Until relatively recently the on-trade wine scene could certainly be accused of sticking with tradition. The rise of craft in other categories and the shift to casual dining, however, is changing all that.

"It's certainly not all Claret and Burgundy anymore," says Dan Harwood, head of wine education for Halewood Wines & Spirits.

"As people stray from their favourite blends they are actively seeking new and exciting wines." And this, he says, has created an opportunity for pubs, which "can use this to their advantage by breaking down traditional barriers."

So what will this mean for your wine list?




Discover new regions

If you are looking to modernise your lost with some unusual and exciting wine producing regions, Dan points to the likes of Romania, a country with which Halewood has long-held links, as ripe for a comeback: "The region is re-emerging as a destination for high quality yet great value wines and is a fantastic source of modern, fruity wines and also (more unusual) indigenous varieties," he explains.

Over at Matthew Clark their recently expanded list takes a punt on Austrian and German wines, which head of wine strategy, Laurie Davis, says continue to grow. The company also added wines from Portugal, Oregon in the US, and Uruguay.

Closer to home English sparkling wine has been causing a stir in recent times and has been tipped by supplier Bibendum as one to watch in its Trends Report 2018.

"Our sales of English sparkling have nearly doubled over the past year and CGA reports that volume sales have risen by 77 per cent in that time," reflects fine wine business development executive, Joseph Arthur.

"There are now clear signs of organic growth after years of hard work from producers at the cellar door and in the trade. We now have customers asking for English wine, where previously it was about getting word out to them. This is a very significant change."




Fortified wine fights back

Perhaps more improbably, the Bibendum Trends Report highlights Sherry, vermouth and Port as currently undergoing a revival. This is mainly due to their popularity with mixologists and their emergence as a simple mixed drink to rival gin & tonic – Sherry and vermouth are already known as a good match for tonic but white Port is too, and is widely drunk that way in its native Portugal.

At importer Morgenrot Sherry sales in 2017 were already 85 per cent ahead of 2016's by November, and the company was expecting an even bigger boost over Christmas.
"Much of the growth has been coming from the drier end of the Sherry spectrum, with Manzanilla and Fino Sherries by far the most popular," says commercial director, John Critchley.

"This is an area we are specifically looking to push and believe there is plenty of room for further growth."

New grape varieties are also a focus for the team at Morgenrot.

"Bodega Nivarius is one of our producers which has made a name for doing thigs differently," explains John. "It has recently planted Maturana Blanca vines. The grape was mentioned as early as 1622 and has now been rediscovered and gaining a lot of talk. The Nivarius Maturana Blanca has a crispness that lends an elegant freshness with excellent aging potential. Definitely one to watch in 2018."

Another of the Morgenrot producers, Dominio Dostares in Oteros, Spain, was set up with the objective of saving the Prieto Picudo grape and its red wines have won many awards.



Eisberg Wine Range


Ride the alcohol-free trend

For other drinks categories, most notably beer, the low and no-alcohol sector has been one area of potential growth in recent times, but there has so far been little of note from the wine category. Alcohol-free wine brand Eisberg however, feels the tide is turning.

This is backed up by stats, which show alcohol-free wine has increased its sales by £1.7 million in the off-trade alone (Nielsen MAT to May 2017). The company has launched two new sparkling wines to bring alcohol-free into the party and is focussing its efforts on recruiting drinkers via a cycling promotion.

"Eisberg's support for The Tour Of Britain and move into cycling follows brand research that pinpointed a shift in alcohol-free consumers, with men found to be drinking the wines more regularly when reducing their alcohol intake as part of a healthy lifestyle choice," explains director of wine for Eisberg, Andrew Turner.

"Our research showed that men under 35 were drinking alcohol-free wine more regularly and our involvement with British cycling is giving us a natural link to talk to them and the health conscious female drinker."




Modern classics
With all this talk of innovation, recently discovered regions, and new grape varieties, it would be easy to forget about the classics - but that would be a mistake. Some of the more established wine regions are still managing to tap into the trends.

New Zealand is a prime example of this, according to Andrew Nunney, director of category shopper marketing and insight at Accolade Wines.

"New Zealand is still a strong growth area with value sales up 15.5 per cent (CGA Strategy, MAT 15 July 2017). And, as the origin with the highest price per 175ml, this highlights the customer trend of wanting to drink better, and is a real strength area for still wine that outlets should be taking advantage of.

"Consumers are actually becoming less considerate of price in the on-trade and increasingly believe it is worth paying extra for quality (Kantar Worldpanel Alcovision)," he says.

"Therefore the best approach licensees can take is to ensure your wine list offers a good variety of price points in order to satisfy those customers looking to keep price down, but also give the opportunity to trade up and get better quality."