Portuguese scene is a real corker

Sales are rising, its wines are turning heads at UK tastings and its rosés are growing in stature. Now's the time to catch on says Charles Metcalfe

Portugal managed to sell £35 million of unfortified wine to the UK in the year to the end of December 2007, according to figures from Nielsen. That's just over three-quarters of 1% of the UK wine market.

The greatest improvement

in 2007

has been in the on-trade rather than the off-trade, with volumes up about 200% and value by nearly 100%.

Unfortified Portuguese wine grew 6% over the year, almost exactly in line with the UK market as a whole.

When fortified wine figures are added into this, the picture improves, up by

13% in volume and 16% in value, according to the Instituto da Vinha

& do Vinho

website. But that includes port, which has a long-established foothold in our market.

For ViniPortugal (the body that promotes Portuguese wine), these may be slightly disappointing figures. In 2004, the UK was pinpointed as one of the three countries in which the Portuguese wine industry was most likely succeed with exports (the others

were the US

and Germany). It was a conclusion reached in a report by the Monitor Group, a company founded by Michael Porter, a professor at Harvard Business School who specialises in economics and management.

The report, commissioned in 2003 by ViniPortugal, set a goal for Portugal to achieve a total of £55 million in exports of premium unfortified wines to the UK by 2010, and made various recommendations as to how this should be achieved.

Its suggestions were: promotions with retailers; trips for journalists and buyers ; a road show for the wine trade and public; the creation of a Fine Wines Board to select the best wines for particular markets; and promotions such as neck collars offering food matching tips .

Most of these recommendations have been put into place, but Portuguese efforts have probably not been helped

by the

AICEP 's decision to focus on attracting inward investment into

the country.

There is no longer a full-time AICEP member of staff in the UK working for the interests of Portuguese wine. The UK campaign is run by ViniPortugal from Portugal, with part-time help on events from Judy Kendrick Marketing in Cheshire.

ViniPortugal tastes success

Even though

the nation's unfortified wine sales figures may not be breaking any records, the UK promotional campaign is progressing steadily. More and more retailers have taken up ViniPortugal's offer of bursaries to restaurants, hotels and independent merchants to organise tastings, tutored seminars, dinners and promotions of

its wines. If the scheme or event is approved, ViniPortugal offers up to 75% of the costs.

Tanner's of Shrewsbury held a tasting at

its head office in Shrewsbury in July 2008. Sales director Robert Boutflower

was delighted with its success : "We were able to introduce nine Portuguese wines from our list to about 30 good customers. It taught us we probably need a few more whites, as the tasting was on one of the few hot days this summer, but it showed the customers what variety Portuguese wine has to offer."

The Wine Society was another company to offer a Portuguese promotion to

its customers. Joanna Locke MW, Portuguese wine buyer for the Wine Society,

says: "ViniPortugal gave us support for our first

ever Portuguese wines only mailing in June of this year. We found that people were prepared to try them, particularly from the top end. We sold out of the six-bottle cases of mixed Douro reds. And they were pretty expensive . As a result, we've taken on another couple of rosés, a couple of fancy whites and additional reds from all over Portugal."

As well as these individual company promotions, ViniPortugal hosts a series of what

it calls City Tastings round the country. Eight of these were scheduled for 2008 - tutored tastings of eight wines, followed by another six wines with lunch.

If it's a while since you've tasted a selection of Portuguese wines, you'll probably find the quality is way higher than you expected. Locke

says: "I'm impressed . They have individuality, even the less expensive whites. The lower end is often amazing value, and the middle ground has a lot to offer."

She also


the efforts made by the six-company group from Douro,

the Douro Boys. "They've done a great PR job. In a competitive market like ours you have to start establishing a quality image somewhere, and they've done that magnificently."

Christian Seely,

managing director of AXA Millésimes (the wine estate-owning subsidiary of the insurance giant, wh ich owns the historic port estate Quinta do Noval), is happy to acknowledge the

influence of the

Douro Boys' campaign, but feels there is more to the success of Douro wines


"There's a historic knowledge and appreciation of port as great wine, and

the Douro as a great terroir. The new Douro reds have been well received in the UK," he says.

