The cost-of-living crisis, along with rising costs, continue to influence how retailers are searching for new wines.

For many attending the Specialist Importers Trade Tasting (SITT) in London earlier this week, the quest was about finding the best value. And the concept of value continues to mean either wines from less well-known regions of popular wine producing countries, more obscure grape varieties, or wines from countries not yet as popular with UK consumers.

James Halliday from Sussex’s South Downs Cellars emphasised that “value doesn’t have to mean cheap”, adding that he was on the lookout for wines “a bit off the beaten track”. He flagged several highlights at the tasting, including Malux Hungarian Wines and Spirits, with “the dry Tokajs” garnering a mention. He also mentioned Bulgaria, as well as “some little southern French gems” from the likes of Cachet Wine.

For Pip Vanham from online retailer Wickhams, Spain and Portugal beyond “the norm” were the order of the day.

“At the moment our portfolio is very Rioja heavy – and we don’t have much Portugal at all, really, so for me, they are areas of great possibility,” she said. “And Southern Italy – there’s so much scope to bring interest into the portfolio.”  

Dan Farrell-Wright, founder of Wickhams, added that the current mindset of the drinker is also driving these discoveries.

“In terms of the general mood of consumers, we’re looking to find value in places, which maybe means slightly unusual areas, slightly different grape varieties that people wouldn’t immediately think of. And Portugal and Italy in particular are two regions that that’s true of.”  

Erik Laan from Surrey’s The Vineking, said one of his standout wines at SITT was a “really cool Blanquette de Limoux”.

He says “we’re discovering Cremant is getting very expensive, Champagne is getting expensive and hard to find”. He also mentioned the need to drill down to find quality when it comes to sparkling.

In terms of grape varieties, Laan flagged Georgia’s famous Saperavi “but from Australia” – the Russell & Suitor Alejandro Saperavi 2021 from Murray Darling, listed by Milestone Wines, is “juicy, charming and easy,” he added.

Mark Bedford from Hampshire’s Caviste was also on the hunt for something unusual and he mentioned a sparking red from Portugal – the Caves S Joao Poco do Lobo 20218, listed by Marta Vine.

“It’s a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Touriga Nacional and Baga – that’s very good” he said. 

Staying with blends, Bedford highlighted Bulgarian producer Chateau Burgozone, listed by Delibo.

“There are some very good blends there – some using Marselan, there’s also a very good Tamyanka Chardonnay blend – it’s a day of discovery.”  

Pack sizes are also a good way to drive value and discovery, and Bedford was impressed by Moreno Wines’ half bottles of sherry.

“It’s a great idea – we all want to be selling more sherry and I think the half bottle is such a great way to do it.”

Going forward, South Downs Cellars’ Halliday says retailers will “have to look outside the box” as prices across well known European wine regions “have gone through the roof”.

“Luckily we’ve got a good relationship with our customers, so if a wine has a different country on the label, why can’t we still sell it?” he finished.