The Buyer
Buyer Debate: Sommeliers on opportunities for Lisboa wines

Buyer Debate: Sommeliers on opportunities for Lisboa wines

There has never been greater interest and demand amongst world travellers to visit Portugal with the country named as the Best World Destination and Best Tourist Destination in Europe between 2017-2020 (World Travel Awards). High on the list of places is the capital city of Lisbon with its historic tram-filled streets packed with tourists. Yet the city’s wine region – Lisboa – is not as well-known as other Portuguese areas even though it covers nine quality DOCs. To help better understand the different styles of wine being made in Lisboa and their opportunities in the UK, The Buyer teamed up with CVR Lisboa, the region’s wine Regulatory Council, to host a panel debate with a leading panel of sommeliers and specialist UK wine importers who were able to share their insights on Lisboa, together with two of the region’s key producers, as well as taste a selection of wines that represent what the region can do.

Richard Siddle
8th November 2021by Richard Siddle
posted in Debates,

The Buyer would like to thank the sommelier and importers panel and Lisboa winemakers for taking part including: Nelio Pinto, manager and sommelier, Candlesticks, Stamford;Sylwester Piasecki, head sommelier, Wild Carrot at The Four Seasons Hampshire; Elvis Ziakos, head sommelier at Mark’s Club Birley Group; Hugo Filipe Moreira, assistant head sommelier, Trinity Restaurant; Dmytro Goncharuk, head sommelier, Corrigan’s Mayfair; André Luis Martins, head sommelier, Cavalry and Guards Club; Charlotte Wallace, business development manager at Oakley Wine Agencies; and Megan Clarke, wine buyer at Ellis Wines. Representing Lisboa were Sandra Tavares da Silva, chief winemaker, Quinta da Chocapalha and Diogo Sepúlveda, chief winemaker, Casa Santos Lima.

Introducing Lisboa

Lisboa is a wine region that, on paper at least, has a lot to do in common with the maritime and coastal influences that have such a bearing on the wines being made in California and Chile. For this is also a wine region that stretches up the coastline – some 150 kilometres in length and only 40 km wide – that has so much diversity to offer, with different soil types and climatic conditions, from Leiria in the north to the historic region of Carcavelos, just outside Lisbon in the south.

Within those 150kms are nine separate DOCs, each offering their own distinct styles of wine and terroirs with those on the coast producing extremely fresh wines packed with acidity, versus the more textured and deeper wines from the warmer, drier, more protected inland areas. All of which means there are a wide range of soil types and grape varieties grown.

The DOCs include: Encostas de Aire; Lourinhã; Óbidos; Torres Vedras; Alenquer; Arruda; Colares; Carcavelos; and Bucelas.

Of which Colares, Carcavelos (fortified wines) and Lourinhã (exclusively for DOC Brandy’s) get the most influence from the sea and have sandier soils, compared to the inland areas of Bucelas and Alenquer that have a drier and more consistent growing season where the soils are less fertile and stony. The cool climate in Óbidos also makes it an ideal area for producing sparkling wine and Vinho Leve (low alcohol wines).

The main white grape varieties grown in Lisboa are Arinto, Fernão Pires, Moscatel Graúdo, Malvasia and Vital, with the reds being dominated by Aragonez, Castelão, Touriga Nacional, Alicante Bouschet, Tinta Miúda, Touriga Franca, . There are also a lot of international varieties grown across the region, which are typically used in blends, often with native grapes.

Lisboa in numbers

Lisboa can offer huge diversity of styles of wine, grape varieties and climate conditions across its region

The key facts and figures for Lisboa are as follows:

  • It has 10,000 hectares of certified vines, producing IG or DOP wine.
  • There are around 2,000 growers but only 120 producers with wines in the market.
  • The average land owned is ​​5 hectares per grower, which is higher than Portugal’s national average.

• Main red grape varieties are Aragonez, Touriga Nacional, Castelão, Syrah. Arinto, Fernão Pires and Chardonnay are the biggest planted white wine varieties.

• 50% of vineyards have been restructured in the last 15 years.

• Red wines account for 75% of production, 20% white and 5% rosé of which 95% IG Lisbon, 5% DOP.

  • Total production is 65 million bottles per year with sales having doubled in the last five years.
  • Around 80% of production is exported to some 100 markets around the world with the its main countries being the US, UK, Brazil, Canada, Scandinavia, Australia and Poland.
  • Lisboa Wine Region is leading the growth of Portuguese wine exports in the last five years.
  • It is the fourth largest region, by volume, in Portugal behind Alentejo, Vinhos Verde and Douro.

