Will rosé continue onwards and upwards? Is Prosécco still on a roll? What will be the next Pinot Grigio? Has South Africa's time now come? Industry experts share their predictions for 2010 and their tips for boosting your wine offering. Fiona Sims reports
Last year wasn't a good one for wine. Not the harvest, you understand, but selling wine. Rampant discounting on the high street in 2009 made it even tougher for those in the on-trade to make their margins in the worst recession in decades, and the Government didn't help much on the duty front. We're drinking less in restaurants, and we're drinking cheaper - and average spends aren't likely to creep up in 2010 with an election looming, and exchange rates continuing to fluctuate. But with a few savvy moves and a dollop of enthusiasm you can cushion and even boost your wine offering. We asked industry wine experts to share their predictions and tips for the year ahead.
The Wonder Bar, Selfridges, London
People are still very cautious and price-conscious, so this year will be about sourcing little parcels of wine at all price points. The industry needs to look at regions and varietals that are less well known, as they tend to offer better value for money.
I think people will be going back to the old school, with the classic regions seeing a revival - for us that is Bordeaux and Burgundy. And I expect we will see some wacky blends coming through this year that will push the boundaries.
I would love to do more with British wines and I love Portuguese wines, too - Portugal's Alentejo region is really exciting. Regional France and the Loire Valley are doing some really interesting things at the moment, and I think South Africa will do well for us this year as we saw growth from there last year. The Rhône Valley has also been very strong for us.
The next rosé? Dare I say Sauvignon Blanc? It's our biggest seller from all countries - a 20% increase year-on-year. And the next Pinot Grigio could be Torrontés - a great by-the-glass alternative as it is open to many different styles, has a lot of character and is great value for money.
Owner and managing director
The Olive Branch, Clipsham, Rutland
Our strongest market in 2010 will be celebratory occasions - in these times of uncertainty people are going out less often, but when they do, it's to celebrate a special occasion. Discount lunches will also be big for us this year - everybody is still looking for a deal. Who knows what challenges a new Government will bring? Everybody is in "wait and see" mode.
The industry needs to look after its customers even more, as people now expect that little extra - the skill is to use that to your advantage. We always have a few wines that aren't on the list, and when a customer asks for our advice, sometimes we'll respond: "We have this really special wine in the cellar that's just arrived and it's at a great price; we'd really like your opinion of it."
In-house wine tasting for customers and wine clubs increases your customers' knowledge and interest while making them feel part of "the family". It builds customer loyalty, too.
This year I think we will see a lot of wine from south west France, and southern Europe in general on lists. We are seeing an increased interest in Italian wines following the growth in popularity of Pinot Grigio, and we are seeing a greater understanding of Italian wines - Vernaccia, Verdicchio, Chianti, Gavi di Gavi. And I think we'll see a lot more from Portugal, England (particularly Camel Valley and Sharpham Vineyards) and Slovenia this year.
The Cross at Kingussie, Scotland
There's no doubt that this will be another tricky year. In 2009 some record-breaking months were offset by particularly quiet periods at the beginning and end of the year. I don't see 2010 being much different.
And I don't see too much difference in what we will be drinking this year. Choice is still determined largely by value for money and prevailing currency exchange rates. We're still on planet Sauvignon Blanc here, with prices holding. New Zealand will no doubt be popular again, but I see French regional and Italian wines giving the New World a run for its money. Cabernet Francs are selling well with us, too, as are South African blends.
We increased our selection of rosé wines last year, possibly too late, and actually saw trends changing back to sparkling wines, especially Prosécco, for which many are happy to pay a decent price. Much will depend on the weather.
The next Pinot Grigio? Fiano, certainly, and Falanghina, possibly - drinkers are at last discovering the true depth of wine making in Italy. And there's a continuing interest in wines that are produced organically or biodynamically.
I think diners will continue to show caution when it comes to spending money, therefore we'll continue to see the significant majority spending within a narrow price band of £25 to £35. Our aim is to create a smaller list using fewer suppliers - but I know already that I'll fail!
John Hoskins MW
Owner and wine merchant
The Old Bridge Hotel, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire
The biggest challenge we face this year is how to cope with the rising costs of rates, energy and tax, in a market that is at best flat. In our wine shop, it's trying to charge the right price when the multiples are discounting so crazily.
My hot tip for 2010? Well, I think New Zealand Gewürztraminer is a great aperitif style that will start to make some inroads - at least on my list. And I think Pinot will continue its rise, but now that it has acceptance as a varietal brand, then the possibilities are there for Germany and Alsace. I feel South Africa is going to have a great year, and the Prosécco rise will continue for at least another year.
We are sure to sell more rosé - but this year it will be dry, flavourful styles, such as those from Tavel and northern Spain. Pinot Grigio will start to fade - I hope and believe. Even if people want non-aromatic whites there are better Italian - and other - styles.
