Rediscovering Spanish Wine

A Report from the Barcelona Wine Week 

More than 650 wineries gathered in Fira Barcelona this April to take part in the second annual Barcelona Wine Week (BWW). Meininger’s met up with exhibitors and experts to talk about what's new in the world of Spanish wine and what trends became apparent at this exhibition.

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Barcelona Wine Week 2022
Barcelona Wine Week 2022

 

  • BWW is a showcase for small Spanish winemakers and gives a comprehensive overview of the Spanish wine market.
  • The average cost of a bottle of Spanish wine remains low and offers buyers value for money.
  • Although Spain sometimes lacked diversity in the past, new driving forces give some cause for optimism. Younger wine producers and legislative changes create winds of change in the Spanish wine industry.
  • Innovations in Cava wine making and the use of new (old) Sherry varieties are just some of the outcomes.
  • The most remarkable feature of the transformation of Spanish wine is its widespread availability.

 

BWW has become a networking event for small winemakers who would be overlooked at bigger exhibitions. The hottest area of the exhibition was the BWW Lands, which, with its minimal design and lack of branding, contrasted with the magnificent stands of ProWein and Vinitaly. The lack of huge Point of Sale Materials (POSMs) allowed the wines to have their say.  
 

Value for Money or Luck of Added Value

Spanish wine offers excellent value for money. For the wine industry, there are two very different aspects to this:  

  • On the positive side, buyers can be sure that every cent spent on purchasing  Rioja, Cava and Montsant is fully justified – a win win for the buyer.
  • On the negative side, that is not always a convenient model for the producer who often has to cope with low margins and a very competitive market.

Taking fine wine, Wine Spectator Top 100 calculated the average price of a bottle of wine in 2021. The most expensive wine was  from France – $88.50. In second place was the US with $82.40, Portugal third with $52.00, then New Zealand ($46.70), Australia and Chile ($45), Italy ($43.80), Germany ($33.50) and in eighth place was Spain with $32.50 per bottle. This raises the question– can Spanish producers do a better job of telling consumers about their wines? 

Does Spanish Wine Lack the Diversity?

For Frank Smulders MW, one reason for this value proposition is homogeneity: In his seminar, he highlighted the fact that the Spanish wine industry is dominated by two grape varieties - Airén and Tempranillo account for 23.5% and 20.9% of the whole vineyard respectively. The homogeneity of the Spanish vineyard can also be seen in the number of DOCs: 92 in Spain compared to 375 AOCs in France and 404 DOCs/DOCGs in Italy. Frank’s opinion is shaped by his experience as a wine producer. His wine business consultancy complements his own winery project Liskar, where wines are crafted from  old vine Garnacha in Navarra.

There is truth in his words, but in this case, it is not the static picture that is of interest, but the dynamics - the course in which the industry is developing. And that direction inspires optimism.

"There is a new generation taking care of their family’s vineyards. Spanish terroirs are exceptionally diverse, and some people are doing really good work identifying their terroirs. They're rediscovering their excellence. And that's very exciting."

From uniformity to diversity, from cooperatives to young producers – this is how Sarah Jane Evans MW, UK based writer and consultant with special interests in Spain, describes the main trends of recent years.

Classifications: New Stimulus for Winemakers?

The legislative changes of recent years have created incentives to distinguish these products, even if they do not completely solve the contradictions between terroir wines from specific vineyards and mass production. Generally, classifications changes would put anyone to sleep who isn't a Bordeaux lawyer or who is preparing for the ASI world sommelier competition. But the winds of change in Spanish winemaking are bringing in fresh air. Still wines from Jerez, single vineyards in Cava, Rioja and Bierzo, and the first appellation to establish the orange wine category, Terra Alta. The single-toned image of DOs equating cooperative wines with boutique wineries remain a serious problem. But it looks like it has found a way to overcome this.

Booth at the BWW
Booth at the BWW

Innovations in Cava

Cava has undergone many changes: the creation of the classification Cava de Paraje Calificado, the Corpinnat association of Cava producers striking out on their own, and a new classification. Cava now has a hierarchical terroir system, linking wine origins to sub-regions and vineyards. But according to Pedro Ballesteros Torres MW, a columnist at several magazines in Spain and Belgium, the reforms are only getting started. The Cava de Guarda Superior category will be 100% organic by 2025. This would amount to a third of the entire appellation's production, the number quite a contrast to the 2% in Champagne.

In 2020, Cava became the first DO to release the gastronomic pairings guide based on the dominant aromatic compounds. “Molecular sommelier” Francois Chartier used gas chromatography to determine dominant molecules of the main Cava categories: Cava de Guarda, Reserva, Gran Reserva and Paraje Calificado. In the latter case, the predominant molecule is benzene methanethiol, which smells of cooked apples, also present in dried apricots, cinnamon, mushrooms, and walnuts. Among the unexpected combinations found by François include  ginger with a young Cava de Guarda, and parmesan dipped in espresso with Сava de Paraje.
 

New (old) Sherry Varieties

Another example of a change in regulation and style is the new classification of D.O. Jerez-Xérès-Sherry. First, the unfortified Fino and Manzanilla production was authorized. Second, the region, which used to work with 43 varieties before phylloxera, has actually reduced the number of varieties to 3. And now we see the return of the new (old) varieties such as Beba, Cañacazo, Mantuo Castellano, Mantuo de Pilas, Perruno, Vejeriego, which are better suited to climate change, Also, the future of the still wines of Jerez was a constant topic at the fair.
 

New Wave of Mediterranean wines

The most remarkable feature of the transformation of Spanish wine is the proliferation of its wine regions. When Alvaro Palacios helped find his voice in the '90s for the Priorat terroir, one could speak of a rising star among the country's wine regions. Now a new phase of development is taking place in a multitude of regions. It is impossible not to mention the new wave of Mediterranean wines. Young winemakers are finding their allies among hills and mountains of the second highest country in Europe, in old vines, and in the exposure of single vineyards. And BWW allows considerable exposure to this new wave.

Not including the stellar sub-regions like Mentrida and Valdeorras, there is a (no doubt incomplete) list of trends and producers who deserve some attention:

  • Jerez: Cota 45, Forlong, Luis Perez, Ximénez Spinola
  • Jumilla: Cerrón, Casa Castillo
  • La Mancha: Arrayán, Garage wine, Garcia de lara, Verum
  • Rioja: Ijalba, Jesus Madrazo, Ostatu, Urbina
  • Terra Alta: Altavins, Barbara Fores, Edetaria,
  • Valencian Community: Baldovar 923, Casa Los Frailes, Filoxera, Sierra Norte

 

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