs down and still serve interesting wine?
There’s no way to answer this in a general manner as the cost vs quality and wines of interest for each business’s functions model varies so dramatically. It’s about ensuring that your customer perceives value within your function and events offer.

There are (literally) thousands of fantastic and interesting wines at affordable wholesale pricing for functions in the Australian market; both from local and international producers. Spending the time to research the styles that you want is the hardest aspect, and I do feel that some events and functions venues are very focused on meeting the targets of the accounts and/or cost controllers percentage terms rather than looking at the dollars a venue can bank from securing more business turnover through a more compelling overall function package offer.

I would suggest that many venues should ask the question of themselves: ‘Have you empowered those who sell your function offers, and ultimately your whole business, to offer a stronger wine combination in your packages?’. The most undervalued team members that I encounter in my dealings with hospitality clients across all levels of venue are the events sales team members; many times I’ve learnt that they are asked to promote and sell beverage packages (including wines) for which they are not given sufficient information/sales tips nor provided a chance to try the things they sell – when you do wine training for your operational team at a venue, make sure you include the people who actually get the clients on board.

What about seasonality? Should you change your wines based on the season? Absolutely. I generally suggest to venues that for events and functions, a 2/3 white to 1/3 red split of the table wines would be better for the majority of the year, but a move to a 50 : 50 split for red vs white for autumn and winter makes sense.

Is it worth taking the risk to serve weird/lesser known wines or should you stick to the classics?
As shown by market research (Neilsen data report by variety, the On Premise Report by Wine Business Solutions) some of the trends determined by both  the Australian consumer is showing strong growth in number of varieties.

Sparkling or Champagne? Does it really matter and if so, why?
Champagne only comes from the Champagne region of north eastern France. Full Stop. However France also makes fantastic sparkling wine in a number of other regions, with the best outside of Champagne, Cremant e.g. Clement de Bourgogne, Cremant d’Alsace, Cremant de Bordeaux etc.

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