Many wine critics take their tasting palettes to traditional wine shows or are sent samples by producers for tasting. Tasting notes are produced and published. However, few critics move out of the wine shows to take a look at how the public encounter their wine choices. Key to this is the restaurant wine list.
The choice of what wine is on – or not on – a restaurant wine list can greatly influence the profitably and success of a business. Few critics look at this aspect of the on-trade. Tom Harrow, who blogs under the name The Wine Chap, produces criticism of wine lists at restaurants in the UK, America and Hong Kong. ukvine.com caught up with him to find out if he ever comes across English wine on wine lists and what his opinions are when he finds them.
Q. Just how much English wine do you come across on the nation’s wine lists?
A. Not much, although it’s increasingly common for the generalists – ie non cuisine-specific modern European brassieres to list at least one of the top English sparkling wines.
It’s a pleasant surprise to see them poking out of a list.
Q. What does a lack, or abundance, of English wine on wine lists tell you about the state of the UK industry?
A. The UK market, because of its unrivalled diversity, is a great sounding board for trends being pushed by sommeliers and wine writers and the subsequent consumer uptake of them. Right now, English wine is where it deserves to be – no better, no worse.
Q. In your experience, what type of establishment tends to offer English on the wine list?
A. See above; otherwise, those pushing the British menu/regionally sourced ingredients etc – like Roast in Borough Market – have a smattering of English wines across the list.
Q. If I was an English grower wanting my wine listed, what would your advice be: what might be a retail best price, what might this might mean for the wholesale price, which type of establishment should I aim for?
A. You have to push for value – you are competing with better established wines from all over the world. Emphasise regionality – foodies are obsessed with sustainable agriculture and supporting locally sourced produce. Use these trends for your advantage. Target the sort of places who aim to attract the nouvelle-Cranks generation.
Q. Are you finding the ‘usual suspects’ Nyetimber, Chapel Down, Denbies on lists or do lists you come across more closely reflect local producers – restaurants in Kent listing Kent wines, Cornish restaurants listing Cornish wine, etc?
A. Nearby restaurants often support the local wines, just as one would hope they would the ale, cider, and produce for the table.
Q. Overall, is English a common resident on wine lists in England?
A. More so than anywhere else!
Q. Any further thoughts you might have on this subject?
A. I think its a shame the Royal Wedding won’t be featuring one of the leading brand English sparklers – they are worthy alternatives to the Champagne chosen and it would give the industry a terrific boost.
Tom Harrow is director, WineChap, as well as the wine columnist for POMP and Urban Junkies as well as writing for online and print publications on wine and restaurants including a luxury blog for the FT’s How To Spend It.