Restaurants are not only about the only place where you can enjoy wine, at least in Delhi, they also offer the right opportunity to enjoy different wines with matching foods. Of course, the duties at 250% are exorbitant to make an ordinary mortal refrain from indulging in this wonderful lifestyle experience as often as he would like to. Added to the woes are huge mark ups by the hotels and restaurants at 70-400%, the upper end being the privileged domain of 5-star hotels that can buy their wines duty free as they apparently contributed a substantial chunk to our $100 billion reserves during the previous three years. Stand-alone restaurants like Diva, Olive and Indigo have to be satisfied at the lower end of the wide spectrum.
What are the profit margins in restaurants abroad? During my recent visit to London and the US, I talked to several restaurant owners, managers and on-trade wine suppliers. The general mark up of 100-150% are rule within a general range of 30-350%. The real low-end and unknown wines can fetch a gross profit of 350% whereas at the real high-end wines like chateaux wines etc., costing upwards of US$ 300-400, the drop in the mark up is sharp, to as low as 30%. But a figure of 100% is not unheard of either. Some restaurants in London, especially, keep the mark ups to a fixed amount, say $50-70 per bottle.
How about the wine list and the number of wines available? One has seen the number go up from 3 to 20+ to over 100 recently with better availability of imported and domestic wines. Specialty restaurants like Diva and Indigo prize themselves with 100+ wines on the list with Olive close on their heels. Oberoi is reportedly opening an Italian restaurant in October with over 150 Italian wines. Maurya, Hyatt, Imperial and Radisson have been similarly expanding their list constantly.
The average number of wines, as may be expected is larger in the restaurants in the USA. But one restaurant that really impressed me opened recently in my ‘home town' Minneapolis. Louis XIII Restaurant and Bar specializing in French and Mediterranean cuisine boasts of the biggest wine list in the State of Minnesota, 1400 going on 1600. The executive chef-cum owner David Fhima takes pride in the fact that he deals with about 30 vendors to select the wines personally. The list is fully indexed and offers 19 wines by the glass.
As is prevalent in all wine producing nations, the list is heavy on American wines (about 40%) with an excellent area-wise representation from Italy, France, Spain and other new world countries. The highest priced Le Pin'89 from Pomerol costs a cool $4800 though you could get by easily with a Chilean white costing $16, the price of their Classic French Riviera Salad. When I brought his attention to the missing Chateau Petrus, David told me that it will be a part of the Reserve List of 200 exclusive wines to be released soon. Check out their site www.louisxiiirestaurant.com for the entire list.
Why such a large list? For one thing, David who is a Moroccan with Sicilian father grew up drinking wine and is as passionate about wines as one can be. He also believes, rightly so, that many wine loving guests come to the restaurant for a great dining experience with wine and want to try different wines every time. He can churn out a dish after the guest has selected the wine that he fancies, marrying the dish well with that wine. Of course, the golden rule of hands-off of a customer not interested in advice, is adhered to, even if he prefers a sirloin steak with Sauvignon Blanc instead of a Cabernet Sauvignon.
A true wine lover will select a hotel or a restaurant more for its wine list to enjoy a different experience each time. It will be a while when that happens in India. But we reckon it will be a significant factor in attracting more customers. Therefore, we have decided to feature restaurants with interesting wine lists and who are willing to showcase their wines with as much pride as their cuisine, in our newly formed ‘Restaurants' section. Louis XIII makes a guest appearance in this section.