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How to Run a Bar: Wine Basics

When you start running your bar, don’t forget about wine! Wine is a beverage made of fermented juice of any kind of fruit. Most popular wines are made exclusively from grapes. In fact, most wines are named after the variety of grapes they are made from.

Although wine has been around for thousands of years, it’s been enjoying a new popularity in the last 40 years in the United States. It’s no longer reserved for special occasions.

And more important to you as a bar owner, wine is enjoyed by people across all socioeconomic lines, not just a select few. Forty years ago, a bar owner could get away without serving wine, but these days, you should include it on your menu.

Basics of white wines

Sweet, dry, crisp, light, and fruity all describe various white wines that are popular today. Many good wines are available at low prices, so work with your sales reps to find the right ones for your patrons at a price that works for you.

Here’s a list of some of the more popular white wines with brief descriptions:

  • Chablis: In the United States, this sometimes inexpensive “jug” wine (literally, wine that comes in a jug) with a high acidity is made from a blend of whatever grapes happen to be available. But in the last 15 years, Chablis more often has been made solely from Chardonnay grapes in the Chablis region of France.

  • Chardonnay: Once the best-selling white wine in the U.S., this wine still probably has a place on your wine list. It tends to be a heavier, buttery white wine and can have oaky, smoky, or sweet tones.

  • Moscato: Described by industry trend watchers as the “gateway wine,” this fruity, sweet, low-alcohol-content wine has set the world on fire in recent years. For first-time wine drinkers, this semi-sparkling wine tends to be inexpensive and easy to drink.

  • Pinot Grigio: This Italian-style wine is made from the Pinot Gris grape. It’s light-bodied and light in color with a fairly neutral taste, bordering on crisp and acidic.

  • Riesling: Riesling is a sweet wine traditionally produced in the Alsace region of France, Germany, and Austria. Chile, South Africa, New Zealand, and the United States now produce good-quality Rieslings as well. Although it’s definitely on the sweet end of the taste spectrum, many winemakers put their mark on Riesling by balancing the green flavors with the acidic overtones by choosing when to harvest their grapes.

  • Sauvignon blanc: This is a crisp, dry, and refreshing white wine grown all over the world, most notably in New Zealand, South Africa, and Chile. It’s gaining increased popularity as white-wine drinkers look for Chardonnay alternatives.

Basics of red wines

Red wines vary greatly in terms of flavor, body, and finish. Taste several to find some that pair with your food and your place. Check out wines at many different prices to find what best fits your menu and pricing structure.

Here are a few common styles of red wines that you may want to find a home for in your bar:

  • Cabernet sauvignon: This strong, robust wine features heavy tannins (acidity) and a strong finish (or lingering flavor). Cabernets age well, often improving the longer you keep them. Many countries make cabernet sauvignon, including France, the U.S., Chile, and Argentina.

  • Merlot: Plummy, berry flavors define this more medium-bodied wine. Because the merlot grape is mild, it’s often blended with stronger grapes. Italy, California, and France are the most notable merlot producers, but more winemakers in Australia, New Zealand, Croatia, and Slovenia are jumping into the ring.

  • Pinot noir: This wine is at least 2,000 years old and originated in the Burgundy region in France. Although wines can have vastly different flavors depending on the soil and climates the grapes are grown in, in general, pinot noir is a light- to medium-bodied wine with an aroma reminiscent of black cherry, raspberry, or currant. Pinot noir is a current favorite among red-wine drinkers.

  • Shiraz/Syrah: Called Shiraz in New Zealand, Canada, and Australia, in France and the U.S. it’s known as Syrah. This wine is gaining popularity among red-wine drinkers thanks to its excellent aroma and blackberry and chocolate tones. The wine changes substantially based on the soil the grapes are grown in. So the same grape grown in New Zealand and Oregon may taste very different.

  • Zinfandel: (No, this is not the same as the sweet, pinky-white zinfandel, although they’re made from the same grapes.) Zinfandel is primarily produced in California, though a similar style is available in Europe under the name Primitivo. It’s a fruity, but not sweet, wine with a full, lush mouthfeel.

Basics of rosé wines

No wine list would be complete these days without a rosé (roh-ZAY) wine. It may look like the white zinfandel of the 1980s, but instead this pink wine, usually served chilled, is as complex and varied as any red or white. Called rosé (French), rosata (Italian), or rosado (Spanish), the flavor changes with the type of grapes used.

Some use a single varietal (or type of grape), such as pinot noir or tempranillo, while others use a blend of several. The flavor of a rosé is more subtle than the red wine produced from the same varietal. Choose one rosé for your list to keep your patrons happy.

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