Monday, November 08, 2010

Portuguese Wine Update

You may well have read the posts below on Portuguese Wine and the issues that they face (as I see it) and also there are a couple of comments - one of which is my response to that comment, but I thought it would be useful to make a further post.

The reason I think it is useful is because it seems that I may have upset one or two importers of Portuguese wines, and I want to make it perfectly clear that it was not my intention to be either deliberately controversial or to rubbish the attempts that are being made. What I was attempting to do was to look at something from the outside, as someone who sells wine to retail customers and who is also responsible for other people hand selling the wines, and then try to look at things holistically.
Nor am I pointing fingers at anyone, as an independent merchant I am just as responsible as anyone else for what we as merchants sell.
But what I am trying to say is that as I see it, because of the weakness of the pound and the strength of the Australian $, and for a few other well documented reasons, the is a great opportunity for Portugal to go and get a bigger slice of the pie. The same could also be said of Austria, the Spanish regions that are not Rioja, Germany, Canada, Switzerland - in fact any of the high quality regions that are not "big" in the UK.
There seems little point in me writing about all the great things that are already happening - if it works and is doing well then terrific. Viniportugal gives our bursaries for tastings and the like - which is brilliant - and I've used them and have sold some Portuguese wine on the back of it. But equally I think that more could be done.

In terms of the UK market if you read Nick Oakley's well made comments below you will see that there is an Association of Portuguese Wine Importers - a body that I didn't even know existed - nor what they did.

It is also likely that some of the things I have said that need to be done, are being done - and that in some cases some of the things that are happening are things that I need to know how to plug into. As an independent, what I want to be able to do is to plug into a (one stop shop) programme that is set up for me that results in me selling more wine. At the moment a lot of the generics are spending a lot of time setting these programmes up I join the programme and get a lot of support from the body and from importers to make a real difference.

Take Wines of Australia, I sign up, I get a tutor visit the business for a day who runs two training sessions for my staff on Australian regionality. It is supported by the agent I buy more Australian wines from than anywhere else, who provides tasting stock for the training and also helps out with tastings stock for the promotion.
I then get promotional help, POS and the like, my staff understand the promotion. The importer and the generic give my staff incentives to sell the wines over a period of time. Because they understand the promotion, know the wines better, have more confidence in them etc etc the promotion works well and has a knockon effect over a period of months.

Against that is the flexibility of a bursary - the issue here is that it is easy to use it as a one hit wonder - ie used for a single tasting which doesn't show any sustained growth.

As an indepdendent I am always pushed for time and resources. I will use both tools happily, but I know that one will be more likely to have lasting effects than the other. I also know that one hangs on something - there is something to use as the focus, the other is too general.

Now I shold point out that I've only been in the wine trade for 3 years - so my knowledge isn't massive - but I should also mention that I have worked inside one of the UK's largest supermarket chains and understand how they work. Everything for them is about brands. So when a generic body gives money to a supermarket, they do so expecting them to promote the wines of that bodies area. What they will probably get is either a bit of money off a branded wine, or perhaps better positioning of the brand in the supermarket. The effect is the same, not a building of brand Portugal, but a further building of a single brand.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Glenfarclas 21 Year Old

I've enjoyed whisky for some time now, and the job I have has meant that instead of buying a bottle a year and trying very few different whiskies I have tasted far more in recent times. But as a relative newcomer to the delights of whisky I am still pretty inexperienced - but I do get to buy whisky for the company - but that tends to be based on commercial decisions more than anything else. I have also sort of taken responsibility for some of the whisky tastings that we hold - and that gives me even more opportunities to taste things. I'm not someone who is ever going to taste 100 malts in a year but the average is now moving up nicely

This evening I hosted a tasting in a village hall where we tasted through an eclectic bunch of whiskies, Glenkinchie 10, Springbank CV, Macallan 12, Glenfarclas 15, Lagavulin 16, Dalmore 12 and Jura 10. I have to say only Jura 10 was something that I'd never take home and drink myself, I loved Macallan 12, Dalmore 12 and the Lagavulin whilst the Springbank and Glenfarclas were very good indeed too. The reception of the malts was mixed, but you'd expect that.

