When the Great British Bake Off becomes headline news there’s no longer any arguing that customers across the country are engaging with food and drink – and it seems this interest extends beyond brownies and flans to Beaujolais and Frascati.
That’s the impression wine suppliers have given with their assessment of the wine market which, in their view, is increasingly shifting towards the premium end.
Toby Sigouin, wine buyer at Inverarity Morton, said the firm’s sales figures show “tangible growth in the mid-range and premium wine categories” while entry level wines “are now in slight decline”.
“This shift is definitely down to the trend towards products with authenticity and originality, which the craft beer and spirits movement has spurred,” said Sigouin.
Customers want to know where the wine is from and who makes it.
“Consumers are finally waking up to the fact that the wine world doesn’t just revolve around Prosecco and Pinot Grigio. There’s so much out there to explore and it’s very satisfying to see.”
In recent years, Sigouin reckons customers in the on-trade have become “more adventurous in their wine choice” as well as “more enquiring” at the bar.
“They want to know where the wine is from, who makes it and what makes them special,” he said.
“That’s why product knowledge training is absolutely essential to delivering a sale.
“We now live in a world where information is available at the touch of a button so you can’t flannel or fob off with a made-up story.”
The adventurous wine drinker offers operators an opportunity, according to Miriam Spiers of Alliance Wines, who reckons there has been movement towards more premium wines.
“We see a definite shift to selling better quality wines,” said Spiers.
“Good operators are recognising that offering more interesting wines from small independent producers is much more in line with their food offering, is what their customers are after, and strengthens their overall positioning in the market.”
Spiers added that the Alliance team has been surprised by the strong sales performance of “relatively unknown, indigenous grape varieties”, which are said to be performing especially well when sold by the glass.
“It is clear that there is a demand from consumers for something different and that they are willing to explore and be more adventurous,” she said.
While customers may be more adventurous on the whole, the approaching festive season brings a diverse clientele – many of whom will want to see the big hitters on lists.
Mike Stewart, head of sales for Scotland, northern England and Northern Ireland at Liberty Wines, reckons as Christmas approaches, “tastes generally become a little more traditional, driving up sales of red wine and Champagne in particular”.
“Pinot Noir’s rising popularity makes it a great choice for wine lists this year, with fine examples coming from New Zealand and Tasmania as well as the traditional Burgundy,” said Stewart.
The celebratory nature of the coming season also provides publicans with an opportunity to push the more premium end of their wine list.
Stewart suggested that the festive season is “perfect for offering small parcels of wine as ‘specials’” that may be a little too expensive through the rest of the year, “but suit the mood as people look for something more premium to celebrate with”.
“For example, it could be a vintage Champagne, a red Bordeaux or something to finish with like Port or Madeira,” he said.
When compiling a wine offer for the season, operators should be careful to take cues from their food menu, suggested John Chalmers of Enotria & Coe, who reckons a shift to wintery cuisine should have an influence on the drinks list.
“If the cuisine is moving into the more hearty area then definitely a few more warm, satisfying reds wouldn’t go amiss,” said Chalmers, suggesting operators consider an additional premium Malbec, Argentinian Bonarda, US Cabernets and Valpolicella Ripasso.
“Think about Christmas, think about the wines that you can recommend with traditional festive fayre,” he said.
There is demand for something different and customers are willing to explore.
“Pinot Noir with the turkey, Rioja with roast beef, Barolo with goose, and offer as much of this by the glass as you dare – don’t be scared to recommend these to your customers – the right wine with the right dish really makes the meal stand out.”
Some customers will be crying out for adventurous wines and complex dishes this Christmas, but not all, and Chalmers advised operators to cater for their outlet’s audience ensuring all bases are covered.
“If party nights are relevant to you make sure you have the right wines for this kind of occasion (accessible, easy to drink styles – but still interesting) and of course reliable Prosecco,” he said.
Nick Tatham, wine development manager at CWF, also highlighted the sales potential that bubbles offer – noting that sparkling continues to be a big seller for the Scottish trade.
“It should also be remembered that sparkling wine consumption is increasing rapidly and that much of this extra volume seems to have come from still wine,” said Tatham.