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What makes a wine list? Phil Provart, Fhior

Published:  09 June, 2023

As we continue online our 'What Makes a Good Wne List?' series, Harpers is going back to basics with members of hospitality to find out exactly what is the secret sauce that ensures a modern wine list is successful. 

Next, we head over to Phil Provart, head sommelier at Fhior.

In your opinion, what are the three main things which make a good wine list in 2023?

Curation. Outside of the top high-end restaurants, the days of the encyclopaedic wine list are over, and a concise, well-chosen list is increasingly the ideal, with the sommelier acting more as curator than gatekeeper. 

Focus and fitness for purpose. What guides the selection of wines for the list? What’s the ethos of the restaurant and how does the list reflect this? And do the wines on offer suit the restaurant’s food? Verticals of First Growths in a seafood or Thai restaurant? No thank you!  

Effort. If a restaurant is using one supplier, I’d rather drink beer or water. For higher end restaurants, I want to see as much effort going into delivering quality at the lower price points as in securing cool, allocation-only wines at higher price points.  

Wine lists are essentially the supermarket aisles of a restaurant. In your opinion, what is the best way to approach organisation and design? How do diners ‘browse’? Are there any elements of psychology which should be considered and how should lists facilitate that?

At Fhior, our main wine list is organised by style of wine with brief descriptions of each wine because it serves to help people who might not know a lot about wine, choose a wine they will be happy with – even if they don’t want to talk to a sommelier. 

Within each style category, the wines are arranged geographically from north to south rather than by ascending price, as the people who are solely motivated by price considerations will always find the price they’re looking for and the people who are looking for a certain type of wine are encouraged to read a few entries. 

I have also added a reserve list at Fhior and have opted to keep it separate from the main list in order to keep the main list less intimidating. This reserve list is simply organised by broad category (sparkling, white, orange, rosé, red) and then north to south, as most guests ordering from the reserve list know what they’re looking for.    

What are the ‘must include’ categories or sections and what are optional? Must certain categories or styles go in certain places? 

I’m not sure about ‘must include’ categories on lists, but there are definitely wines that are easy sales (eg. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Argentinian Malbec). But these are only ‘must include’ wines for restaurants without a sommelier presence on the floor. 

At Fhior, our food represents a place. Why should I have a Sauvignon Blanc on the list that represents a strain of yeast rather than a place, especially if I can serve the guests who like those wines a Gruner Veltliner that will make them just as happy? 

Similarly, why have a lot of big, rich reds if it doesn’t suit the food? I’ve made sure I have a few big reds at different price points, but I’ve also made sure that I have a lot of reds at 12.5% abv which guests can enjoy throughout our tasting menu. 

As for more contemporary ‘must include’ categories, I’d say there’s more interest in sparkling, rosé and natural wine. I’ve had to tell a lot of guests why I have reservations about wines with no added SO2 (though I do have a few on the list). 

How have wine lists changed over the past few years, particularly with regard to Covid?

After having shrunk in the first couple of years of the pandemic, with some restaurants selling off wine from their cellars to stay in business, wine lists seem to be growing again. I hope they grow wisely.