The Wine Guide – your 101 to wine in pubs

By Nicholas Robinson

- Last updated on GMT

The ultimate wine guide for pubs
The ultimate wine guide for pubs

Related tags Wine Chardonnay Sauvignon blanc Pinot grigio Wine & spirit trade association

It shouldn’t really come as a great surprise that wine doesn’t have it all its own way in the setting of a pub, but growth is singularly lacking and the perceived wisdom is that it should be doing better. In our Wine Guide we take a good look at the on-trade’s still wine category. Nigel Huddleston reports

The on-trade wine market is more about treading water than treading grapes at the moment. As a category, it is struggling to grow in a sector where craft spirits and beer have successfully seized the initiative around selling points, such as provenance and back stories that really should be wine’s natural territory.

Wine guide: red wine
The Morning Advertiser's Wine Guide

CGA Strategy figures show the on-trade still wine market was flat in the year​ to 9 July, stuck at just short of £3.4bn. Volumes were down 4% but the average price per litre was up by the same percentage to just over the £20 mark.

New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Chile and Italy all saw good growth to challenge the established on-trade dominance of France, Australia and the USA, which all registered single-digit decline.

A guide to wine

Nick Tatham MW, wine development director at supplier CWF, says the falling away of Australia and California sales “could indicate a move away from bigger brands and a search for more interesting wines not found in the off-trade”.

Italy was the only one of the top four wine supplying countries in the on-trade to see any growth, with sales up 5% to just over £1bn. France and Italy together account for more than 70% of all wine sold in the on-trade.

The popularity of Sauvignon Blanc helped New Zealand to the biggest growth of any of the top 10 countries of origin, with value sales 22% up over the year. New Zealand’s average bottle price was up 12%, again the biggest increase of any top 10 country.

Other categories such as gin, rum and Tequila are seeing rapid growth, but the indicators are that pubs and bars are under-achieving in wine​. It’s not that people don’t want to drink wine, they just don’t seem to want to drink wine in the same numbers when they go to the pub.

Maximise opportunities

Ian Peart, on-trade channel director at Pernod Ricard UK:
"Almost half of consumers drink wine when they’re out – higher than for any other alcohol category.
Yet branded wine only accounts for one third of total wine sales in the on-trade, even though our research shows that branded wines are a key factor in purchasing decisions for wine drinkers in the on-trade and that three out of five consumers rate the quality of branded wine they have tried as 8/10 or better.
 "We believe this indicates a huge opportunity for branded wine in the on-trade throughout 2016 and beyond, particularly as more than six out of 10 consumers (61%) also told us they perceived branded wines to be good value for money where available in the on-trade compared with non-branded offerings.
 "We also found that eight out of 10 (79%) frequent wine drinkers drink branded wine in the on-trade, and that more than half (54%) said branded wines offered them an assurance of good taste."

Creating a wine list for your Pub

In a YouGov poll for the Wine & Spirit Trade Association in September, 30% of adults said they drank white wine at home in the previous month, joint top with lager and one point ahead of red wine.

White wine and red wine came top when people were asked what they drank in a restaurant too, but when the question switched to pubs, wine slipped down the pecking order. Just 12% said they had drunk white wine in a pub in the previous month, behind lager, ale, cider and vodka. Red wine was also below gin at 8%.

Gary Keller, senior buying manager for wine at Molson Coors, says a well-constructed wine menu is essential, targeting a range of consumer types to boost sales.

He says: “Publicans should ensure their wine range includes a great-tasting house wine selection aimed at price-conscious consumers, what we call brilliant blends.

“Alongside this it is vital to ensure the key on-trend grape varieties are available.

“We would also recommend building in a range of Old and New World renowned wines which offer choice to consumers with a slightly more developed wine knowledge.”

Italian wine

Keller at Molson Coors says Italy is one of the strongest performing regions for the company, with growth also coming from Argentina and Chile.

