French wine making "big comeback" in UK

12 June, 2014

French wine has been tipped to make a big comeback this year as Britons emerge from the recession with more money to spend on luxury items.

The country suffered years of dwindling sales during the economic downturn but has now arrested the decline.

Sales were up 2% in value to £781 million in the past year (Nielsen, year to February 1) leaving France poised to overtake Italy as the UK’s second-largest wine supplier.

Italy overtook France in 2011 on the back of the explosion in Pinot Grigio’s popularity, but value sales were down 4% to £808 million in the past year, leaving France ready to leapfrog it.

New World countries including Australia, South Africa and Argentina are also enjoying strong growth, but suppliers believe France can now keep pace with them.

Andrew Steele, director of fine wine importer Connoisseur Wines, told OLN: “France is making a big comeback in the UK.

“People started drinking New World wine and it became fashionable and exchange rates helped with the price. But Old World is coming back. The wineries are back making interesting, modern wines that people want to drink.”

His comments come after Philippe Koch, of leading Bordeaux producer Mouton Cadet, announced plans to become the UK market leader for Bordeaux by “making Bordeaux sexy” with wines such as Sauvignon Blanc to appeal to younger consumers.

Matt Douglas, managing director of distributor Stevens Garnier, told OLN: “People think the Bordelais are arrogant but they are meeting the market with what the consumer is looking for with things such as Sauvignon Blanc in a screwcap.”

Frederique de Lamothe, the director of the Alliance des Cru Bourgeois in Bordeaux, added: “Young people maybe lost the historical attraction to Bordeaux and French wines but they are now turning to the wine their parents drank as they look for reassurance, quality they can rely on.”

Steele at Connoisseur said: “All the French producers used to say was ‘it’s terroir, I’m making it how my grandfather used to make it’, but now they have realised they have to be more relevant to the marketplace and the quality is improving.

“The French are happy now to use their money to reinvest in quality.”

To capitalise on this Steele has expanded his range from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and added two new single-estate producers from Burgundy and a top-end St Emilion grand cru château.

Going Flat

Andrew Steele at Connoisseur Wines claims cava rather than Champagne will end up the biggest loser of the Prosecco revolution.

The Italian fizz is taking over the sparkling market, but Steele told oln: “Champagne will always have its position here.

“The biggest loser in sparkling is cava. They have problems out there. They have never protected the image of cava.

“A producer I was speaking to was saying Catalonians don’t want to export cava – they want to become independent and keep it themselves. Other people are now making cava elsewhere in Spain and you get a more confused market.”

Steele said Champagne sales have surged the past three times Britain has emerged from a recession and will do so again.

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