The Morning Advertiser caught up with him ahead of his speech at the Bar & Pub Show in October to find out more and get his top tips for making the most of the seemingly unstoppable Prosecco trend.
How did your interest in wine begin?
Neil Philips: My parents were interested wine and when I was at university I ordered wine from The Sunday Times Wine Club. When I graduated, I went on a wine society tour with my parents where we tasted eight chardonnays from around the world. We were supposed to guess where they came from… I didn’t get any right. But I found it really interesting and I decided I wanted to do a Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and discover more about tasting wine and presenting it as well. The trip really propelled my interest in wine.
What keeps you interested?
NP: It’s not just discovering new wines, it’s also going to established areas and thinking ‘we know about this area but this particular region is not getting the share of voice (attention) it should be’. I like to promote that region and say there are punters out there who would like to have this wine experience. It certainly happens with established regions and that is what drives me. California is one example of a region that deserve more attention, because of the diversity that it has, the number of grape varieties that they have planted there, but also the great number of varieties that they are doing a great job with.
It’s good to draw attention to regions where things have been developing and to look again at them and re-engage people.
How have pub customers’ attitudes changed towards wine in the past five years?
NP: People know more about grape varieties. If you went into a bar people would be asking about Pinot Grigio. And people are really engaged with the Malbec grape variety right now, so they would notice if they went into a pub or bar and it wasn’t available.
I think that is quite interesting, particularly the number of grape varieties that people are engaged with.
Interest in wine styles has changed. For example, if you ask an audience now about pinot noir, and ask how many are drinking it and aware of it, the number has risen quite a bit in the last few years. It’s a very elegant and lighter style of red, which I think is giving people choice. Packaging has helped build this knowledge as it has focused on grape variety.
What’s the most interesting wine trend at the moment?
NP: The UK is the biggest market for Prosecco, but for pubs and bars simply saying ‘we list Prosecco’ is not enough. I think they need to say ‘we have this Prosecco from this particular producer’. One of the things I’ve picked up from speaking to consumers is that people want to know where it comes from, and that there are different styles: spumante, sparkling; frizzante, semi-sparkling; or tranquillo, still. The most common of these is the spumante, which is considered by many to be the most iconic style of Prosecco. But there’s no such thing as a Prosecco rose.
Customers are embracing Prosecco, so it’s a good time to say we’re not just going to list one style, we’re going to list a brut style and an extra dry style, and we might have one spumante style and one frizzante style. So that you’re offering the right kind of choice for guests coming into your pub or bar.
Interest in Prosecco isn’t just happening in the south, it’s happening all over the country, so it’s important to satisfy consumers. There are lots of great Prosecco producers and it would be great to get to the stage where we see people really engage with particular producers. The next stage would be to suggest simple Prosecco and food pairings that would add to the whole experience. It’s also worth considering offering Prosecco in a Magnum size now people are more used to seeing bottles of this size.
What’s the best thing you’ve seen a pub doing with wine?
NP: I think some of the groups like Fullers have done a tremendous job in terms of developing and presenting their wine offering, it’s been really impressive. Fullers, for example, have a very good Prosecco producer. I think the attitude of their teams in bars around the country are great. As someone who does a lot of travelling, I end up having my wine experience in a Fullers pub and I think they’re really good at it. They engage people and make wine seem friendly, accessible and not pompous. That’s a nice experience.
If you'd like to find out more about how to make the most of your wine offering, you can catch the Wine Tipster at the Bar & Pub Show 2017 at 11am on 4 Oct 2017. For more great speakers, live demos, masterclasses, and new products, visit the show from 2 to 4 October at Olympia London, running alongside the Restaurant Show.
Find out more and register at www.thebarandpubshow.co.uk and follow @BarPubShow