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Rioja needs own wine trade tasting week to compete at top end

Published:  09 June, 2014

Rioja needs to introduce its own trade tasting week, if it is to compete at the top end with Bordeaux or Burgundy, says a senior UK buyer.

Simon Field MW, Berry Bros & Rudd's Spanish buyer bemoaned the region's lack of an annual event offering the international trade the opportunity to visit wineries and taste, and boost Rioja's profile.

Speaking at a conference in Rioja last month about 'Opportunities for Spanish wines in the British market', he added that Rioja and Spain in general needed to produce top wines in greater quantities in order to establish a presence on the international secondary market. When Benjamin Romeo, for instance, makes 500 cases of Contador, it is practically impossible to develop an active secondary market in contrast to a Bordeaux First Growth. Vega Sicilia in Ribera del Duero is the only Spanish producer that has managed this, by making much larger quantities. Field's experience with en primeur in Spain shows that it is possible to develop the market, but Spain has to catch up fast.

Spain has strong potential in the UK, but needs to market itself betterRioja needs a trade tasting weekRioja needs a trade tasting week, if its top wines are to rival Bordeaux and Burgundy, says one of the trade’s most senior buyers at a conference in Rioja recently.

Pierre Mansour, the Wine Society's buyer for Spain, was positive about the potential for Spain in the UK, with the Society's Spanish sales up 19% over the last 3 years. Spanish whites were up a startling 332%.  Of the regions the best performing were Rioja up 38%, Sherry 14%, and Valencia & Murcia 13%. However Ribera del Duero was only up 3%, with members "confused" by the range of styles.  "The future is bright", he said, "Spain should unlock the potential of native varieties such as Albillo and Bobal and resist internationalization". The task was to communicate Spain's diversity. Given that in 1907 there were over 100 grape varieties in Rioja alone, Norrel Robertson MW stressed that this diversity was at risk.

In a session on the on-trade, Joan Torrents of Enotria used Asda's Income Tracker to point out that an average family with a gross income of £700 per week only had £170 spending money after all overheads were paid. Wine had to fight for a share of this. At the lower end Spain cannot now compete with South Africa, and at the top end customers will revert to France. In the middle ground there is a space for wines with quality and identity where Spain can establish a presence.

Richard Halstead's evidence from Wine Intelligence agreed with this: the future for producers was in higher value products and, brands with meaning. One aspect of Spanish culture that had meaning and fame is its gastronomy. Nevertheless Maria Jose Sevilla, director of wine and foods from Spain in the UK, pointed out that Spanish cuisine, although recognised among the best in the world, had not exported itself as French or Italian had.  Tapas bars do not represent the world of Spanish food, and Spain lacks a gastronomic vehicle for marketing its wine in the UK.

The conference was run by the Fundación para la Cultura del Vino, a body with an educational mission whose members are the wineries Vega Sicilia, Marqués de Riscal, Muga, La Rioja Alta, and Terras Gauda, plus the Ministry of Agriculture.