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Wine Story - Food and Drink

Mine's a.....Pinot Grigio!

Master of Wine John Downes tells how wine in pubs has changed for good

You’ll remember that dusty bottle of German Hock behind the bar and the local heads that turned in amazement if anybody ever asked for a glass. I recall one landlord searching high and low for a wine glass only to offer the customer wine in a half pint beer glass. How times have changed !

Pub wine lists with a dozen wines or more from vineyards around the world are now commonplace. It used to be “red or white”, it’s now “do you want French, Australian, New Zealand, Californian or Spanish ?”. Not only can you buy wine by the glass you have a choice of glass size and once seen as “up market”, Champagne and Sparkling Wine are now an important part of the pub scene, popped at any time of the week not only on special occasions. The same landlord who struggled to find a wine glass now produces an ice bucket before you can say Moet et Chandon.

The food explosion has also boosted pub wine sales as food and wine matching, so long pooh-poohed down at the local, has become part of the pub experience. Consequently, several breweries use wine experts so as well as the ever popular Italian Pinot Grigio, Australian oaked and unoaked Chardonnay and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, lists now push the boundaries by introducing little known but easily approachable wines such as Australian ‘lime-lemon’ Rieslings, Spanish citrus peach Alvarinho’s, meaty Douro reds from northern Portugal and ‘dense black fruit’ Argentinean Malbecs, to the increasingly adventurous wine drinker.

The French may be the king of restaurant wine lists but in the pub they’re battling under the New World challenge as wines from the likes of South Africa, Argentina and Chile give easy drinking, fruity wines that offer both value and consistency. That said, the French are fighting back as they realise the potential of a pub wine revolution that has swung the spotlight back onto their ‘top end’ wines, “we’re seeing a move back to quality French wines such as Chablis and Sancerre”, notes Chris Donaldson M.W., Managing Director of Cockburn & Campbell, who source and create the wine lists for Young’s and Charles Wells’ pubs. My local specialises in the south of France with reds from Cahors, St. Chinian, Corbieres and the southern Rhone leading the good value pack.

The rose boom goes from strength to strength with our thirst for the pink stuff pushing sales up by over 60% between 2003 and 2007. The pub’s played an important role in the continuing rise of rose which is forecast to zoom by another 48% before 2012 – showing that this once ‘summer only wine’ is now enjoyed all the year round, with or without food. Shock-horror, you now even see men drinking it !

Rose is not expensive so with most wine regions producing ‘drink-me-quick’ pink, publicans can now offer popular, pleasing wine at a reasonable price with good profit margins, “customers are also trading up to better quality roses on the back of its incredible success”, adds Donaldson.

In my local last night I noticed that shelves that once held soft drinks are now racked out with Australian Shiraz, Chilean Merlot, Austrian Gruner Veltliner and a variety of red Italian classics. And, I couldn’t help but notice that Prosecco, the trendy Italian bubbly, kept disappearing from the fridge with a handful of flutes at regular intervals. ‘Just another night in a pub near you.

John Downes is one of only 250 Masters of Wine in the world. He is a speaker, television and radio broadcaster, and wine writer.
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