FOR MANY, Christmas is not Christmas until a glass of port has been poured and savoured. It’s the after dinner sweet wine that is a fitting end to a rich meal. For others, it’s the aperitif of choice, growing in popularity. And this doesn’t show any sign of changing, despite some saying that the cocktail movement will be the leg up port needs, for want of a better word, to be hip. What is changing, however, is the global port market. It is shrinking and volumes have taken a hit, shedding half a million cases in recent years. Port is now a 8.6 million case market but that’s not the headline.
“Everyone wants to write the story that port is in decline but that simply isn’t the case,” Adrian Bridge, Fladgate Partnership chief executive officer, says. “It is suffering in the commodity end but not the quality end.” Port is in a transitional period from a volume-based category to a value one, Bridge says. “Within the port industry, not everyone has adjusted their strategy. Some people are chasing volume by lowering prices but they won’t make a lot out of that chase.”
According to the latest Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto figures (Jan-Sep 2015), port has increased slightly in value and decreased in volume, 0.7% and -2.2% respectively.
In the UK — port’s third largest market — the category has been a growing share of the fortified wine market and will, according to Charlotte Symington, port brand manager at John E Fells, increasingly become a larger sector of the fortified market by volume. “Comparing against table wines which overall is in decline, port is doing extremely well,” Symington says. Increasing in volume and value at 2.7% and 6% respectively (Nielsen, Jan-Oct 2015).
“What’s happening in the UK is being reflected globally,” she adds. “Although we’ve seen the global port market slowly shrinking, we continue to drive the premium port market and as we continue to see a pronounced decline in sherry, port continues to enjoy positive growth.”
In the top ten markets for port — together accounting for 90% of total sales value in 2014 — there are marked preferences. There are markets where the share of premium ports, which accounted for 20.6% of the total quantity sold in 2014, is well above average — UK (60.7%), US (57.9%), Canada (71.9%) and Denmark (45.7%).
In others, standard ports are predominant — France (92.0%), Holland (89.7%), Belgium (93.9%) and Spain (93.1%). Even among these markets, there are differences in the style of port that are more popular. Among the top four premium port markets, the UK imported mainly Reserve Port, while in the States, Reserves and Aged Tawnies are preferred and in Canada, LBVs and Aged Tawnies are best sellers. As far as the standard port markets are concerned, France imports more Tawny while The Netherlands prefers Ruby.