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Brits abandon Merlot in favour of Beaujolais

Merlot sales have tanked at bars and restaurants across the UK amid rising demand for lighter styles of red wine, according to a new report.

It is now 20 years since Paul Giamatti’s character delivered a major blow to Merlot producers in the Oscar-winning comedy Sideways.

‘No, if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving,’ screamed an apoplectic Miles. ‘I am not drinking any ****ing Merlot.’

Stats from Sonoma State University showed that Merlot sales in the American market fell by 2% in the aftermath of the movie’s release.

That trend has finally travelled across the Atlantic Ocean, as new data from CGA shows that Brits have now fallen out of love with the grape variety too.

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 caused Brits to spend less time in bars and pubs. This trend has been exacerbated by a shift to more people working from home.

Wine sales at pubs and bars have fallen sharply, but sales in restaurants and hotels have now exceeded pre-pandemic levels, according to CGA.

Supermarkets and specialist wine stores have also been major beneficiaries of the changing consumer landscape. They now enjoy a record share of the UK wine market, as cash-strapped Brits prefer to drink at home.

Total out-of-home red wine sales have fallen by 26% since 2019, compared to a 14% decline for white wine and a 15% increase for rosé.

If we examine the ‘premium’ market, which CGA defines as the top 5% of UK bars, hotels and restaurants, some interesting trends emerge.

Champagne has emerged triumphant since lockdown restrictions were lifted, with sales vastly exceeding pre-pandemic levels at these luxurious establishments. Yet Prosecco has fallen out of favour, with its share of the premium market falling by 15% since 2019.

Platt at Liberty Wines believes this ‘premium’ segment of the market is poised to outperform in the years ahead. ‘It continues to sell higher-quality wine successfully, increasing per bottle spend by delivering an experience that offers genuine value,’ he said. ‘Because consumers remain willing to spend and explore, even in a difficult market, opportunities still exist to grow wine sales.’

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