Putting Portuguese wine on the map - comment

What started with Beaujolais Nouveau has developed into a marketing must-have for almost every grape, country and region: your own day, week or month. 

With the rise of social media as a marketing tool, having a national, international or “world variety” day has become a quick and low-maintenance hashtag on which to hang an Instagram post or write a blog around. 

At worst, these can seem about as useful as World Brush Your Teeth Day, but at best, they highlight corners of the wine world that fly under the radar and need extra promotion, often promoting esoteric grapes like Xinomavro or Carignan that are underrated or even dismissed for quality wine. 

More impressive still are the campaigns that devote a week or month to a variety or region in a more strategic collaboration with the trade. By providing a focal point for promotion, these campaigns can help engage both trade and consumers and create a sustained focus.

One of the newest of these promotions is Wines of Portugal’s June Is For Indies campaign. It returns this year after considerable success in 2021. With the indies that took part seeing impressive triple-digit percentage boosts to sales, the campaign built on a growing enthusiasm among independent merchants for Portuguese wines. 

In The Wine Merchant 2022 survey of independent retailers, Portugal may only have come in ninth on the sales list – behind much of France and Italy and most of the southern hemisphere’s major wine regions – but it ranked an impressive first on the list of regions that independent merchants were most interested in. 

This is good news all round, because Portugal is well-suited to the independent trade. The same qualities that might hold it back in supermarkets give it strength among indies: a diverse range of native grape varieties; constantly evolving winemaking styles; and a series of unique climates and soils that give distinct personalities to the wines. 

Ten years ago, much of the focus was on port sales at Christmas and port’s counterparts, the dry wines of the Douro, especially those made with Touriga Nacional. Initiatives such as the Douro Boys bore fruit for the portmakers of the Douro and brought Portugal’s quality dry wines to an international audience. 

Since then, other regions have got in on the act. Vinho Verde has been a notable success story in independents and beyond, which is as it should be. 

These charming wines are ideally placed to capitalise on the trend for unoaked, aromatic, lower-alcohol wines that are easy-drinking and refreshing. Between them, the Douro and Vinho Verde have formed a solid basis for talking about the wines of Portugal more generally. 

Now the focus is increasingly on Dão and Bairrada, where experimentation is underway. The richer wines of Alentejo are also arriving on the radars of savvy wine drinkers as great alternatives to the Mediterranean wines of France, and quirky, phylloxera-free Colares has everything it needs to be a cult hit. 

As the UK is Portugal’s third-biggest export market, and increasingly important for premium wine, we will continue to see a growth in interest for its wines. 

As independent retailers encourage their customers to move beyond their comfort zones, partnerships such as June Is For Indies are an intelligent use of resources. 

Although it can sometimes feel that indies are neglected, since they offer neither the volume potential of the supermarkets nor the glamour of restaurants, Wines of Portugal has discovered that sometimes they are the perfect fit. Let’s hope others follow suit.

 

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