Sommeliers: what Portugal and Lisboa means to them

Lisboa may not have the reputation of other Portuguese wine regions but is seen as being the next big thing by some sommeliers, says Elvis Ziakos at Mark’s Club

You can quickly get a sense of the potential of a particular wine region by how quickly sommeliers sign up to take part. In fact, such was the interest in our debate on Lisboa wines there was nearly not enough zoom windows to fit everyone on to the panel.

That is also, perhaps, a reflection of the high regard that Portugal, in general, is now held by leading sommeliers as as county that is offering such a wide choice of both good quality, and good value wines. Always a winning combination.

The fascinating aspect about Portugal is that, for such a traditional and established wine country, there are large parts of the country that are still relatively undiscovered by both the trade and certainly the wine consumer.

Lisboa would certainly fit into that category which is a surprise considering how popular Lisbon is as a tourist destination and influence on the rest of the country.

The sommelier panel was quick to pick up on Lisboa’s potential. Elvis Ziakoshead sommelier at Mark’s Club Birley Group, sees it as Portugal’s next growth area: “Lisboa is the next thing coming on. It is very interesting because it is a region that is based on its native grape varieties which is the most important and fascinating part of these wines.”

That’s what sommeliers are interested in and want to introduce to their guests. New wines with a genuine point of difference, he adds. But it is also a region that is going to need a lot of marketing and promotion to make more people, both in the trade and amongst wine drinkers, aware of what it can offer, he says. It’s

important to get that balance right to help sommeliers sell the wines. “I think this is a very nice introduction.”

(Click here for video extract of André Luis Martins, head sommelier at Cavalry & Guards Club, on promoting Portugal and Lisboa wines)

André Luis Martins is a big supporter of Portuguese wines and has up to 50 wines from the country, including Lisboa by the glass, on his list at the Cavalry and Guards Club. “I want to showcase the potential at the top end of Portuguese wines,” he said. Wines that “can fight with some of great wines of the world”. “Not a day goes by when I don’t sell two or three Portuguese wines.”

It can, he added, require more effort to understand Portuguese wines and the different grapes and styles of wine, but it is important that sommeliers do. He said he is proud to have added around 40 still Portuguese wines to the list since he took over and it has taken a lot of “work and passion to do so” but the reaction from the guests makes it worth it. “The point is to challenge people to try new things and explain why this wine is as good, if not better than some of the great wines of the world.”

He now has people coming into the club asking for some of the Portuguese wines they have tasted before and enjoyed and want to know know when he is going to bring in something new for them. So much so he now deliberately introduces and changes his Portuguese range every three to six months to make sure there are new wines to choose from. “It’s interesting. When people start to get a feel for a country, or a specific region, they want to try something new.”

Martins urges more Portuguese producers to look at making wines with greater ageing potential as that is where the gap currently is – wines at the top to fine wine level that can really compete with the rest of the world. The consistency at the middle to value end is “amazing” but “what I am missing now is at the top end – I hope we can achieve that”.

Hugo Filipe Moreira, assistant head sommelier, at Trinity Restaurant in Clapham, south London, is as well placed as anyone to comment on Lisboa wines as he was born and grew up in Lisbon. He said he is always keen to list and sell Portuguese wines on his list, but it can be difficult with so much competition from other countries and regions. The key, is therefore, to find the more unusual wines that he can introduce to his guests.

“I am looking for something that is really traditional from the region so that I can showcase what is made there. That’s what really makes the difference. I’m excited to try these wines. Some of which I don’t know.”

Neilo Pinto, who was born in Madeira, has been promoting and selling wines from right across Portugal through his family restaurant’s Candlesticks in Stamford for many years.

(Click here for Nelio Pinto of Candlesticks, Stamford on what Lisboa has to offer and makes it so unique)

It says the region has a lot to thank Majestic for with its support and the impact it has made with the Porta 6 wine brand that is probably the most well-known Lisboa wine in the UK. It has certainly encouraged more buyers to go out and find similar wines from the same region, he adds.

Those that do won’t be disappointed as the region has so much to offer, says Pinto, who singles out Alenquer, in particular, as producing wines he thinks are ideal, value for money wines for the UK market. Then there is Carcavelos, one of the world’s best and most important fortified wines. “It’s very important to try and keep these kinds of wines alive.”

Dmytro Goncharuk, head sommelier at Corrigan’s Mayfair, says Lisboa is not a region he knows particularly well, but he is a “huge fan” of Portuguese wines and its native grapes in general and for the fact it has so many “great value wines”. “It is always nice to discover something new and to offer our guests something different. I always try to have Portuguese wines on my list.”

