The essence of Portugal….

Tuesday, March 27th, 2018

Restricted to holidaying during school breaks, our family pilgrimage to Portugal hangs in the balance because prices are three times higher in peak season. So an invitation to Portugal to review the country’s largest consumer wine fair in Porto: Essencia do Vinho (Essence of wine) and to help judge Portugal’s Top 10 wines, could not be ignored.

Meanwhile (and a little cruelly timed) back in the UK, London was playing host to the annual Wines of Portugal tasting. Normally a fail-safe fixture in my wine tasting calendar I like to visit for the energy, innovation and talent that you are guaranteed to find there. Energy and innovation might not be words you would think of to describe Portuguese wine (perhaps more so their football team) but for a number of years now Portugal has been chipping away at the psyche and taste buds of the UK wine trade and, as figures released show, sales to the UK have risen by nearly 50%: the hard work is paying off.

Given the history of Port you might think Portugal was a mature wine market, but the country’s reputation for still wine by comparison is very much in its infancy which means the energy and innovation that I know it for balances beautifully with talent and knowledge to make a category that consumers should be placing firmly on their wine buying radar.

Judging by the sheer number of fun loving wine fans at the Essencia do Vihno tasting the excellent wines being produced is not news to the Portugeuse. Organised by one of Portugal’s leading wine magazines Revista de Vinhos the UK’s comparison would be Decanter Fine Wine Encounters (DFWE) put together by the events’ namesake: Decanter magazine and it’s hard not to draw the obvious comparisons. In Porto the Essencia is held at the architectural and historical beauty that is the Palacio da Bolsa in the centre of Porto and the grandeur of the venue sets the tone for what is in store. But, unlike the DFWE to whom hiring rooms in old venues is second nature, the Essencia decked out the Palacio with contemporary style that shouted 2018 whilst managing to simultaneously showcase the glory of the space.

Amongst some extremely highbrow masterclasses of some very rare wines indeed, the overall demographic of the event showed Portugal is capable of speaking to the elusive millennial set and entice them to part with their hard earned cash. Arguably a domestic market is an easier market to convince but there are areas that UK wine event organisers can still take notes from: decent music pumping through the venue (from visible but not imposing DJs) meant the atmosphere was buzzing from the minute the doors opened and it set the tone for a large, friendly and sociable wine tasting in a space that belonged to 2018, a space that everyone could feel comfortable in, unintimidated by, relaxed and at home. Few wine events in the UK achieve that: there’s still work to do.

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