As I noted in last week’s column, the Association of Port Wine Companies roadshow passed through Seattle recently and Sue and I were fortunate to be invited to attend the Porto and Douro Wines Tasting.
Expect the Unexpected
Events like this are always appealing because they represent a chance to see old friends and taste familiar wines. But the real attraction is the opportunity to find something new. Portuguese wines never disappoint!
In fact, when I think about it, all my recent experiences with wines from Portugal have included surprises, some of which I have written about here. Portuguese white wines, for example, were a surprising discovery during our visit to the Douro and Alentejo regions earlier this year.
Here in the U.S. consumers think Portuguese whites in terms of Vinho Verde and while these wines can be delightful, we found a world of white blends made using indigenous grapes that really took our breath away. Expect the unexpected, that’s Portuguese wine, and that’s how we prepared for the tasting.
Sandeman: Old Wine in New Bottles
The first big surprise was at the Sogrape table, where George Sandeman was pouring 10, 20, 30 and 40-year old Sandeman Tawny Port (as well as other nice Ports and great red and white Douro wines). The wines weren’t the surprise — it was the bottle.
The traditional Port wine bottle is black, but these bottles were clear and let the color of the wine shine come through. The idea, according to an article in Drinks Business, is to change the perception of these wines, especially in on-trade.
Port is often stuck in a rut as a wine that you drink at the end of a meal and at Christmas, but the wines are really much more versatile than that. These clear bottles (with their elegant Vinilok closures) invite consumers and bartenders to also think of Port as a brown spirit that has many uses, including cocktails and aperitifs.
The new design does change the look of Sandeman Tawny Port and the image, too. I wonder if it will have its desired effect or if the potential consumer of a 40-year old wine, for example, might not really prefer the traditional package?
It would be a mistake to dismiss this redesign too quickly. Image isn’t everything, but it is something and if you want people to think about Port differently it doesn’t hurt to change its look.
Remember that the great success of the Sandeman wine brand is due both to the quality of the Port and Sherry wines and also to the effectiveness of its advertising. “The Don” (with the Spanish hat and Portuguese student cape) is one of the most powerful images in wine and maybe in advertising generally. New bottles for old wine? I will be interested to see what happens.
Old Wine in Old Bottles
Another surprise was in store as we looked for new types of Port to taste. White Port was one of our discoveries this year and we spent the summer introducing our friends to White Port spritz (equal parts dry white Port and tonic), which is a great alternative to the ubiquitous Aperol spritz.
I noticed that C.Da Silva was pouring older white Ports and I asked to try a bit, but nearly changed my mind when I saw the deep color of the 1971 vintage wine. It looked like a Tawny Port to me. But these old whites are aged in barrel like Tawnies and take on the dark color.
We tasted through the decades, back to that 1971, and the wines were just fascinating — familiar and different at the same time. Memorable!
We moved on to the Sogevinus table, where we tasted Kopke’s line of White Ports with 10, 20, 30 and 40 years of age. These old wines were packed in the traditional stenciled bottles. Old wine in old bottles. I found them really interesting, although Sue was drawn more to other styles, especially the Vintage and LBV Port wines.
We sat at with the group from the Rozés Port house at dinner and enjoyed their fine Terras do Grifo white and red Douro wines, which we had not had an opportunity to try before.
Portuguese Wines on the Rise
Portugal may be a small country, as we were often told, but it is big in terms of the diversity of its wines. Always something new and exciting to discover. And it is clear that U.S. consumers are discovering them. Port wine sales are on the rise, due in part to more creative marketing efforts that, as Paul Symington notes, are necessary to bring Port out of the “dinosaur age” in terms of the who, what, when, where and how of its consumption.
Portuguese wine sales in general are booming. The most recent Nielsen data (published in the December 2016 Wine Business Monthly) indicate that Portuguese wines sales have increased by 13.8 percent in the most recent year. That growth rate ranks behind only France (15.7%) and New Zealand (15.5%) among imports, although Portugal starts from a much lower base. Outstanding!
Thanks to the Association of Port Wine Companies (AEVP) for inviting us to the Seattle tasting and dinner. Best wishes for continued success!