Emerging Trend: Britons Swapping Merlot for Beaujolais

By | 21 February 2024

Two decades have passed since Paul Giamatti’s character significantly impacted Merlot producers in the Oscar-recognized comedy Sideways.

‘If someone orders Merlot, I am leaving,’ a furious Miles yelled. ‘I will not be drinking any ****ing Merlot.’

Data from Sonoma State University indicates that after the film’s debut, Merlot sales in the US market experienced a 2% decline.

According to new information from CGA, this trend has, at last, made its way across the Atlantic Ocean, with Britons too now showing a dwindling interest in the grape variety.

Merlot’s share of the premium wine market in UK bars and restaurants has decreased by more than 2% since 2019. No other major grape variety has suffered such a sharp decline in its market share, according to analysts at CGA.

Meanwhile, Beaujolais sales are going through the roof as Brits seek out lighter styles of red wine. Gamay sales are up by 35% since 2019 at high-end bars, hotels and restaurants, according to the report, which was compiled by wine supplier Liberty Wines.

‘This popularity reflects a change in taste, with customers preferring lighter styles of red wine,’ concluded the report. ‘It is also likely that rising Burgundy prices have led consumers to embrace the quality and value that Beaujolais offers.’

Nebbiolo, Corvina and Barbera are the other red wine varieties that have surged in popularity since 2019, according to CGA.

Riesling, Semillon, Viognier and Grüner Veltliner have all seen strong growth too, while Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc have declined.

Discerning wine drinkers are seeking out more esoteric wines when they visit high-quality restaurants and bars, according to CGA. That has caused sales of wines from Italy and Portugal to spike, while France, Australia, South Africa and Spain have all suffered declines.

When we analyse the broader market, total wine sales are down by 19% since 2019 in the UK ‘on-trade’ – a term used to cover out-of-home consumption at bars, pubs, restaurants and hotels.

‘Inflation has reached levels not seen since the 1980s, economic growth and confidence have dissolved, skilled staff remain in very short supply, train strikes are ongoing and wine duty has significantly risen,’ said Liberty Wines CEO Tom Platt.

The cost-of-living crisis has led to a decrease in time spent by Brits in bars and pubs, a trend further amplified by the growing culture of working from home.

There’s been a steep decrease in wine sales at bars and pubs, however, the sales in hotels and restaurants have surpassed the pre-pandemic levels, as confirmed by CGA.

With the shift in consumer landscape, supermarkets and specialty wine stores now hold a record part of the UK wine market with more Brits preferring to drink at home without splurging too much.

Since 2019, there’s been a decrease of 26% in red wine sales outside the home, along with a decrease of 14% for white wine while rosé has seen an increase of 15%.

If one scrutinizes the ‘premium’ market, framed by CGA as the elite 5% of UK bars, hotels, and restaurants, we notice intriguing trends surfacing.

Post the lifting of lockdown constraints, Champagne has seen a resurrection with sales surging beyond the levels recorded before the pandemic in these opulent establishments. However, Prosecco hasn’t been as favourable, enduring a descent of its share in the premium market by 15% since 2019.

Platt from Liberty Wines shares optimism on the ‘premium’ market segment positing superior performance in the forthcoming years. He said, ‘It consistently commands successful sales of high-quality wines, elevating per bottle expenditure through an unmatched experience that provides true value.’ Acknowledging the consumer’s readiness to splurge and explore, even in a daunting market, he asserted that possibilities to amplify wine sales still persist.

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