Back home and it's Glenfarclas 21 that I'm drinking before bed, suprisingly similar to the 15 year old but with more vanilla and toffee - I get you could almost say its the same but more.... terrific malt anyway. Toffee and caramel on the nose, buttery vanilla, brazil nuts and baked oranges on the palate. The alcohol feels like it's burning a little at the moment but that could be because it's the end of a long night. Very good.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Fonseca 1985 - Great or Grim?

Last Friday we had a port tasting at work with Taylors / Fonseca and whilst we didn't show anything particularly out of the ordinary we did show those things that our customers are actually likely to buy :-

Chip Dry White
Taylor's LBV
Taylor's 10yo Tawny
Taylors Vargellas 2001
Fonseca Terra Prima
Fonseca 20yo Tawny
Fonseca Guimaraens 1998

and to put something with some real age Fonseca 1985. Now the '85 is an interesting beast - a lot of people on the night really enjoyed it, and a lot of critics and writers have marked it quite highly. Yet I was really rather underwhelmed by it, a colleague completely damned it (although that was definitely too harsh) , and there are those who have also written less than enthusiastically about it. So what is going on with it?

Well I think that firstly it's at an awkward stage, that means that sometimes when you open it it's going to hit the spot and at others it will be closed a little fruitless and clunky - it's all because it is still a pup waiting to become a big dog of a wine.

I also think that in the trade, we taste a lot of young port, either just bottled, cask samples or just port made for drinking young, tasting older port doesn't happen so much and so our opinions on what makes good port are perhaps altered towards something that it a lot bigger and more freshly fruited than perhaps a connoisseur may be. I think also that because we don't taste them that often, we don't have the same benchmarks we have for other things - and this is exagerated by having only two or three declarations in a decade. If we wanted to see how good the 85 is - we'd not only want to taste it against other ports from the same year (many of which are having the same problems) but it would be nice to taste against 84 and 86 - something that just isn't going to happen.

Then there is the issue of the spirit used - pre the early 1990's all port houses bought all their spirit from the IVDP (port's rule makers) but quality wasn't always high and it has been known for ports to fall apart or go weird because the spirit has gone wrong - after all there is quite a high volume of spirit in a bottle.

So what of it - well I'm not ready to write it off yet. We tasted the 94 Fonseca and Taylor on the same evening - the Fonseca was just beginning to think about hitting early stage maturity - the Taylor was closed tannic and a little behind. By contrast I'm led to believe that the '85 Taylor is now beginning to show a little more maturity and come out of it's shell just a little bit. But the '94 Fonseca is a beast to behold - here is a seriously classy act - sure it's been given 100 points, I'm not sure its worth that but then again I don't think anything is worth 100. Full of depth, complexity and richness, smooth velvety with sensational structure - this is perhaps the finest port I have yet tasted - but at £120 a bottle it isn't cheap.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What does Portugal need to do?

So Portugal has a problem - what does it do about it?

Well one thing for sure is that consumers need to be taught that Portuguese wine is not all pink, and that the best stuff is red or white.
I have a theory that there is a particular path that regions or countries take when they come to public prominence.

1. Wine writers and critics start to create a bit of a buzz.
2. Independent merchants pick up on it and build a range.
3. They then get consumers tasting more, and build a reputation built on quality.
4. Specialist chains join the fun, promoting wines, and getting them into the mouths of consumers.
5. Consumers start to buy the wines and the buzz builds.
6. Supermarket buyers pick up on the buzz and increase the range, promote and sell more wine from that region / country / grape and the buzz builds and builds.

It appears that ViniPortugal is most interested in trying to come in at stage 6, when in fact they ought to be trying to start at the top. There is also the "tourist" effect - thousands of British holiday makers go on holiday to Portugal every year - it is a tourist destination. If Vini Portugal wants to grow in the UK, then starting with tourists the Algarve could be a terrific way to start.

What ViniPortugal needs to do is a multi-path approach to take advantage of what has gone on before. Lessons can be learned from Argentinian Malbec for instance - the Portuguese are rightly proud of Touriga Nacional (and others) but they don't realise how little recognition the grape has outside Portugal.

So the plan should perhaps look at something like this.

