Where Are the Opportunities in the On-premise UK Wine Sector
It is hard to predict what is going to happen in the UK restaurant scene in 2019. Here are some insights to get an overview.
If you look back over the biggest success stories in the UK restaurant and bar sector over the last 10 years and then made a list of the trade experts who predicted they would happen, it would not be very long.
Not that the so-called experts don’t know what they are doing, it’s just the wine market is the notoriously difficult one to predict. If it was then there would be a lot more self-made millionaires who mortgaged their house on the phenomenal rise we have seen in Pinot Grigio, Prosecco - and sparkling wine in general - and rosé in the last few years.
Primarily because none of those growth areas is anything new, they have been around ever since people started making wine, it’s just that consumer tastes, price points and availability have all coincided and combined to turn them from a fad, to a trend, to a full-blown retailing phenomenon.
So, that said, when it comes to making bold predictions about what is going to happen in the UK restaurant scene in 2019 - proceed with caution.
Particularly as the UK is, currently, on the brink of exiting the European Union and potentially going it alone when it comes to organising trade deals and tariffs for the wines it imports into the country. Which when you consider that accounts for well over 90% of all the wine consumed when eating and drinking out makes making hard predictions even more treacherous.
More of the Same
But here goes. One thing for sure is the nation’s taste buds and palates are not going to dramatically change over the next three months. If we look back at those recent big wine success stories - Pinot Grigio, Prosecco, sparkling wine and rosé - they all have one thing in common. Drinkability.
Yes, they are all light, fresh, bright and easy to drink. The UK’s wine consumer has been weaned off its love of big, buttery Chardonnays and oaky, bold reds and increasingly looked to turn down the taste profiles of the wines they drink. This is partly down to health concerns and looking at what alcohol level a wine has (good news for 13% wines, bad news for the 15% brigade).
It also reflects changing tastes right across what we eat and drink. Fine dining, for example, is now more about the quality and purity of the ingredients, rather than using big sauces, and lots of butter and cream. It’s the same up and down all the food aisles of the local supermarket. Lighter spreads, reduced fats and lower calories are what consumers have on their sub-conscious shopping list.
So we can expect to see wine lists continue to be dominated by an even bigger selection of lighter, fresh wine styles and the emergence of more grape varieties, that deliver crisp, bright, wines full of fruits and acidity.
The Rise of Mediterranean
2019 will be the year when grape varieties that are either directly from or started their life in the Mediterranean, noticeably Italy, Spain and Greece, will become omnipresent. That means more Italian wines like Trebbiano, Verdicchio, Grillo and Tocai Friulano. Or Godellos, Verdejos and Macabeos from Spain.
For the Reds expect to be stocking up on more Italian Sangioveses, Nero D’Avolas, Aglianicos, Sagrantinos and Nebbiolos and even Lambruscos. Over in Spain, it’s going to be good news for Tempranillo, lighter Riojas and less woody Garnachas.
This demand for lighter styles is also seeing a resurgence for neglected areas, and grape varieties in France, with a greater love for regions such as Beaujolais and the Loire, with Vouvray already making a comeback, and varieties such as Gamay, Pinot Noir and Cinsault.
The consumer’s ongoing demand for authenticity and provenance will see an even bigger focus in 2019 on not just where a wine comes from, but and how it is made. Shoppers are far more interested in what goes into a bottle of wine than ever before. Expect to see wines that can claim to be as hands-free as possible in how they have been made to become even more mainstream and move from the cool, eclectic wine bars, to more supermarket and specialist wine shelves.
That means far more talk of skin contact wines, that have been made in open and cold ferments, with whole bunches and punch downs. If a wine drinking fine dining consumer does not know what a basket press is, they will do by the end of 2019.
This interest in and acceptance of so-called minimum intervention winemaking will also see the further rise and distribution of natural wines which, in turn, will find new audiences as producers tone down the fun factor.
Even More Sustainable
It’s not just our own bodies that we are becoming increasingly protective of in terms of what we eat and drink, but the planet around us. 2018 was the year we all fell out of love with the plastic bag and raised our collective game when it came to sustainability, re-usability and the environment. As political instability is only set to intensify in the year ahead, there will be an even greater desire to take more control over what we can personally control when it comes to the impact we are having on the environment.
So wines that claim to be good for the environment where they are made are going to be increasingly sought out on restaurant and bar wine lists. Be they organic, biodynamic or can make some sustainable claim, being seen to be green is going to back in fashion when drinking out in 2019.
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About the Author
Richard Siddle is an award-winning business editor with over 25 years of experience working across a number of fields including computing, FMCG, grocery and convenience retailing, travel and for the last 10 years wine and spirits. He spent much of that time as editor of Harpers Wine & Spirit where he was widely recognised for having turned one of the UK’s oldest publications into an agenda-setting, must-read for the drinks industry.