Aiming high

11 March, 2014

Fears of a poor 2013 harvest in Spain have not materialised and the country looks set to remain the European favourite for wines at what retailers and producers are euphemistically calling “key price points”.

Now the challenge is to ensure it is not seen just as a source of big volumes of cheap wine, but to maintain and grow its image at the top end.

Spain’s average bottle price is £4.85, well below the total market average £5.34 (Nielsen).

Foods & Wines From Spain director María José Sevilla says: “Spain’s biggest opportunity is its ability to produce great quality wine at accessible prices, in myriad styles, while the growing popularity of high-end Spanish gastronomy has greatly helped highlight the equally high-end wines Spain has to offer.”

“Spain’s biggest challenge is to guard itself from only being accepted as a low-cost wine-producing nation,” says Anthony Habert, marketing manager for Stevens Garnier. “Serious wines require serious attention and often cost serious money, but they are just as valid to the overall offer – and Spain has serious wines in abundance.”

The biggest challenge is also the biggest opportunity – Richard Cochrane of Felix Solis points out that the country’s value offer at different quality levels is like “the ingredients that helped grow the New World 10 to 15 years ago”.

Waitrose saw Spanish wine sales grow 20% thanks to “good value, honest” own-label reds and whites and as a result of expanding its mid-range Spanish own-label, according to buyer Nick Room. But duty hikes continue to put pressure on quality at price points under £5.

Bottle Green commercial director Adam Marshall says: “Just because the pricing is value for money doesn’t mean the wines can be ‘just good enough’. A huge amount of effort is required to make sure wines are enjoyable then consumers will buy again.

“The temptation to skimp on the effort and attention required is high when margins

are tight – but to do so risks all the positive achievements. This is where strong, willing suppliers and agents can really add value.”

PLB’s Iberian buyer Jaime Delage says: “Spain will keep gaining market share during 2014 in the entry-level price points, but it is interesting to see how sales over £6 keep growing, mainly thanks to Rioja and lesser-known up-and- coming regions that have a fantastic price to quality ratio. I have a special hope in Verdejos from Rueda as this aromatic, acidic and fresh grape variety fits perfectly with the UK palate.”

Rob Buckhaven, Torres brand manager at Fells, says: “The fabulous thing about Spain is the value for money. Torres Mas La Plana celebrates its 40th vintage with the release of the 2010 later this year. This is one of the icon wines of Spain but is still relatively affordable compared to its counterparts from Bordeaux.

“If people are willing to explore and trade up, there are some truly exciting wines to discover at really affordable price points. Consumers are continuing to discover superb wines from areas outside Rioja, such as Rueda and Rias Baixas.”

Pernod Ricard commercial director for wine Chris Ellis says growing interest in Spanish culture is encouraging consumers to spend more on wines to drink at home, and points to Campo Viejo’s average bottle price of £6.85. In Rioja the trend is towards premiumisation, with nearly all wines now sold over £6, according to Wines from Rioja. Marketing director Ricardo Aguiriano says: “Spain has levelled off after several years of double-digit growth, meaning that retaining market share will be a key challenge. Rioja has continued to grow ahead of the Spanish category and we are confident it will remain Spain’s flagship wine region.”

Indigenous grapes and lesser-known regions are key to drawing consumers beyond the entry- level and beyond Rioja. Torres has developed a range of “pan-Spain” wines, expanded this year with a Galician Albariño. Felix Solis is investing in Toro and has opened an interactive wine museum there. González Byass tips Somontano, in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Andrew Bickerton, of A&A Wines, sees opportunities for Godello, especially from Galicia.

Oscar Urrutia, European export manager for CVNE, says: “Indigenous grape varieties could well be the next focus of public attention – first those from well-known, reliable references such as Rioja, and later from other regions, depending on how good these are at getting themselves on key market players’ radar screens.”

Alliance Wine’s Spanish wine buyer, Garech Byrne, welcomes an increase in interest in more diverse styles from Spain. He says: “The biggest challenge in the off-trade is convincing supermarket shoppers there is a world beyond Rioja. Once the trade has cracked how to do this there will be much more scope for pushing Spanish wines into the market.”

Chris Quin, director of multiple retail sales at Bibendum, hopes media interest in Catalunya will help draw consumers beyond “Rioja lookalikes”. He says: “The buzz around gastronomy, the number of world-class chefs and the huge tourism pull all help to generate positive press for this region, which presents genuine opportunities for consumers to trade up to some of the best wines new wave Spain has to offer.”

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