"The second reason is that the wines are incomparably better than they used to be, from the Douro and from other parts of Portugal."

Quality has soared for various reasons. There has been EU money coming

into Portugal since the country joined

in 1986,

helping to build new



vineyards and construct


In addition, there is a young, well-travelled generation of winemakers with

qualifications gained in Portugal, and valuable international experience picked up in France, Australia, California, South Africa and elsewhere.

Mateus Rosé's back in vogue

Even Mateus Rosé, the first brand to spring to the minds of

many British wine

drinkers, has been smartened up. Anthony Habert,

the UK brand manager for Mateus Rosé, says: "We've benefited from the massive increase in rosé sales here. As much as 12% of UK off-trade sales are now rosé, and Mateus is the UK's fourth-largest rosé brand [after Blossom Hill, E&J Gallo and Echo Falls]."

The latest Mateus release, after a couple of forays into foreign territory with the Spanish Mateus Tempranillo and the French Mateus Syrah, is

its Mateus Rosé Sparkling Brut. It's tank-fermented, bottled in a proper sparkling wine bottle, and drier than the Mateus Rosé original.

As a result of a £1 million advertising investment each year, and the work on innovation and keeping the range updated, UK off-trade sales of Mateus

have grown nearly 17%

in the past year, about four times the pace of the total UK market. And, although UK Mateus drinker numbers


up to 2004, now they're growing again.

Part of Portugal's problem in the past has been in coming up with brands that could echo the success of Mateus Rosé. Now, when you look down Nielsen's list of Portuguese brands, two of the most recently created are among the most successful : Tagus Creek and Red Leg, both from the partnership of João Portugal Ramos and Nick Oakley's Oakley Wine Agencies.

Oakley had grown frustrated with his lack of success finding supermarket buyers for the JP Ramos wines. He says: "I decided we needed familiar grapes on the label and a good, pronounceable brand. The sad thing was that I couldn't promote on the image of the country, the regions, the grapes or the existing brands, as these all scored zeros on consumer recognition."

Oakley and João Ramos chose

Tagus Creek

as the brand, and opted for blends of native Portuguese grapes with

more familiar

names, such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. Now Tagus Creek wines have listings at Majestic, Booths, Tesco and Waitrose. UK sales are running at 100,000 cases a year, and Tagus Creek is the second most important Portuguese wine brand in the UK.

Spice route to market

The next success could be Pink Elephant, a rosé from 10 International, created in 2007, and made by José Neiva's DFJ Vinhos. Bill Rolfe,

managing director of 10 International, explains

its creation: "We thought about what Portuguese brands were successful, and realised Mateus Rosé was the only one. And the rosé category was growing 30%. We looked at all sorts of books, and realised that rosés were often recommended for spicy foods. And the UK's favourite dish was




"So we did a survey, and found that 83% of the people we asked would try rosé with spicy food. After a food and wine tasting at Masala Zone with journalists and buyers, we gave José Neiva and David Baverstock, our wine consultant, a brief on what we wanted." They sold over 40,000 cases in the first year to March 2008, and are hoping to double that

this year. About 75% of sales are in the UK and

they now export to 14


While brands such as Mateus Rosé, Tagus Creek and

perhaps Pink Elephant will have the most influence on total sales figures, the fantastic array of wines from Portugal

available in the UK mostly come from

independent producers. These are the ones to snuffle out if you want to improve your offer . The names

on the labels may be unfamiliar and tricky to pronounce, but the quality of most of them will be well worth it .

ViniPortugal tastings

ViniPortugal's series of City Tastings are open to local retailers, sommeliers, journalists and corporate buyers, in the Lake District, Cardiff, Liverpool, Glasgow, Bournemouth, Cambridge and London ( one is also being planned for Dublin ).

The 2009 locations have yet to be decided, but you might find there's

one that suits your needs, so it could be worthwhile seeking an


For information on next year's programme of

tastings, contact Judy Kendrick: judy@jkmarketing.co.uk.