1. Get journalists and writers buzzing - how many really get Portugal and can you wow them?
2. Market and Advertise generically - Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira, Vinho Verde, Douro and Alentejo would be a good start.
3. Pick some sites in the Algarve and either put in place some wine tourism attractions, or put in place wine bar type things - but get tourists tasting, and recognising what they are tasting. The problem at the moment is that a lot of wine sold in restaurants is jug wine which noone will recognise when they get back.
4. Support the independent sector, provide training for staff, funding for tastings, incentives for listings. Actually pick a specific month / period of time to do a promotion - and give indies a reason to get involved - that way the whole industry gets a push at the same time.
5. Work in specific arenas - Get Vinho Verde the reputation the best wines deserve by serving them at public events - take a note out of Spains Tapas Fantasticas event.
6. Get into restaurants - help wholesalers sell to the on trade.
7. Work with Majestic and Oddbins - get listings and support them to put them into the mouths of consumers. They can influence more people than almost anyone else, so use them. Get them to do a promotion that follows on from the Indies month - if you get the journos talking in week 1, indies working weeks 1-4 and then can follow it up with the multiples in weeks 5-8 then you might be in business.
8. Make the focus on "quality" wines not the £4.49 rubbish that is hawked in the supermarkets.
9. Think about Christmas - merchants across the country sell more wine and are more active with tastings than at any other time - give them money to pay for bottles of wine to be opened at as many events as possible.
10. Only go to the supermarkets with money as a last resort. If people want Portuguese wines the supermarkets will go that way anyhow, if you think the money you give them is doing you any good then you don't understand uk supermarkets who will take money from anyone, lie through their teeth about what it is spent on and will gain you nothing.
11. Remember Jacob's Creek got so big because of independent merchants, Oz Clarke and quality (then) and not because they sidled up to supermarkets. Argentine Malbec came first from Journalists.

All that is very conventional, however there are other routes. The internet is massive - get bloggers on side - host blogger events that are high quality and free to come to, ask bloggers if you can send samples of wines, work with online publications such as Wine-Pages to get editorial written, hit the national newspapers, think of viral advertising - make an intriguing film and post it on You Tube. Get James May and Oz Clarke to do some online live tastings with wines that can be bought in Tesco not Waitrose.

There is so much that can be done, some is happening and some is not, oh and if you are another country looking to get in on the act - then following this advice will work for you too.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Portugal's Wine Problem

Portuguese wine is having a bit of a crisis, in fact it's been having a bit of a crisis for a very long time. For a country that produces ten times the amount of wine as New Zealand, sales of Portuguese wines do not exactly set the world alight. (Now admittedly New Zealand out performs in this context) In fact sales of Portuguese wines represent only 1% of UK wine sales, now that in itself might not be a big problem - no the big problem is that 1/3 of those sales is one wine - Mateus Rose' , and another 1/3 is other Portuguese Rose' - the vast majority of which will be supermarket own label versions of Mateus - probably even bottled in similar bottles. What I don't have numbers for are what percentage of wines sold that are things like cheap supermarket own label Vinho Verde, but I'm guessing somewhere in the 10% region - that leaves very little room for wines of any quality.

Some people will tell you that the situation has got better - thirty years ago Mateus accounted for two of every three bottles of Portuguese wines - but thirty years ago we sold more Portuguese wines, we didn't sell many New World wines, so there was less consumer choice and the supermarkets didn't have the hold they have now, and nor did own label wines represent as big a sector.

So there is the problem, Portugal makes terrific, diverse, different wines, quality is improving, infrastructure and investment is happening all the time - now could be Portugal's time - France is struggling, Australia is in disarray - there is market share available to be won but sadly as it stands I can't see Portugal being the ones to take advantage.

Too few companies control too much of the promotional budget - the Consejor Reguladors are answerable to their producers on how they market their wines, but all too often one large producer dominates and prevents money being spent that could take a region global.
ViniPortugal does it's best, but too much money is thrown at supermarkets - and yet Sainsbury sell own label Vinho Verde, Mateus Rose and own label red. Tesco sell a few more, but the range is not exactly mind blowing. What ViniPortugal need to understand is that it is not the supermarkets who set the agenda for what is going to sell, trends start with independents and specialist chains like Majestic (who stock 9 wines which although I haven't tasted all look interesting at least) and Oddbins (7 wines, cheaper but reasonable looking).

What ViniPortugal need to do is to start making a noise, spend the money getting consumers to taste wines and trying to get people to understand them.

I'll soon write my plan for getting Portugals wines taking off.