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Chilean Malbec continues rise as UK Roadshow ramps up focus on diversity

Published:  05 February, 2018

Sales of Chilean Malbec increased 51% in 2017, accounting for 12% of all Malbec sold in the UK, spearheading the fast growth of several of Chile’s emerging varieties.

Malbec was among several less mainstream varieties from Chile that are being pushed by importers at this year’s Wines of Chile Roadshow in London, Manchester and Edinburgh, where Pais, Cinsault, Carignan, Cabernet Franc, Viognier, Riesling and Muscat joined the likes of Carmenere and cool climate Pinot Noir at the forefront of ‘alternatives’ to the mainstream at the tastings.

Chile has for a while been attempting to broaden the focus beyond its best known grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, while building a more premium image and position for its wines.

The rise in Malbec, although from a small base at just 4% of Chilean exports, represents a significant boost for the country, tapping as it does into the massive popularity of the grape, and contributing to a decline in Argentina’s total Malbec UK market share from 69% to 61% between 2016 and 2017.

Looking to the bigger picture, Sauvignon Blanc remains a big driver for Chile, with off-trade volume sales up 3% in 2017, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon (down -2%), Merlot (up 11%), red blends (down -9%) and Chardonnay (down -2%).

However, with typically fresh, accessible styles of Malbec on the up, aromatic varieties such as Riesling and Viognier are also on the rise, with sales uplift (from admittedly small bases) of 151% and 57% respectively, with limited shipments of indigenous Pais and Mediterranean varieties such as Carignan and Cinsault adding to this broadening profile.

“I’ve been banging the drum about keeping it exciting, we’ve encouraged people to show innovations, what’s new,” said Wines of Chile’s UK director Anita Jackson, speaking at the London Roadshow.

Jackson admitted that while Chile is performing well in the UK off-trade, including the more premium platform provided by independent merchants, the off-trade remains a tough nut to crack for a country whose wines have generally been perceived as good value entry-level options.

Recent Nielsen figures show that volume increased by 4% and value increased by 3% last year in the UK off-trade, while the market share of countries such as France, Argentina and Australia were in decline. Meanwhile the average off-trade bottle price for Chilean wine edged up to £5.31.

However, in the on-trade Chile faired less well, sitting in fifth position by volume, and fourth by value (ahead of Australia and only just behind USA), having shown a decline of 7% and -3% in volume and value respectively in the twelve months to March 2017.

Chile and its importers are confident that a continued push on its emerging varieties, coupled with promotional and educational programmes directed at independent merchants and sommeliers, will help build awareness and engagement foe the country more generally at a premium level.

Fuller reports on Chile will appear in Harpers South America and SITT supplements, published with Harpers February print edition and online from 9 February 2018.