Port and Madeira Sales -- What Can Be Done for The Next Generation?


Just came across a news report on the Agri-Net Food Service newswire that says that Douro table wines finally overtook Portugese desssert wine sales and now accounts for 51% of all wine exports from Portgual and are up 22% in sales volume.

Further research shows me that there is a very big disconnect amongst younger drinkers when it comes to Port and so there has been a big push for mixologists to use Port in cocktails to lure young consumers back. I particularly find this interesting because there has been a similar effort going on for Canadian icewine in the last couple of years. It hasn’t worked and sales remain flat.

What is particularly ironic and troubling to the industry is the timing disconnect: the 80’s and early 90’s era Vintage Ports are really coming into their own now and I have seen nothing but critical acclaim for the recent vintages from 2007 forward. It is also expected that the 2000 vintage will be great with a few more years of laying down.

I am very concerned about this as a newly minted lover of Vintage Port and Madeira because I’m reading that backholding of stocks is occuring due to fears of overstock of non-selling Vintage Port would drive the prices down – exactly what I want as a consumer. On the other hand, I’d like the great Port houses to stay in business.

So it seems the only hope is for a new generation of younger buyers to get into Port and Madeira. My question is: how? I find it very interesting that my friend who runs her wine club which has a mostly young clientele has never held a Port class. It’s just not on the minds of the younger consumer.

It’s actually painful to walk into the LCBO and see shelves full of unsold Warre’s 1983 and Dow’s 1985 Vintage Port, two of the greatest ones I have ever tasted in my young Berserkdom, while people line up at the cash with Barefoot in their hands.

I cannot support both the icewine and the Port industry singlehandedly. Anyone got any ideas they want to share?

Free retail samples. Seriously.

That said, perhaps a benefit to this phenomenon is that port producers might start using some of their higher-quality grapes for dry wines rather than their fortified wines. The Douro valley is, imo, the most-overlooked wine region in the world — and I’m not talking only about their fortified wines.

EDIT: really, all of Portugal’s wine-producing regions are horribly overlooked.

Port, I think, is lost. Back when that’s all crazy English men could get their hands on, and the global wine market was determined by the same, sure, Port had a place. But today, with such a more diverse wine consumer (including, importantly, women) and the ready availability of real wine (I.e. not fortified), I find it difficult to imagine why anyone would take up Port as an everyday drink.

Which brings me to my second point, which is that although I don’t hate ruby Port, it does strike me as a caricature of red wine rather than a unique product all it’s own. The scale of flavors just seems ramped up, with big, sweet bulging, fruit and a shock of overwrought alcohol. I recognize the core elements, but have always failed to understand why someone would choose this for their red wine.

Tawnies on the other hand, and Madeiras, do have unique characteristics–thanks to extended barrel aging and cooking–that I think could be exploited to gain popularity, although again, I don’t think that anyone, given the option, would choose to drink these old, cooked flavored, fortified wines over fresh “regular” wines. When Port was at its height, it was a daily drink choice though, so that’s the standard for when we talk about resurrecting Port.

That the English, who gave birth to these types of wines and built social traditions around them, scarcely drink these types wines anymore is particularly damning, because if anyone is predisposed towards them, it’s the English.

I would love to see more attention paid to presenting colheitas as the premier Port style. VPs can play the fringe. I do believe that quality colheitas could raise some eyebrows and garner some “I’ve never tasted anything like that comments,” which might be possible to parlay into some new drinkers. I don’t see it becoming a popular style (for reasons stated above), but it seems a lot of wine lovers have never tasted a colheita, so opportunity to claim a niche exists there. Also for quality Madeira the same.

Other handicaps for Port, even among the enthusiast segment, include the market driven motives for calling vintages, and the lack of site specificity across the styles. It would help if vintages were called just based on quality, and the quintas were elevated from second class label–and price-- status. Vineyards and terroir are at the core of the wine geek experience, but top Ports drop the ball on those counts. I think it would behoove Port to tie into conventional wine appreciation modes.

Cost will always be a limiting factor, too; quality examples are pretty expensive for a novelty wine. If Port can gain some credibility as a serious wine, which I think colheitas can, then the price issue is less important, but right now, the best examples of any type of Port are much too expensive to get a real audience. I’ve paid triple digits for colheitas, but very few would, even as a special gift.

I wonder how the emergence of the Asian market will impact these wine sectors. Personally, I find both Port and Madeira geared more towards mature palates so while the impact may not be right around the corner, is there potential for a rise in demand to come within 3-5 years?

We here on Wine Berserkers should have a Fortified Wines Focus Week, if not a mini-series – like the annual Burgundy focus led by Ray Walker. Hell, Madeira and Sherry could both easily take a month each, with all the different styles of each. Really, each of those could easily take 6 weeks apiece. One great thing about both of those styles of wine is that they don’t need to be consumed immediately after opening — they can last weeks, months, and some people say even longer, after being opened without a degradation in quality. This would allow participants to circle-back to the styles from previous weeks to compare side-by-side with the current style-of-the-week.

I have a gut feeling (as does Chaad, apparently) that many wine geeks have never tasted a good Madeira, Moscatel, Sherry, etc. …

Of course, this isn’t going to solve any problems for Port and Madeira, but I think such a Focus Week or Series would make many WB’ers new fans of these styles, provided people are willing to participate and try something they’ve never tried before.

I don’t know, I’ve noticed port prices go up by 50% or more in many cases over the past 6 months. K&L seems to have no problems moving their supply. 1970 Fonseca I bought at $179 jumped to $279 a few months later. Some of the 2000s and 2003s have also doubled since I purchased some less than 6 months ago.

