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.