Portuguese wine

With its independent buyer-bent, the UK awareness campaign makes prefect sense. When the mainstream consumer’s knowledge is at baseline, supermarkets can be inhospitable places. “Small independents are the best fit for our wines because they have to be hand-sold,” says Vale.

Danny Cameron, director of UK importer Raymond Reynolds, also speaking at LIWF, agrees. “Get closer to buyers in the independent off-trade, sommeliers and on-trade buyers to mobilise their ability to sell wine that is not on the consumer’s immediate radar,” he says.

In lieu of recognisable grapes and regions, brands become important. One company that has built a few is Sogrape Vinhos, but frustrations still abound. “Portugal does not have [its own] space on the supermarket shelf or on the menus in restaurants – our wine is placed under ‘others’,” says CEO of Sogrape, Francisco Ferreira. In the firm’s stable there is the globally distributed Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde, Gazela – a firm favourite in the US where it is compared to Pino Grigio – and, of course, the famed Mateus Rose, Portugal’s most successful wine brand.

Cameron picks up the point: “[Portuguese wine] must be better at creating commercial brands that have relevance to the consumer in the markets that they’re sold. The language of branding must also be simple. Consumers don’t know most of the words [used on labels]. What competitors have done around the world is make the words familiar to people. Familiarity produces confidence and recognition which produces sales.”

He continues: “It’s also important that people who are hand-selling know the words as well. If they don’t they won’t have the confidence to sell them. We now spend as much time training people on the pronunciation as the delivery of the information itself. The result? The sales go up.”

Blending tradition

The challenge of pronunciation is multiplied by the Portuguese tradition of blending two, three or even four grapes. Nick Oakley of Portuguese specialist Oakley Wine Agency, which operates in the UK, Ireland and Norway, says: “Almost every appellation in Spain is single varietal, in Portugal it’s almost always a blend. I hold 60 wines in the UK, 55 are Portuguese and five are Spanish. Every Spanish is a single varietal but only one Portuguese. Portugal talks about its treasure trove of grape varieties. Indeed, but it makes them hard to sell sometimes.”

A shortcut to consumer recognition is international grapes, something practised with mixed success. In Alentejo, Syrah has taken particularly well. Sogrape’s Ferreira believes indigenous grapes may be the country’s point of difference but consumers might be enticed by some familiar cues. “Blends are the right path – an international variety as part of a blend could hook consumers in.”

Ferreira will have noticed the rise of Tagus Creek over the past five years. Made in Tejo by the JP Ramos Group and now available in 11 markets, it is a hybrid of international and indigenous. Blends such as Chardonnay/Fernao Pires and Shiraz/Trincadeira have introduced consumers to Portuguese grapes and now the brand has tri-varietal styles.