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Portuguese wine is perfectly poised for the on-trade, says Oz Clarke

Published:  30 March, 2022

Oz Clarke, the wine writer and presenter, waxed lyrical about the wonders of Portuguese wine during a masterclass on Tuesday, explaining to the audience why the on-trade should sit up and take notice.

It was the Wines of Portugal annual tasting in Marylebone, London, and Clarke was on-hand to lend his expertise to the several hundreds of industry professionals at the event.

“We are at last gaining the confidence to take risks in our wine drinking, it’s been a long time coming, and there are various things that have helped. The natural wine movement has helped, the over-commercialisation of many of the world’s best-known wines has helped, the fear of Brexit has helped. And a generational shift has helped as well”, said Clarke, as attendees took their seats at his afternoon masterclass.

It is hardly news that lockdown has affected how many wine drinkers source their wine. In the midst of the pandemic, online orders went through the roof to limit contact with other people, and alcohol purchases were no exception. As a result, some small vineyards were able to offer delivery to keep up with the demands. Alcohol subscription services saw a significant uptick in subscribers as consumers grew more courageous in their drink choices.

As a result, rather than sticking to what they know, many drinkers, especially millennials, want to try new wines, and Portugal is well placed to take advantage of this, according to Clarke.

“There is no doubt that wine drinkers, in every age group, are getting tired of the same old grapes. And there is no doubt that people are really fed up with wines overdosed with oak. We hear so much about wine’s endless variety, well then why are so many indistinguishable from each other?” said Clarke.

He added: “In the last few years, things have made us think about where our food and drink comes from, how it’s made and how it’s paid for, and this has naturally made us more inquisitive, more demanding, but also much more open to novelty.

“But it’s only recently that Portugal has been ready to take advantage; she’s had the benefits of climate, geology and grape varieties for centuries, but her ability to make all of the above work has only recently come to fruition.”

As the on-trade remerges from the effects of Covid, it is time for restaurants and bars to diversify their portfolios to cater for a new wave of courageous consumers who have never been more invested in a wine’s journey.

Clarke said: “The modern Portugal is so exciting, but it is so umbilically bound to the ancient Portugal, regions that first drew vines hundreds of years ago are at last realising their potential. Vineyards, first plugged in generations and centuries ago, are showing what wonderful flavours and textures they can create.

“Portugal is a country that said, ‘we don’t need Cabernet to prove our worth. We don’t need Chardonnay and Sauvignon to try and squeeze our way into a crowded marketplace’. So why would you use Cabernet when you have Alvarinho. Why would you use Cabernet when you have Touriga Nacional and Tinta Franca? Or the 100 other grape varieties unrelated to Europe’s mainstream.”

Portugal is a nation with a deep-rooted history in wine (the Douro Valley was the first demarcated and regulated wine region in the world), with the unpredictability of a new world producer. It is this unique combination that means Portugal is perfectly poised to take the on-trade by storm. 

Oz Clarke’s picks:

  1. Alvarinho Soalheiro Granit 2020

  2. Quinta da Alorna Verdelho 2021

  3. Crasto Altitude 430 2019

  4. Quinta das Maias 2018

  5. Foz de Arouce 2017

  6. Herdade dos Grous Moon Harvested 2020

  7. Arenae 2009

  8. Domingos Soares Franco Private Collection Moscatel de Setúbal Superior (Armagnac) 2003