Bibendum pushes for wine list makeover

Restaurateurs need to bring the same approach to their wine list as their food menu, according to Bibendum Wine’s director Willie Lebus.

wine listSpeaking to the drinks business during a wine list workshop organised by the UK supplier, Lebus pointed to the proliferation of high quality UK restaurants and food-focused pubs. However, he noted: “their menus are always very dynamic but the wine lists are usually anything but.”

As a result he called on restaurateurs to create a wine list “consistent with their food offering, an extension of the restaurant’s character and far more accessible – so shorter, more dynamic and better presented.”

By offering a concise wine list, Lebus also highlighted the benefit for front of house teams. “Increasingly now restaurants don’t have sommeliers so the people selling these wines have to be confident and the list itself becomes a selling document. If you have just 15 reds and whites then you’re far more likely to be able to train your staff,” he remarked.

In an effort to help both restaurant teams and their customers to take a more adventurous approach to wine – according to Bibendum research, Chardonnay and Merlot remain the UK’s best sellers – Lebus highlighted the company’s recently launched app, Plonk.

“It’s gone bananas,” he reported of the app, which offers informally presented details on over 70 grape varieties in a bid to encourage people to try new styles and even trade up.

Lebus also argued the case for restaurants to include more expensive offerings on their list. “We’re trying to encourage our restaurant partners to look at how much cash they’re making on each bottle, but also to look at by-the-glass and carafe,” he explained.

“There’s room for any restaurant to take slightly smarter bottles and serve them by the glass,” he maintained, adding: “For me a really good Côtes du Rhône at £12.50 a glass is a good buy, especially when you’ve got people who in your restaurant these days who are wanting to drink a bit less.”

Turning to Champagne, which counterbalanced a slight decline in the UK off-trade with 15% sales value growth in the on-trade during the first three months of 2013, Lebus told db: “Champagne sells through but with most restaurants we find that their pouring Champagne is the only one that really sells.”

As a result, he suggested, “there’s an opportunity to think outside the box about what else you can put into the mix.”

In particular, Lebus highlighted an opportunity to fill the current gulf that exists between the two main poles of the UK sparkling wine category. “With Champagne costing what it’s costing and Prosecco being what it is, it’s a good idea to look at what’s in between to plug that gap,” he said.

For Bibendum, those sparkling alternatives range from the increasingly fashionable Tasmania in the form of Josef Chromy to more “retro-chic” options. We feel there is a market for red fizz,” insisted Lebus. “A really young, fresh, chilled Lambrusco.”

Overall, Lebus presented an optimistic outlook for the UK on-trade, despite noting the stark disparity between London and the rest of the UK. “London is an island,” he remarked, citing the UK capital’s position as “the fifth largest GDP in Europe – and it could soon become the fourth.

“It’s very strong and robust, especially in the last six months or more,” he continued. “The recession hasn’t really hit, the West End is rammed with restaurants and is about to go through the largest cycle of new openings in living memory.”

By contrast, Lebus noted: “Outside London it’s more difficult. By and large, life has been much tougher and that’s evidenced by the fact that people are buying less expensive wine. It will be interesting to see whether Christmas sees an upward curve outside London.”

Concluding however, he predicted bright prospects for the UK on-trade. “I smell better things ahead,” said Lebus. “There’s much more of a buzz in the wine trade than there’s been for a long time.”

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