Port’s Competitive Advantage? No Competition at All

The 2011 Vintage Port tasting at the W Hotel in San Francisco
The 2011 Vintage Port tasting at the W Hotel in San Francisco

How does Port stay relevant in the largest, most competitive wine market in the world?  Don’t change a thing.

We’re spoiled here in the US.  As the largest and most profitable wine market in the world with a near 20-year trend of continuous growth and low per capital consumption of 2.7 gallons (a little over a case of wine), we’re the object of desire for international producers.  According to Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates, imports rose 11% by value in 2012, to $5.1 billion, and 15% by volume, hitting new records.  Imports share of the total US market is 35% and growing.

I see the vast array of international wines in the stores, restaurants and at trade tastings like the 2011 Vintage Port tasting earlier this month at the W Hotel in San Francisco presented by The Fladgate Partnership and by Quinta do Noval.  And that’s where it occurred to me.  The more foreign producers crowd out the market for dry, still wines of the most popular international grape varieties, the more Port stands out as as a singular treasure.

Product differentiated

There is just no substitute for Port from the Douro Valley, especially Vintage Port.  It’s manual- and capital- intensive methods result in a seamless balance and density of fruit that is thoroughly modern.

Producers have been more pressured in recent years to market Port to a broader international market – dress it in sexier packaging, make it drier, lower in alcohol, even pink.  They suggest creative cocktail recipes and pairing Port with savory foods.  I came to a realization that producers shouldn’t make Port what it’s not, basically because it’s confusing.  I asked Fladgate Partnership Wine Director David Guimaraens about pairing Port with savory food – just to see what he would say – and he said unapologetically “Port will always be a dessert wine.  Yes, a natural lubricant.”  Product focus is also why they only make Port and not dry Douro wines.

Vintage Ports are the most distinctive and long-lived of all Port, made only in the best years and from the best vineyards.  Quinta do Noval Managing Director Christian Seely emphasized that the quality of these Vintage Ports makes them equivalent to Premiers Crus Classes wines from Bordeaux.  And no one would know better than Seely, who is Managing Director of AXA Millesimes Grands Crus Classes properties Chateau Pichon-Baron in Pauillac and Chateau Suduiraut in Sauternes, in addition to other great wines of the world.

The relevance of sweet wines today

Judging by the wild popularity of Moscato/Muscat white wines, up 33% in volume in 2012 per the Wine Institute, there is no shortage of demand for sweet wines here in the US.  Being rather rich though, I enjoy Port as the dessert, served with a compliment of small, dark chocolates or cookies, or with fresh figs in the summer or roast chestnuts in the fall/winter.

Port deserves to be the star.

Fladgate Partnership wines (Croft, Fonseca, Taylor Fladgate) are imported by Kobrand Wine & Spirits

Quinta do Noval wines are imported by Vintus Wines