Specialist importers view

(Click here for Charlotte Walker of Oakley Wine Agencies on potential for Lisboa and Portuguese wines)

Charlotte Wallace at Oakley Wine Agencies is well placed to talk about the opportunities for Portugal in the premium on-trade and independent retail as it has been a specialist in the country going back 30 years and built up decades long relationships as a result with key producers.

“We are working hand in hand with producers all over Portugal and Portuguese wines are on the up and doing really well in the UK. People’s confidence is growing and picking up new things off the shelf,” she says.

What is particularly encouraging is that at the supermarket end of the category, buyers are now more interested in looking at what options they can get from different regions, particularly for their premium private label lines like Finest or Taste the Difference. That can be particularly seen with new listings for wines from the Douro, Dao and Vinho Verde.

“Lisboa is still in the background, but I am sure it will take off, it’s just a case of marketing it well and finding the right buyers to put it on shelf,” says Wallace. “But it is a region we have been working with some time.”

It really is a case of getting the right kind of distribution, so that more consumers become aware of the region and then have more confidence to buy their wines, like we are now seeing with the Douro, she adds.

Megan Clarke says Portugal is “a really important area” for Ellis Wines and it is always looking to bring in new wines when it sees opportunities, including from Lisboa. In fact she was off on a buying trip to Portugal the day after our debate. “It’s an exciting area as well,” she adds as it covers both wines for its traditional customers, but also offers something new and interesting for those looking for different styles of wines and more unusual grape varieties.

“The great thing about Portugal is you have such variety in its grape varieties and things that people have not heard of before. People seem more to open trying things than they were before [Covid-19].”

Winemakers: what makes Lisboa different

Sandra Tavares da Silva says the Lisboa region is very important for her family as this is where it chose to invest over 20 years ago in what has become the Quinta da Chocapalhao winery and estate that includes 45 hectares of vineyards in the Alenquer DOC.

(Click here for Sandra Tavares da Silva of Quinta da Chocapalha on the great diversity Lisboa can offer wine buyers)

“It is a region with huge potential to produce diverse and different wines with enormous acidity, freshness, and crispness for the white wines and then for the reds we can produce very classic reds with amazing ageing capacity and also very gastronomic,” she explains. “It is a region we are still discovering and working a lot to improve, but I really believe Lisbon will be one of the classic wine regions in Portugal very soon.”

Particularly as it so much history and tradition of winemaking in the area, particularly the old fortified wines of Carcavelos.The Alenquer region, she adds, has a long history of producing both red and white wines that have great ageing potential and once people get to know and understand them they will be able to appreciate them more.

Quinta da Chocapalhao is certainly playing its part as it now exports around 80% of the wines it produces, including working with Corney & Barrow in the UK, as well as strong markets in Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and the US.

(Click here for Diogo Sepúlveda, Casa Santos Lima, on Lisboa’s ability to make wines for all consumers)

Diogo Sepúlveda, chief winemaker at Casa Santos Lima, Lisboa’s biggest wine producer, says it is ironic we are having a debate about Lisboa’s possible potential in the UK as Casa Santos Lima has been working successfully in the UK since the early 1990s and now works with most of the major supermarket chains and specialist retailers like Majestic.

“Lisboa is a fantastic wine region. We can produce all types of wine here,” he says thanks to the “huge influence from the Atlantic coast, but also from the continental part of Portugal”. He adds: “It’s defined by its diversity, from north to south we have different terroirs in Lisboa, and more than 50 grape varieties planted.”

It means it is capable of producing a wide ranges of wines, “for all consumers”, from low alcohol right through to top wines that require a long period of ageing. “In Can Santos Lima we try to preserve what is local and cultural,” he says with a clear focus on planting and promoting indigenous varieties. It’s strategy, he says, “is to offer different styles of wines and preserving what is the terroir”.

Casa Santos Lima is now exporting to over 50 countries and is having particular success in the UK with fast growth over the last few years. There is never a time, however, for a Portuguese winemaker to be complacent, stresses Sepúlveda as you “still meet so many people who have never tasted a Portuguese wine before”, never mind from Lisboa.

Its challenge, he argues, is to make “engaging wines” that immediately connect with the consumer from the first sip of wine.

“That’s why the Lisboa region is recognised for its value for money wines as it does not have the name of other regions like the Douro,” he adds. “We have to surprise, to over deliver to the consumer. That’s our focus,” to make sure any wine someone has from Lisboa “is a great experience”.

But he is very encouraged by the reaction from major UK multiples and their buyers, particularly as they mainly ordering dry red wines made from indigenous varieties. “We should promote out own varieties as it is a competitive advantage to other countries and is something unique.”

  • In Part 2 of our Lisboa report the sommelier and importer panel taste a selection of Lisboa wines and assess their potential for the UK market.