The Grapevine – the perfect balance of quality and profit margin

Luke Richardson is a sommelier who has worked in a range of venues across the UK in a career spanning more than 20 years. He is now wine buyer/cheese fanatic at IJ Mellis Cheese. In his column for SLTN he shares his thoughts on all things wine-related and answers your questions about wine. If you have a question for Luke email it to

headshot of Luke Richardson
Picture: Isabel Kronenberger.

Hi again all.

I was planning on talking about refreshing, crisp summer wines this month, as we finally get some bursts of decent weather across the country.

However, having spoken recently to several hospitality business owners, it seems that ever-narrowing margins are evermore the issue. So instead, I thought I’d return to an area that has offered exceptional value for a long time, and offers a style suited to the British palate – the Languedoc region of southern France. Whilst there are more expensive and polished wines in this region, I’m going to look at the wines that I think are best value overall and can still offer your customers good quality at a reasonable price: single varietal wines.

Among the varietals there are Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Semillon, Picpoul, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache. It’s these that I would aim for, ideally with the varietal name emblazoned across the label, for there is a certain amount of trust in a Languedocian varietal wine; they’re dependable.

They are normally more focused on fruit than structure, and tend towards the medium bodied camp in that regard. They tend to be easy drinking, slightly simpler wines that are pleasurable but not forceful and often made by larger estates or cave co-operatives. But they are normally made in larger quantities, and this ultimately means that deals can normally be done with suppliers – either to reduce the bottom line or occasionally with stock to support.

These deals are normally dependant on volume, so using one or more of them as by the glass options will obviously help that end of the bargain. Most are available sub-£7, and some closer to the £6 mark.

So why am I not advocating Corbieres or Minervois, St.Chinian or Limoux? Essentially, they’re not as recognisable and the styles available can vary widely – as can the price point. I feel, as everyone is feeling the pinch even more, we need to be able to rely on something dependable in these difficult times.

So how to spot a good one? Essentially, some depth of texture to the fruit of any of these wines – the ones to avoid are the thin, or overly tannic ones. Syrah is often the most giving of Languedocian varietals when it comes to a fruit profile, but can have a heavy dose of pepper in the tail. Cabernet Sauvignon can often seem more herbal in the finish than it does fruity in the start.

Sauvignon Blancs tend to be more pleasant if there is some floral character to the nose to help balance the often crunchy green fruit. Chardonnay should have a little ripeness to the fruit, a hint of tropical even. Merlot should have soft plummy fruit with hints of herbs in the finish. Viognier should be round but not fat – with a little acidity to lift the finish. All roughly medium bodied for that specific varietal – easygoing, dependable, reliable.

And hit up that supplier, see what they can do for you – if you don’t ask, you don’t get!
Until next time, happy bargain hunting!