Wine

7 Tips for Building a Sparkling-Wine List That Pops

From menu organization to pricing, here’s how to set your bubbly selection apart

Fat Cork wine selection
Photo courtesy of Fat Cork.

The sparkling-wine market is on a seemingly unquenchable climb. In 2016, U.S. consumption alone rose 6.6 percent, according to the 2017 Wine Handbook of the Beverage Information Group, with annual increases anticipated through 2020 for this lucrative category of consumer quaffing.

As a result, a growing number of restaurants, bars, and bottle shops are expanding their sparkling-wine offerings, featuring everything from grower Champagnes to funky pét-nats and fizz from far-flung regions. Ultimately, everyone wants to build a selection that leaves guests thirsty for more.

SevenFifty Daily spoke with sparkling wine-focused somms and retailers to glean their top tips for building a compelling list of bubbles.

1. Make Your List Easy to Navigate

Organize your list to help your guests,” says Mary Catherine Edmondson, the beverage director of The Riddler, a Champagne bar in San Francisco. Edmondson orders her 100-plus list of Champagnes and extensive by-the-glass program of sparkling wines according to style, lightest to richest. “From there,” she says, “we can open up a conversation with guests about what they’re really looking for.”

Organization extends to staff too. “Have a well-organized cellar, so staff can find bottles as quickly as possible,” says Cheryl Wakerhauser, the proprietor of Pix Pâtisserie, a hip, Parisian-vibed wine bar in Portland, Oregon. “With over 500 sparkling wines on our list, this is imperative.”

Cheryl Wakerhauser at Pix Pâtisserie in Porland. Photo courtesy of Pix Pâtisserie.

2. Offer Approachable Prices

Sommelier Ariel Arce of Air’s Champagne Parlor in New York City advocates realistic pricing to entice guests. “Let’s just stop lying to ourselves,” she says. “It’s a harder sell for now, and so you have to make it price-approachable.”

Approachability extends to food pairings as well. The Riddler serves up tater tot waffles, caviar with potato chips, and complimentary popcorn, day and night. We love serious wines,” Edmondson says, “but we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

3. Diversify Your Offerings

Broaden your inventory by offering sparklers sourced from diverse varietals, small producers, and lesser-known regions, like Slovenia, Argentina, Greece, Israel, and Tasmania. “Find a way to give them what they want,” says Arce, “for less and better quality!”

Consider including humbler Crémant alongside swankier Champagne. And invest in Champagnes from every region, including Blanc de Blancs from the Côte des Blancs, Pinot Meunier from the Vallée de la Marne, Chardonnay–Pinot Noir blends from the Montagne de Reims, and Blanc de Noirs from the Aube. “This provides an education and an experience,” says Bryan Maletis of Fat Cork, a Seattle importer and online retailer.

4. Think Pink

Sparkling rosé adds pop to any wine list with its wide appeal for varying occasions, from brunch to date night. “Rosé can be your most versatile section on the list,” Arce says, accommodating everyone from “ladies who lunch to guys who want red wine with steak.”

Leverage the popularity of rosé wines to help introduce customers to wines they haven’t tried. Says Maletis, “Get all the styles represented—rosé and rosé saignée, brut nature, vintage and nonvintage, oak and non-oak, modern and traditional, extended aging and recent disgorgements.”

5. Add Off-Dry Selections

Experiment with off-dry selections to give your list a broader range. “Don’t be afraid of some sugar,” says Edmondson. “Sugar is to sparkling wine as salt is to food, and sometimes a little more is needed to balance out all that acid.”

At Pix Pâtisserie, Wakerhauser offers off-dry bubbles in smaller-format bottles, noting that these wines tend to sell well in 375 ml bottles.



6. Don’t Forget About Large Format

Magnum wines are often value-priced, and they add cachet to any gathering, especially for bigger groups. Make sure the host of a table is aware of these larger-format offerings. Says Edmondson, “There is only one better way to celebrate a special occasion than a bottle of Champagne: a magnum of Champagne. A section of our list is dedicated to large-format selections, and these are some of our most value-driven wines.”

7. Promote Bubbly for Everyday Drinking

Showcase wines that complement changing seasonal flavors, heighten memories, and enhance the everyday. For Arce, this also involves the way in which the wines are presented on the menu. “Use alternative adjectives to describe sparkling wines,” she says, “such as flavors and feelings—it’s an emotional and tasty beverage, after all!” Air’s drink menu encourages customers to get into a lighthearted mood with illustrations like red lips that say “Ooh la la,” a pizza slice to suggest a food pairing, and Champagne bottles popping.  

In a similar vein, “pick wines that make people happy,” Edmondson says. “Remember that sparkling wine is meant to be fun.”

L.M. Archer is a wine writer, critic, and judge. Her work has appeared in Wines and Vines Magazine, South Bay Accent Magazine, Oregon Wine Press, Palate Press, Wine-searcher.com, and France Today. You can follow her on instagram @lmarcherml.

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