That’s one way to look at it. Another might be to ask whether it’s healthy for Port to be so fundamentally different from other wine that one can readily find 35 and 40 year old vintages available on retail shelves. I mean, what’s going on has something to do with Port’s “law of thirds,” but it serves to underscore the fact that the problems Port faces have just as much to do with Port’s governing regulations as it does with consumer preferences.

Heck yeah I think that’s healthy! It’s all relative. Maybe port is fairly priced and a lot of other wines are overpriced and inflated due to a multitude of other factors like speculation, RP effect, etc.

The point being if port sales are hurting so bad and they can’t find a new generation of buyers, is doubling the price really the best way to attract new buyers and increase sales? Assuming standard laws of supply and demand are in effect here, it seems like they are selling and thus able to justify increasing prices 50% - 100%. Plus, didn’t someone post an article a few months ago about port sales being up?

I’ll have to take your word on the increase in pricing, because to my eye, Port prices do not seem to be up much, if at all, over their prices over the past decade or so, but I really don’t watch those things, so I’ll defer to you on that.

My point was, in any case, that larger quantities of Port wine sales can only have beneficial effects for Port producers, and large back stocks in the distribution chain, if they exist, would slow what they can push out into the market. In fact, the Beneficio has been declining in recent years; I’m not sounding the alarm, but it would seem to correlate with evidence such as the widely available old bottles, and of course, the global economic crisis since '08 or so. Certainly Port producers have done well over many decades, and centuries, even, so they’re a clever bunch that I’d be a fool to count out entirely!

Uh, Make 'me cheaper?? I wouldn’t necessarily lump Madeira into Port. For me the biggest obstacle is the high price of vintage Madeira: even knowing these are expensive to make, how often can you purchase a $100-500 bottle of wine, even if you love them?

If I were a fortified wine producer looking for ways to build demand, I’d start by looking at what has been successful and what has been unsuccessful for other wine types. The first thing I would notice is that the wines that have seen the biggest uptick in esteem and demand are “land over brand” products that associate themselves with the particular place they are grown on both a regional and vineyard level. I would focus on identifying the best vineyards in my portfolio and marketing them as such even if (especially if) it means making a dozen marquee wines instead of one. Serious collectors will want them all the same way Burgundy drinkers don’t just buy a single wine in every producer’s lineup–they will want to compare and contrast the vineyard differences; those less serious about collecting ports might be tempted to acquire a smaller selection because they will begin to speak to some of the things that appeal to them about non-fortified wines. The basic “Warre’s” or “Graham’s” would serve the same purpose as Veuve yellow label, something every bar has to be stocked with but not sold upmarket. Same goes for Madeira, but I’d also play up the historical angle. RWC’s Historic Series seems much more intelligently marketed than a bottle stamped in a white Army font “5-year Sercial.” Lots of people are into wine as an escape from 20th-21st century fast food culture; trying to restore Madeira to the same trappings it had in the 18th century seems smart to me. A special cuvée from a historic vineyard matured the old-fashioned way with a few boat rides around the tropics sounds like the kind of “Beaujolais nouveau est arrivée” publicity stunt that could actually work.

My guess is that modern style red wines, rich, alcoholic, and even slightly sweet, have a lot to do with the languishing Port sales.
It used to be that after fighting a lean claret throughout dinner, trying to extract a brief hint of fruit, one was ready for a lush, heady wine that gave of its charms freely.
Who needs that now?

P Hickner

Port and Madeira definitely have an uphill battle, even from their own government. Several years ago I was organizing a madeira dinner and contacted the Portuguese governmental wine people (can’t remember the official title). All they were interested in was talking about me doing a dinner with their dry table wines. They had no interest in a dinner that showcased Madeira. I’m sure the same holds true with Port.

Tran, I would suggest that you offer to your friend with the wine club that you will host the class on Port. That way you know it gets done the best way possible. The class would be best to accentuate the pairing of the wine with food, which is really what will attract people to the wine. You could do the same thing for icewine and for Madeira.

I also agree with the free tasting comment at retailers. Again, they need to show the wine with food however, because that’s what willl make it stick with new drinkers. It’s not expensive to have small pieces of dark chocolate, cheese, or nuts to sample with the different wines.

I think the food pairing issue can’t be understated. There are plenty of people holding dinner parties still these days. Showing them how to properly pair these sweet wines with food would give them ideas on how to end the dinner parties with a wine that’s as high a quality as the wines they served throughout the meal.

and the ready availability of real wine (I.e. not fortified),

So fortified wines are not real? [snort.gif]
Madeira is the most complex of all wines, and I’m including aged Red Burgundy.
The newish catagory of Colheita Madeira have really helped with sales. It provided a new midlevel between the nonvintage and the true vintage Madeiras which require 20 years minimum of cask age. Ricardo Freitas at Barbieto is a dynamic and innovative producer, and he is energizing the market. Now that the Blandy family control the Madeira Wine Company again, I’m hoping this can further energize things.

Well, I may drink more Port and Champagne than anything else, although I’ve lately been on an extended Champagne kick.

I think awareness is all we need.

I throw a fair amount of parties lately, and have guests from barely legal to in their 80s. Unless there has been absurd excess, which usually means too many wine lovers bring their bottles and we open too many, Port is a big hit.

I tend to invite people with good tastes, NOT necessarily people into wine (although many of my friends are).

Vintage Ports tend to be particularly a big hit with women I’ve noticed. Often they simply haven’t been exposed to them before.
It’s the rare person who doesn’t enjoy a glass of Port at my place.

PS: Call me bastard if you must :slight_smile: but I find dry Douro red to hot on the front end and too hollow on the mid palate. I don’t deny their quality at all, but they are not my favorites.