Director of wine and spirits
Hotel du Vin
The industry's biggest challenge this year is making sure our suppliers are paid on time. It's a tough time for everyone but we must be fair. Extending credit terms to ridiculous lengths is immoral. I remember a time when being put on hold for not paying bills was a shameful thing; now it is common business practice.
My prediction for what will sell this year? I'm hoping we go back to some classic wines and take advantage of "off" vintages that are mature, inexpensive and drinking well - for example, 2002 Bordeaux or 2004 Burgundy.
I'm also hoping that the indigenous varieties from Greece will be more recognised - especially Assyrtiko and Aghiortiko. Champagne is being usurped by Prosécco - maybe this is because Valdobbiadene is now DOCG [the highest wine quality level allowed by Italy and the EU]. I think we'll see more wines from Slovenia and Croatia, but for now the hottest wine region is South America - Argentina, in particular.
Last year was hell, with wine prices and taxes changing every other week, and suppliers frequently out of stock. I'm hoping this year will be easier and, if it is, my main challenge will be remembering what used to be normal when we didn't spend all week updating our stock and ordering system. The main impact on the business will continue to be the effect of exchange rates on wine costs, and further duty increases.
Biggest sellers for this year? Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are running neck and neck - no other whites come close. One surprise is that Merlot is really making progress: I think people are falling in love with it all over again, and the ‘Sideways' effect is finished.
Prosécco is also growing strongly for us, and Portuguese wines are making steady progress in our restaurants - the whites are particularly lovely. Greek wines are getting easier to sell, and New Zealand reds are doing really well for us, especially Syrah and Cabernet blends from Hawkes Bay.
Wine consultant and merchant
Les Caves de Pyrene
2010 will be a tough year. Wine merchants and restaurants have to ensure they support each other and communicate a lot better.
I think we will be seeing more organic and biodynamic wines sold in restaurants. This will be the year of the small grower, as customers prefer to move away from the safety net of branded wines. The hottest regions right now for us are Loire and Beaujolais in France, Piedmont and Sicily in Italy, and Marlborough in New Zealand. What will we see more of in 2010? I predict Swartland, South Africa. The next Pinot Grigio? Verdicchio - it has bags more character than your generic Pinot Grigio and customers feel comfortable with the name and the style of the wine.
Our customers increasingly prefer aromatic wines, wines with less extraction, less oak and less alcohol. A lot of our customers want a back story or anecdote (something about the grower or the region; something that distinguishes the wine from other wines) so that they can use that information to sell the wine to their customers.
What will ultimately distinguish places this year is not simply the quality of the wine list, but how it is projected. Customers want to have fun with wine; they don't want stuffy, pretentious service. They are increasingly aware of the ridiculous mark-ups that some restaurants exact on their wines. Wine merchants should not be afraid of telling their customers that they are over-charging on certain wines.
TOP TIPS ON HOW TO SELL WINE IN 2010
"Develop and encourage an interest in wines among the staff so that everyone can sell and up-sell with enthusiasm and knowledge. And please, leave the bottle of wine you are serving on or adjacent to the customers' table so that they can continue to help themselves at their own pace as well being topped up - there is nothing more likely to kill extra wines sales than having a sommelier who insists on pouring from some remote service table but is unable to judge or keep up with the customers' requirements." David Young
"Think about displaying the wine bottles, particularly fine wines, and display them with tasting notes - customers seem to enjoy this more than trawling through a list. More and more opportunity is being made for customers to taste before they buy." Ben Jones
"As long as a list is clearly and logically presented, this is the best way to maximise sales. If a wine list is too fussy, or does not follow a logical order, the customer will often give up after a few pages." Dawn Davies
"Listen to the customer and then offer a wine you are sure is within their budget, and tell them clearly why they will enjoy it. The best advice is to choose good wines and make the list relevant. If you don't have sommeliers, then use simple descriptions. If you do - then be more imaginative in how the list is organised." Christine Parkinson
"Once people are out they will normally spend - so we all have to be better at ‘selling' wine. And make sure your list includes the relevant details - it's amazing how many places still don't have the grower's name, or vintage, or region." John Hoskins MW
"List more village-level wine rather than premier cru or grand cru. And offer more wine by the glass, available in large or small glasses. Be more flexible about doing deals with regular customers - for example, offer them a £100 wine for £80. You will still make a nice cash margin and turn over your stock." Ronan Sayburn
"Offer more choice by the glass and carafe. It enables customers to try different things rather than being lumbered with one wine for the entire meal. Introduce a front page of ‘special selection/sommelier recommendations' to sell wines from the deeper recesses of the list. Break the list into categories - either by style or region, but be flexible. The best wine lists have a theme running through them and encourage the customer to explore exciting and unusual wines." Doug Wregg