Simon Thorpe MW, managing director at specialist Australian wine supplier Negociants UK, says there’s a desire among consumers to see wines on pub menus that go beyond wholesalers’ house wines or big brands.

“There is definitely a sense of searching for product integrity in the marketplace, moving towards those wines that have a sense of place or personality,” he says.

“We have seen a real interest in Australian wine in smaller producers making, for want of a better word, craft wine in smaller volumes.”

A guide to red wine

Guide to red wine
A guide to red wine in your pub

Red is the wine category’s star colour with value sales up 3%, but on a 2% decline in the year to 9 July (CGA Strategy). But red still lags behind white in market share, accounting for 37% of all wine sold in the on-trade.

Red wine expert

Michael Bateman, operations manager at north east pub chain the Jolly Fisherman Group, Northumberland

“Single varietals like Merlot and Pinot Noir are always popular, so much so we ran out of Malbec one weekend. Something from a particular region like Cotes du Rhone is a more difficult sell because people are less sure about what they’re getting into. Single varietals are definitely gaining in popularity."

Merlot continues to dominate, taking over a third of all red wine on-trade sales but Shiraz and Pinot Noir and slowly making inroads into its position.

At £21.71, the average price per litre of Pinot Noir is the highest of any of the top red or white wine varieties.

Simon Thorpe MW at Negociants UK says: “There’s no doubt that red wine is faring better than white and rosé in the on-trade. Certainly, lighter styles of red such as Grenache and Pinot Noir are strong.”

Malbec is another variety that is doing well anecdotally, driven by Argentina – for which it is the signature red grape –and its suitability for matching with steaks. But its growth could be about to take a knock says one supplier.

Nick Tatham MW, wine development manager at supplier CWF, says: “The poor harvest in Argentina will mean higher prices coming through before long and this appears to be affecting growth already.”

Red wine market statistics – top five varieties by value







Cabernet Sauvignon






Pinot Noir






Reds to try

Mozer XV Cabernet Sauvignon

Moser XV

China is hotly-tipped as a big global wine player of the future and Bibendum PLB is one of the first UK suppliers to hop on board. It has added Moser XV Cabernet Sauvignon from Chateau Changyu Moser in Ningxia to its portfolio. Austrian wine making legend Lenz Moser is a partner in the operation which opened three years ago and is one of 900 wineries in the country. Bibendum hopes to bring in more Chinese wines before the year is out.

Momo Pinot Noir


This New Zealand Pinot comes from the organic range made by the family behind Marlborough’s Seresin Estate. There’s also a white Sauvignon Blanc under the Momo name alongside a range of seven whites under the Seresin label and six Seresin Pinot Noirs named Leah, Rachel, Raupo Creek, Tatou, Noa and Sun & Moon. All are available in the UK through Louis Latour Agencies.

Gabbiano Chianti Classico


This is part of the range from the Castello di Gabbiano winery in Tuscany, owned by Australian Wine giant Treasury Wine Estates, for which Molson Coors has signed a deal to add to its wholesale portfolio in the UK. The line-up of wines also includes Pinot Grigio, a rosé and the producer’s Bellezza premium Chianti Classico.

A guide to white wine


Guide to white wine
The ultimate guide to white wine

Like the market as a whole, white wine value sales were flat over the past year and volumes dropped 4%, but white continues to be the dominant style in the on-trade, with 53% of the market.

White wine expert

 Eileen Ginger, wine buyer, Whitbread
“White wine volume sales are in decline but value sales remain stable. I think a lot of white wine drinkers, especially females, could be moving into Prosecco.
 "Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or Chile still remain favourites in our business and generally in the mainstream on–trade.
 "There is a mix between consumers who are comfortable with Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon and those that want to experiment a bit more and try different things. Menus should offer a balance.
"People tend to like Italian wines and I think they like Gavi [from Italy] because it is a step up from Pinot Grigio in terms of character and structure It is a food friendly white and it is easy to pronounce."

