Making the List
Choosing a restaurant’s wine offerings involves more than throwing darts in a cellar. Gerry Baker, assistant general manager and sommelier at MGM Grand Detroit’s Wolfgang Puck Steak, discloses the methodology behind building the ultimate wine list.
Gerry baker // photo courtesy of gerry baker
Hour Detroit: What originally got you into wine?
Gerry Baker: It was this idea that wine sort of encompassed a whole bunch of different things. It was lore, it was history, science, geology, climate — all of these things have to come together in one special process to make what goes into your glass.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
Definitely introducing a guest to something new, something they haven’t tried before.
How do you decide how many wines to offer?
The size of a wine list is determined by how diverse your guest profile is. Because we are in a casino and a hotel, we serve all walks of life. We’re seeing blue-collar workers that work at one of the Big Three; we’re seeing business moguls from Los Angeles and New York, and everybody in between. We have about 1,000 wines on the list and they range from $40 to $2,000.
How does food factor in?
In the case of a steakhouse, a variety of wine can go with steak. It’s not just Cabernet, though a lot of people think of it as the quintessential steak wine. But Merlot goes very well with steak, [as does] Syrah, [and other] big Italian blends.
How do you determine price points?
Your wine list has to match your food list. If you’ve got a place where you’re serving $150 steaks, you’re going to serve $150 wines or more. But if your normal everyday meal is a $15 burger, you’re not selling $300 bottles of wine.
How does the list develop over time?
You start with the framework of what you want your list to look like from the beginning. And at that point, you start to listen to your guests, notice what they’re ordering, what they’re looking for, and that’s when you start to evolve your original. Everything is based on demand as well as what’s trending or what could be trending.
Is any region most prevalent on your list?
In our case, a lot of guests order Napa Valley Cabernet. That is the bulk of our list. There’s probably 200-ish Napa Cabernets, give or take, and at all price points.
What’s the most unique wine on your list?
Vilmart Ratafia. It is grape juice that has been fortified with neutral spirit and then barrel aged. It’s a dessert wine and it comes from Champagne. It’s still — not sparkling — and it’s an incredible rarity. It is a product of passion, rather than of history or money.
What do you consider to be the most important concept behind your list?
I think that it’s really important to remember when we’re creating a wine list that the wine list is there to serve our guests and not ourselves. It’s not about our favorite wine. The first question that I ask myself is, “Will my guest love it?” If the answer is no, it doesn’t make the list.
Cortney Casey is a certified sommelier and co-founder of michiganbythebottle.com, a website and online community that promotes the Michigan wine industry. She’s also co-owner of Michigan By the Bottle Tasting Room, tasting rooms, which are operated in partnership with multiple Michigan-based wineries, located in Shelby Township, Royal Oak, and Auburn Hills.