Malbec and? beyond

April 17 is Malbec World Day. Ambitious retailers might use it as an excuse to shift some extra bottles of Cahors, but for almost everyone these days, Malbec means Argentina.

Wines of Argentina, which is running the celebration across several international markets, wants the day to trigger a week of awareness-raising activity across the UK retail sector. For big players such as Majestic and Direct Wines, promotions will last a month. Independents are being encouraged to spread the fun over a week, and there are promotional funds available to help them achieve this.

“It’s the first-ever real consumer push we’ve done,” says Andrew Maidment, UK director of the generic body. “It’s actually going to be the first Wines of Argentina retail-based promotion as well, which is quite a massive shift in strategy for us.

“There are four key aims. One is to raise the profile of Malbec as a go-to red variety – we’d like to make it an instant choice for people. In the trade people often talk about moving beyond Malbec, but it’s just not ubiquitous yet. You can’t find it everywhere.”?Indeed only 35% of Argentinian wine imports into the UK are Malbec, Maidment reports, compared with 68% in the US. “That’s unsustainable because only about 25% of plantings are Malbec,” he says. “Somewhere in the middle is about right.

“The second objective is to brand Argentinian Malbec as a mark of quality. It’s very important we get that stamp of quality – almost like a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. It might be a couple of pounds more, but you’re going to get something good every time. The third is to see an increase in sales of Argentinian wine in different channels, and that’s where independents will come in. Finally, we wish to build awareness of Argentina as a top-flight wine country.”?Maidment wants activity to be engaging and educational, not price-driven. Argen­tina’s average off-trade bottle price is about £4.60, a 10% increase on the previous year, and the organisation says it makes no sense to lose that momentum.

Argentinian steakhouse Gaucho is planning to offer its diners three Argentinian wines to sample, from Salta, Patagonia and Mendoza, and this is the kind of activity that appeals most to Maidment.

Suppliers are on the look-out for independents which might benefit from Wines of Argentina’s support in April. Maidment says POS and even wine will be available for the strongest candidates. There may also be an opportunity to book visits from winemakers who will be in the UK at that time.

Argentinian producers are sometimes perplexed by the UK, as the rewards are greater in the US market, which is also closer.

“The UK market has always been a tough one for Argentine producers,” says José Manuel Ortega, owner of O Fournier. “It is terribly sophisticated and the amount of top wine journalists is impressive. But the constant drive to lower prices makes it of lesser interest than other markets like the US, Canada, Brazil, Switzerland. On the mid to high-end range of wines, where the market is less pressured by price motives, the UK market could be much more interesting.”?Laurie Webster, chief executive of Las Bodegas adds: “I’m 100% confident that if Las Bodegas suppliers didn’t think it was worth the bother they’d tell me and they just wouldn’t bother. On the contrary – we will see winemakers Susana Balbo, Patricio Gouguenheim and Mauricio Lorca among others coming to the UK again this year. This demonstrates ongoing commitment and, let’s face it, the UK isn’t the only difficult market.

“In any case, the sage winemakers know that the North American bubble will probably burst at some point and so they need to spread their efforts and not get caught in the headlights. Several of our suppliers tell me they make a special effort with the UK, particularly on pricing,” says Webster.