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The rise of white port wine
Published:  11 December, 2017

Port wine has held a consistent stance within the drinks industry for years thanks to its associations with cheese pairing, but now experts within the category want to bring change – starting with the exposure of white port.

The majority of port consumed globally is ruby port (red). As well as being cheaper than other ports, it is also the most widely distributed port, making it the most familiar to consumers. But as with every other category globally, younger consumers are the target audience because they are the ones looking for new trends or alternative options.

The white port and tonic – the ‘portonic’ has been traditionally drunk by the Portuguese as an aperitif for years as an alternative to the gin and tonic and now brands, distributors and on and off-trade outlets are pushing it internationally.

Alex Down, brand manager at John E Fells & Sons (pictured) told DI: “The tourism in Lisbon and Porto has been rising over the past five years, largely due to its accessibility from the UK and other parts of Europe. This has exposed port wine more than ever and hopefully will give the category some momentum.

“We’re encouraging our restaurant customers to use jugs of ‘portonic’ for tables in the summer, like you would with Pimms. I think this now gives people an opportunity to drink port in the summer, rather than just in the winter, in front of the fire.”

Earlier this winter, Graham’s Port hosted a pairing menu in London which exposed the possibilities and flexibility of different ports, and the portonic was one of the cocktail options at the start.

According to Down, white port only makes up for around 1% of the market for port but it is making a “huge buzz”. In fact, white port has seen a 70% sales increase in 2017.

“But I feel the biggest problem for white port is distribution,” added Down. “One thing we’ve now done is use Amazon to move more white port, and it’s proving very effective.”

During the celebrations of Port Wine Day 2017, back in September, president of the Institute des Vinhos de Douro do Porto, Manuel de Novaes Cabral hosted a pizza and port pairing session. Although the event received a mixed bag of reviews, the outstanding favourite was the pizza without a tomato base and a white port – proof that it isn’t just a drink for cheese.

 “Of course I’m not saying port goes with everything, but it can enhance a meal in more than one way. The Graham’s dinner had traditional wine with the main course because we understand that it would be a more enjoyable experience that way.

“One thing which is surprising is that consumers generally understand how to look after and serve different styles of wine, but not really port wine. White port, and Tawny for that matter, should be served chilled. It’s similar to normal wines but it is often overlooked.

“It’s exciting to see white port gaining some much-deserved attention, and if gin continues to get saturated in Europe as it currently is, there could be an opportunity to expose white port further.”