Creating a drinks list based on our personal favourites rather than what our customers might want to buy and drink is the number one faux pas a drinks buyer can make. No matter how run of the mill or mundane we think certain wine or spirit styles might be, that’s no excuse for not giving your customers the chance to buy them.
Why we need to give space to the big sellers and mainstream wines and spirits and not pack our lists just with the untried and untested.
There are times when the drinks industry, particularly the wine trade and wine writing community and chattering classes, as it were, of the wine world, remind me of the kids at school who were always looking to jump on the latest fashion, or trendiest bands to like.
You know the types. The ones who loved Dido or Coldplay or Snow Patrol, U2 even, when they were first starting out and hip to like. But now they are filling out Wembley Stadium they won’t touch with them the proverbial barge pole.
Its the old Melody Maker curse. Once a band appeared on the front cover of that, then they were no longer cool enough to have their logo emblazoned on your school satchel. No matter how many copies of their records you had got hidden away under your bed.
Now we are hardly as bad as etching the names of our favourite grape varieties or types of spirit on to our tasting books, but there are certainly phases of time when a certain style of wine or spirit are very much flavour of the month.
Of course what we in the trade think is cool and trendy is usually a million miles away from our customers lining up to ask for a glass of Prosecco, Pinot Grigio or Bacardi that we knowingly scoff at.
Prosseco? That’s the equivalent of picking up the latest Take That album. Can I not interest you in this cold fermented Riesling from Alsace? It’s so Lou Reed.
Don’t make it personal
Which is why we have to be careful working on this side of the wine trade that we don’t get too obsessed and tied up with what we think are the wine or spirit styles or countries that our customers should be drinking. Rather than concentrating all our time on asking them and working out which styles of wine or spirit they actually want to drink.
If the wine category behaved more like a typical grocery FMCG category then we would be seeing a host of wannabe, look-a-like brands trying to ape the success for a Prosecco or Pinot Grigio. It is very much how the spirits world works. Just look at the number of vodka and gin brands that are continually being launched on to the market when back bars are already over stocked and full of gins that aren’t selling.
Even the craft beer sector is in danger of falling over itself with brand after brand claiming to have slightly more hops, or botanicals or authenticity than the others on the market.
But back on planet wine it is hard for the sector’s biggest players to get the trade fully behind them, never mind worry about introducing and having to deal with a whole load of pretenders to the crown.
International grape league
That said we have seen, over the last 10 years, the emergence of a Premier League of grape varieties that are now ubiquitous all around the world. Pinot Grigio, for example, is no longer just an Italian grape. It is as becoming famous for being grown in Chile, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa. The same goes for other big international varieties such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Shiraz.
It is these mega grape varieties that have helped so much to bring wine to the masses. No longer do drinkers have to worry about knowing what sort of wine comes from different countries. They can find a grape variety they like and then take a tour of discovery around the world with it, picking and choosing different glasses of the same variety from different countries.
But whilst, on paper, that is a situation the wine trade should welcome with open arms, in reality it secretly wishes the average wine drinker was far more discerning than that.
Which is why producers, importers and distributors are continuously looking to latch on to the next big thing. To bring in those unusual, unpronounceable grape varieties that we all love, but our customers rarely ever buy as they simply have no idea what it is.
The next big thing
We are all still looking to find the new style of music, the next killer indie band we can get our customers – the ones in the know – to buy and share and show off to their friends. Whether they want to or not.
Take Argentina and Malbec. For years Argentina has been trying to make inroads in to the mass UK wine market with its hero wine grape variety, Malbec. But now that it has become synonymous with Argentina with every cheap steak and burger restaurant in the country having at least one Malbec on the list, there are attempts being made to switch attention away from Malbec and on to other lesser established varieties. Like Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon.
Or New Zealand and Sauvignon Blanc. Just as the two have become as famous a duo as Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, all the talk is now how can New Zealand break away from its Sauvignon Blanc ghetto and introduce new ideas and varieties to the UK.
We might be (just a little) bored of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but the average wine drinker is only just discovering it.
Horses for courses
So let’s step back a moment and consider the evidence. Pick up a wine or spirits list, be it yours or someone else’s, and go through each product one by one and think why it has been chosen for that slot. How many grape varieties or styles of spirit do you not recognise? How well do each of those drinks do?
If that drinks list is not full of the Take Thats, One Directions, Tinie Temphas, or Kanye Wests of the drinks world then that is a drinks list that is not doing its job.
We might have our alternative playlist hidden away on the back bar full of our jingle jangle, indie guitar bands still without a record deal, but how many of them could really expect or deserve to go on to the main list with all the gold disc selling big bands of the world?
There’s a time to play those undiscovered bands, but providing you are also able to serve up the tried and trusted behind the bar.
- This is an amended version of an article that first appeared on Crown Cellars trade website, the wine and spirits arm or Carlsberg UK.