Colombard-Chardonnay blends have replaced Semillon in fifth place in the white wine grape variety chart, which is still topped by single varietal Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. Pinot Grigio just edges the number one spot on bottles sold, but Chardonnay takes the crown on value.

Consumers have largely turned their backs on heavily-oaked Aussie Chardonnay but it is hanging on as a result of producers toning down to fresher, lighter styled wines.

Simon Thorpe MW at Negociants UK says: “The trend for modern Chardonnay is still strong, for lighter styles but with good flavours.”

He also says that “semi-aromatics are important as partners for Asian food” and adds: “We are seeing significant growth in our Viogniers form the Eden Valley [in Australia].”

But the fastest growth is coming from the third and fourth place varietals, Sauvignon Blanc – the signature grape of New Zealand and in particular its Marlborough region – and Chenin Blanc, a widely-planted variety most closely associated with South Africa and France’s Loire Valley.

Between them Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Sauvignon account for seven out of every 10 bottles or glasses drunk in the on-trade.

Matthew Clark reports strong growth for wines made from grapes that traditionally suit cooler-climate growth, such as Pinot Blanc, up 278% annually. It said Austrian wine sales have more than doubled and its flagship variety Gruner Veltliner was up 14%, fuelled by high-end producers Soellner and Willi Optiz. It also reports a surge in sales of German Riesling.

Purchasing director Simon Jerrome says: “Our customers are increasingly demanding cool climate wines following a growth in consumer interest in lighter styles.”

White wine marketing statistics – top five varieties by value







Pinot Grigio



Sauvignon Blanc



Chenin Blanc



Colombard Chardonnay



Whites to try

Mahi Sauvignon Blanc
Berkmann Wine Cellars became the exclusive UK agent for this Marlbrough, New Zealand, producer on October 1. In addition to its Marlborough Sauvignon, the range includes the single vineyard Boundary Farm Sauvignon Blanc and Twin Valleys Chardonnay.

Sunelle Trebbiano d’Abruzzo


Organic wines offer both better quality and value than they did some years ago and CWF has put its faith in a pair from the Casal Bordino co-operative in the Italian region of Abruzzo. The white Trebbiano DOC has a red partner in the form of a Montepuciano d’Abruzzo.

A guide to Rosé wine

Rose wine
Wine Guide: rose wine

Around the turn of the century, rosé wine witnessed a boom in popularity in the UK but consumers aren’t thinking pink as much as they used to when they walk into a pub.

Rosé wine expert

David Williams, wine correspondent, The Observer

“Interest in rosé peaked a few years ago in the UK market but it’s something that more producers are specialising in, rather than just making a rosé to use up left over grapes from the harvest. In France in particular in the last five years a lot of producers have shifted production into wine in quite a big way.
 “From a drinking point of view it’s probably the least interesting colour and I’m quite sceptical about how far it can go in terms of fine wine.”

Rosé has just 10% of the on-trade market and sales were down by 7% in volume and 6% in value in the year to July.

And if anything, rosé’s problems seem to be deepening, with both volumes and value down 8% in the last 12 weeks of that period.

Rosé’s versatility is also its Achilles’ heel. With the colour operating in both sweet and dry camps it’s a colour that potentially presents customers with greater uncertainty about what they’re getting than red or white and as a result arguably requires a bit more of a push in POS and menu descriptions.

But there are pockets of good news for rosé, with the dry, elegant wines from Provence in France enjoying a period of particularly robust health.

Nick Tatham at CWF Says: “Rosé wine is still in decline overall, with the sweeter styles particularly losing share but with drier wines such as those from Provence and Spain faring much better.”

Simon Thorpe at Negociants UK agrees that “dry refreshing roses are the go, Provence in style”.

A rosé to try

Rogers & Rufus

Rogers Rufus

Negociants UK is shipping Rogers & Rufus rosé, a vegan-friendly pink made in Australia’s Barossa Valley from 100% Grenache grapes, a variety most closely associated with Rhone and Rioja.

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