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Premium wines buck weak UK market

Premium wines are flying off the shelves in the UK, despite a lacklustre sales trend for the overall market, new figures show.

Shop sales of wine priced above £10 rose by around one third in volume for the year to the end of April, albeit off a low base, show Nielsen figures released by the Wine & Spirits Trade Association (WSTA). Volumes of wine sold between £9 and £10 rose by 22% on the previous year.

The gains come in spite of a 2% drop in wine sales by volume for the overall off-trade market during the same 12-month period. Duty tax rises, meanwhile, mean that wine and spirits prices have risen by twice the level of inflation over the past year, the WSTA said.

Still, the trade body’s interim chief executive, Gavin Partington, said growing thirst for wines at the premium end of the market is ‘encouraging’. Its figures offer a sliver of good news for independent wine merchants in a market where most consumers buy on discount and supermarkets account for 80% of sales.

Jamie Hutchinson, co-owner of The Sampler wine merchant, told Decanter.com that sales are running slightly ahead of last year, despite some price pressure at the top-end. ‘Overall we’re holding up reasonably well,’ he said.

But, it’s a mixed picture. ‘Bordeaux is not doing very well at all, but Burgundy is flying,’ said Hutchinson. ‘Spain and Germany are also doing well.’

He said that Bordeaux in general could be suffering the knock-on effects of a sluggish en primeur campaign for top chateaux. ‘A lot of consumers have got the impression that Bordeaux is not very good value,’ he said. Burgundy, on the other hand, ‘is deeply fashionable’, he added. The Sampler’s average price per bottle is above £20.

Innovative thinking is helping some traders stay ahead. Vinoteca recently released Crozes Hermitage at £13.50 per bottle, having sourced the wine direct in a ten-litre bag-in-box. ‘The quality was superb and would normally retail in the £15-20 bracket,’ said Vinoteca’s operations manager, Mike Dowding. ‘We’ve sold out,’ he said, adding that both drink-in and off-trade trading is ‘generally good’.

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