Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.

Brits hoover up Portuguese wine as loss of tourism shows the “Portuguese don’t drink Port”

Published:  29 September, 2021

As the biggest consumers of wine per capita globally, it might be expected that domestic sales of Portuguese wines would have fared well over the course of the pandemic, where drinkers globally were largely turned onto local vinous offerings.

In Portugal however, domestic consumption only forms half the picture.

While the Portuguese undoubtedly consume more than their fair share of wine, (on average, 55 litres annually for each of the country’s 10 million people), a large proportion of those sales come from tourists from countries like the UK. With the pandemic grounding planes everywhere, this has shifted the balance of sales abroad.

“We ended the year with a roughly 25% decrease in domestic wine consumption,” Frederico Falcão, president of Wines of Portugal, explained to Harpers.

“Regarding our exports, we were one of only two countries globally that managed to grow in both volume and value: Portugal and New Zealand. There was a decrease in world wine trade, but Portugal managed to grow in value for our exports. Consumption was lower in Portugal, but we managed to export more.”

Falcão expanded on the shifting balance of drinking patterns at last week’s SITT tasting.

He said that Portugal exported a total of €846m in 2020, a 3% uplift on 2019 when sales reached €818m.

A significant proportion of this shift came from Portugal’s number three export market in value, the UK, where sales rose 16% in 2020.

Falcão puts this down to greater risk-taking among Brits, who displayed a willingness to convert on-trade spend to more adventurous off-trade purchases.

“Because of the lockdown of restaurants, people started to drink more wine at home, and they were buying wines with a bit more value. Usually, in restaurants, consumers don’t take many risks because the wines are expensive. But if they’re buying in an independent store or supermarket and they are willing to risk more, they find Portuguese wines are very good value for money,” he said.

When it comes to Port, Portugal has an interesting relationship with France, the US and the UK, its top three export markets by value.

For the past six years in the UK, sales of Port in these markets have been stable with a very slight increase of 0.1% in value. The share of Port however, is decreasing.

“Six years ago it was 68%, whereas in 2020, Port represented 52%. Table wines are increasing a lot,” said Falcão.

France remains Portugal’s number one export market, predominantly due to large amount of Port usually consumed in the country. Last year saw a significant dip because of the loss of the on-trade.

“Portuguese wines saw a huge increase in almost all countries except for France last year (because of Port) and also Angola. There is a problem with the economy in Angola these days. But France remains the biggest export market for Port in volume. The loss of the on-trade meant sales in 2020 dipped a lot.”

He added that France over-indexes at the entry level for Port. It’s an everyday drinking wine, whereas premium trends have greater weight in the US and UK.

“The Portuguese also don’t drink a lot of Port,” he said – a fact which was laid bare last year as consumption dipped significantly in the country.

Many of the trends which have become popular in the UK in recent years – for example Port & Tonic – originated in the bars and restaurants of Porto. While this was a domestically driven trend, Falcão said, it is not a traditional drink, and was created largely with tourists to the city in mind.

It’s far more popular on the export market, where trends such as rosé Port are driving buy-in and excitement.

“My guess is that the premium categories of Port will go on for a long time. The future will be mixology like Port & Tonic, because the younger generation doesn’t like to drink those styles of wines, not just Port, but other fortified styles. Drinks like Port & Tonic are an excellent solution to keep Port sales going," he said.