Celebrating the World of Wine on International Wine Day.

Featuring our wine expert, Raj Solanki.



At Vivid, we are fortunate to partner with many industry experts who each play an integral role in allowing us to craft our world-class Christmas Party World experiences.

Raj Solanki DipWSET (Diploma from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust), is the Wine Category Manager at Libra Drinks, one of the UK’s leading independent beverage distributors to bars, restaurants, hotels, pubs and clubs. With 28 years of experience within the drinks industry, Raj is a fountain of knowledge in the world of wine and shared his career journey, gave an insight into industry trends and revealed his favourite tipple to share with friends.


Libra have supplied the drinks trade since 2005 – what makes the business stand out from competitors in the industry?

The interesting and lesser understood part of our history is how certain individuals have moved this £24M business to look and feel different to its competitors, local and national. For a medium-sized business, like Libra, it really is all about people. Wine wasn’t an integral cog when Libra emerged onto the on-trade scene, but it is now the second largest category behind only beer. I am only the second Wine Category Manager the company has seen, and my role was to evolve what my predecessor did and mold it into what the business required to move forward and unashamedly as an extension of my view of wine.


Can you tell us about your background and experience in the industry?

I have been in the drinks industry for 28 years; have a diploma in wines and spirits, I am a qualified wine educator with the WSET (the gold standard for world wine education) and I have done more tastings than is entirely necessary. 

Having graduated from Surrey University as a Material Scientist, I quickly switched from looking down electron microscopes, when I found that my talents were better served looking down into the swirling depths of a glass of wine.

From that point of revelation to now, I have worked for several bigger players in the wine industry in the UK on-trade world.

I am now living my best life as a Wine Buyer and Wine Category Manager for Libra Drinks; a business in the beautiful position of being big enough to be entirely relevant, and small enough to be agile without the bureaucracy, politics and levels of big corporate entity. Brilliant!


What do you most enjoy about being a part of the wine industry?

There can be a lot of smoke and mirrors around the subject of wine. I get the biggest buzz from pushing the envelope on someone’s wine business, and from a supplier that means looking at fundamentals. I can get super-focused when it comes to building a wine list, and that means understanding the customer and venue. If you build a list with the end consumer in the foreground and manage their risk, you can sit a little easier knowing that they have every chance in choosing a wine that fits their taste palate.

It’s a win-win from a commercial and customer enjoyment standpoint – and for me that’s how you enjoy the world of wine.


What do you see as the current trends in wine?

So, the on-trade in some ways hasn’t moved on in the ‘key varietal’ slots for the last ten years. I am pointing at the mad-triangle of Pinot-Savvy-Chard for white wines, although no one is ‘bar-calling’ Chardonnay these days. It’s been hard for other white grapes to break this dominant trio, but Picpoul from southern France has been nipping at their heels for a while now. I’m still banging the Riesling drum, and some are actually listening, especially when there is a sprinkle of sugar left in there.

And for reds, Merlot leads the way. Chianti has fallen away, but the general public have really hooked into more interesting lesser-known Italian wines such as Primitivo. The same grape in California, known as Zinfandel, has been pulling up trees in the rosé category, but its deep red form is now gaining traction again. Malbec’s star has been rising, but watch out for Cabernet Franc from Argentina which is just amazing. What I am finding that the public palate is edging towards reds with more retained residual sugar; that maybe richer, riper reds; wines with stopped fermentation (hence keeping sugar from turning to alcohol) or wines using more dried grapes in their wine making.


How do you select wines for your clients?

A retailer, more often than not, will ask ‘how much cheaper can you make that?’.  Rarely do I get asked ‘is that good value?’ or ‘what is the best way to utilise that wine because it’s great?’.  If they did, suppliers may all have to work harder to create more progressive and innovative wine lists. Underpinning all of that is having a handle on the marketplace and finding the right wine, with the right label, at the right price – the holy trinity!

Sourcing the cheapest / entry wines for any wholesale wine portfolio should be the hardest part of the job. Sourcing the more expensive wine is the rock ‘n’ roll shift, where you can flex and flair.

When building a wine list for a club, pub, bar, hotel, restaurant etc., always start with the idea that you are building a house. Ensure your structure is fit for purpose and only then furnish it with your choice of wine. This is how I source wine, with the end consumer in mind always. If my customer cannot sell it with the wine menu that I have created to do its job, then that wine is a vanity purchase.

All wine suppliers to the on-trade have good wine, as a kitchen should have good ingredients. It’s how you then chef those wines that makes the difference between an average and a Michelin star wine consultant.


And finally, what is your favourite wine to share with friends?

Honestly, a well-constructed sweeter Riesling or an aromatic wine such as Torrentes always hits a mark because it’s a path lesser travelled and always provokes a reaction, more often than not positive.

As far as reds, Primitivos and red Zinfandels are very now and great to share with very different palates.


     Raj Solanki (DipWSET)


Our carefully selected wines at our Christmas Party World events are a perfect addition to your night to enjoy with friends and colleagues. Wine by the bottle is available to pre-order, ensuring that it is on your table ready for you when you are seated for dinner. Once you have booked your tickets, we’ll let you know when our 2024 wine list is available.


Click here for a sample wine list and for details of our drinks packages.