Fortified wines gain in popularity

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 May, 2010, 12:00am

Asia is not traditionally a strong market for the classic fortified wines of Spain and Portugal - sherry, port and Madeira - but several leading producers exhibiting at Vinexpo are optimistic about future prospects.

'Fortified wines are growing their market share from a small base in Asian markets, and we see great potential here, especially given the excellent way in which the drier style of sherry, such as our iconic brand T?o Pepe, complements Asian cuisine. We are concentrating our efforts on promoting our sherries in restaurants in order to educate consumers about how to drink T?o Pepe chilled and as a white wine, and also to demonstrate its versatility with food,' says Jorde Grosse, CEO of Gonz?les Byass SA.

The family-owned company, which celebrates 175 years in business this year, has a diversified portfolio - all of which is available in Asia - including cava from Vilarnau in Pened?s and still wines from Bodegas Beronia in Rioja. The world's best-selling sherry brand, T?o Pepe, remains its flagship.

'Japan is the only Asian market for the sherry in the top 12 markets in the world, and Gonzalez Byass with T?o Pepe enjoys a 24 per cent market share there. Last year, we opened new markets in Asia for T?o Pepe, like Indonesia. Also, last year in the Philippines, where there is a strong Spanish culture, we increased our market share significantly,' Grosse says.

Growing interest in Spanish gastronomy around Asia, with a plethora of restaurants opening inspired either by the tapas idea, by Feran Adria's innovative cuisine, or a by a mixture of both, Grosse says, has also given Gonz?lez Byass a boost. 'The tapas wave in gastronomy and consumers' eating habits help the development of the sales of Spanish wines in general. In China, this year T?o Pepe and other wines of Gonz?lez Byass are available at the Shanghai World Expo. We sell about 20 bottles of T?o Pepe a day in the World Expo,' Grosse says.

Dirk Niepoort heads another old family-owned company in the fortified wines business that now produces still wines of impressive quality. He too believes that there is room on the Asian table for fortified wines, including Niepoort's own well structured ports, now represented in Hong Kong, along with its Douro wines, by Cottage vineyards.

'The problem is people serve port too warm,' Niepoort says. 'Chill it. It will warm up in the glass anyway. It is absurd to serve wines as warm as people do in a hot climate. White ports can even be wonderfully refreshing long drinks. Try them with ice and tonic the way we do in Portugal.'

Fortified wines have traditionally been well represented at Vinexpo Asia-Pacific and this year is no exception, although, like Niepoort and Gonzalez Byass, many of the exhibitors will also be bringing table wines and in some cases spirits as well.

Sandeman, now owned by Sogrape which is also exhibiting Offley and Ferreira ports, produces port, sherry, Madeira and brandy, and the Symington Family Estates portfolio includes wine, port and Madeira.

Famous names owned by Symington include Graham's, Dow's, Warre's, Quarles Harris, Smith Woodhouse, and Quinta Do Vesuvio which are all ports, but the company - still family owned - also has the Blandy's, Cossart Gordon, Leacock's and Miles Madeira labels.

Also exhibiting is Taylor's Port - like Gonzalez By?ss, Niepoort and Symington, an independent family firm - and the other port labels the company owns, including Croft and Fonseca Guimaraens. For serious port lovers, this year's Vinexpo Asia-Pacific should be particularly interesting.