Portugal’s eclectic grape varieties represent a fascinating branding challenge
What’ll it be tonight sir? “Rabo de Ovelha” (Sheep’s Ass), “Amor-não-me-deixes” (Love-please-don’t-leave-me), “Esgana Cão” (Dog Strangler) or “Esgana Rapazes” (Boy Strangler)? All amongst a list of a couple of hundred of local grape varieties in regular use by Portuguese wine producers.
Finding the oddest varietal names was a pleasant diversion while I and the rest of the Wine Intelligence team waited for our food to arrive at the restaurant Bacalhau (meaning cod-fish), overlooking the Douro river and the Port Wine houses in Porto, Portugal, our setting for a company strategy planning meeting.
Being the only Portuguese in the team, this was a great opportunity to show-off my country. We tried petiscos (Portuguese starters), typical Portuguese dishes, Portuguese desserts and Portuguese wines.
When faced with the wine list I realized how hard it was for my colleagues to pronounce the names of the brands so we started a discussion of how much of a barrier to export this can be. Conclusion: Not being able to pronounce something means it is hard to remember.
For instance Touriga Nacional – the Portuguese flagship varietal, is not nearly as convoluted as some of the examples above, but neither is it as user-friendly as some of Portugal’s direct competitors flag varietals, such as Malbec in Argentina and Chenin in South Africa. Also, brand names in Portugal usually consist on at least two complicated words (see Bacalhau’s wine list here) although with some exceptions including the small number of successful Portuguese brands outside of Portugal that have no more than two words (e.g. Mateus) or are in English (e.g. most of the Port wine brands).
Amongst the people having dinner in “Bacalhau” the consensus was that Portuguese wine in general offers impressive value for money but the names of its brands and varietals are indeed complicated. Should Touriga Nacional drop the “Nacional”? I am afraid a lot of my fellow countrymen would not agree with that, although that is probably the way!
One parting thought, from the bar after our strategy session had concluded: My colleagues were delighted with Port Tonic (white Port, tonic water, ice and mint). No problems with the pronunciation either. Can we have a commercial brand in the UK please?
Author: Luis Osorio