Portugal: Off the beaten track
Wine-producing countries that fall outside of the top 10 might be out of the limelight but they can be ideal for independent wine merchants seeking value-for-money wines that are unlikely to be found in supermarkets. Portugal, which sits at number 11 in the UK off-trade, is a perfect example.
Portuguese wine, excluding fortified, is worth £34.7 million in the off-trade, down 1.5% compared with a year ago (Nielsen, year to December 3). Its average bottle price tends to be on the low side at £5.01 but this is up slightly from £4.87 a year ago.
It does mean, of course, that pushing up prices is one of the challenges for retailers, but there is also the opportunity to introduce consumers to new wines – which are increasingly being praised for their quality – at reasonable prices.
Nuno Vale, Vini Portugal’s marketing director, says the quality message is already starting to get out.
“As a nation we have always been extremely proud of the quality of the wines coming out of our country, he says.
“Traditionally, we’ve been given less shelf space in the UK, which makes it a little more challenging to capture attention. However, with more of our wines winning awards and gaining more credibility, consumers are starting to sit up and take notice.
“In the longer term we hope to see this growing interest in our wines translate into even more increased retail space.”
Chris Appleby, brand manager for Casa Ferreirinha and other Portuguese wines in the Sogrape portfolio, agrees the quality message is getting out but admits it is a slow process.
“We would say that Portugal has been an undoubted source of quality wine for a long time. Retailers have confidence in Portuguese wines but for the most part this is confined to the independent and on-trade sectors where quality and choice are excellent but lacking in continuity that allows consumer confidence in the quality to build. Most retailers are in search of, and often only list exclusives.”
Appleby says that, while this works well for established and strong-performing wine categories, Portugal would benefit from some larger brands with a good value-to-quality ratio, to help drive more appeal to a wider audience.
WHICH WINES SHOULD RETAILERS KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR?
Portugal is, of course, famous for port and this has helped direct consumers to its fuller-bodied red wines, such as those from the Douro and Alentejo.
Meanwhile, the lighter, softer blends of the Tejo and Lisboa regions also have good consumer appeal and, as Vale from Vini Portugal notes, production and interest in Portugal’s white wines is growing.
“The quality of Portuguese white wines has improved tremendously in the past decade and the wines now show a great deal of versatility and authenticity,” he says.
“The white wines of Vinho Verde are especially popular with today’s consumer and, as a result, we are seeing increased shelf space in UK retailers, particularly for wines made from Alvarinho and Loureiro grapes.
“It is also worth keeping your eyes open for sparkling wines from Bairrada, created using the Baga grape.”
Appleby adds that Vinho Verde has “true diversity”. He says: “It was a refreshing change in 2016 to see an increasing number of retailers stocking a variety of Vinho Verdes and not just the traditional offering of one.”
WHAT ELSE MIGHT RETAILERS PROMOTE FROM PORTUGAL?
Vale notes there is a good mix of tradition and innovation in Portuguese winemaking culture “and there is a wealth of extremely talented young winemakers doing some really interesting things”.
For the year ahead retailers should expect to see greater links between Portuguese wines and tourism, and food, says Appleby.
Adrian Bridge, chief executive of the Fladgate Partnership, also highlights the strength of port, which may help drive more interest in Portuguese wines in general.
“Port is still the major export of quality wines from Portugal, accounting for over 40% of sales,” he says.
“It is well distributed and understood by consumers – it is the fortified wine that has been in growth in the UK for 20 years when other fortified wines have been in decline.”
ONE TO WATCH: WINES OF TEJO
Wines of Tejo has just launched a UK campaign to raise awareness of its wines, with a focus on independent wine merchants and the on-trade.
This central region, a short drive from Lisbon, houses 80 wineries which account for 10% of Portugal’s vineyard area.
Its brand ambassador, Sarah Abbott MW, says there are few small regions of Portugal that have such a good mix of red and white wines. “It also has a mix of climate zones and the price of land is really accessible, so there are younger, experimental winemakers appearing as well as some more established ones.
“Tejo has an opportunity to show some of the more premium wines Portugal can produce. No one has really heard of Tejo so it is the underdog and its identity is still there to be rewritten.”