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Spain needs greater penetration of secondary market to raise profile

Published:  18 September, 2023

To lift the perception of Spain’s more premium and off-beat offerings, the country’s top wines need to be more visible on the high-end buying circuit. 

This was a conclusion at Harpers' recent ‘Extreme Spain’ round table and tasting, co-hosted with winemaking director Rodolfo Bastida of Zamora/Ramon Bilbao, which sought to assess the importance of the evolution in regional winemaking in enhancing Spain’s image. 

As consultant Anna Harris-Noble pointed out, much of the renaissance in Spain’s winemaking has come from “rediscovery, rather than discovery”, in areas that have always made wine but are now focusing much more on expressing local terroir than selling to the local cooperative. 

This trend in turn, agreed Bastida, had delivered the best expressions of grapes from both the more established/traditional DOs and newly revived regions, allowing for “finesse and elegance” from more extreme sites, with varieties well adapted to Spain’s often challenging micro-climates and altitudes. 

The catch identified, though, is that Spain is still too often associated with ‘value’ at the cheaper end, rather than true value across more elevated price points.  

“Spain represents one of the most diverse but certainly best value winegrowing countries in the world,” said Enotria’s Peter Wallbridge.  

“And where that sometimes gets confused, is often that can mean cheap entry-level wines from La Mancha, or wherever it might be. But actually, when you get up to some of the expressions we've tasted today, let's say between £30 to £50 pounds a bottle, those are wines that can rival the best in the world.” 

Wallbridge added that Spain “remains a little under the radar” in terms of premium wines, because its top wines “haven’t penetrated that secondary market, like France and Italy, on La Place and with En Primeur”. 

He highlighted that Rioja has only recently begun to “dip its toe in”, a situation which is “great for the savvy buyer, but less great for Spain’s better producers”, with agents in markets like the UK finding it more difficult to promote the best of Spain. 

Independent merchant Sam Howard of HarperWells agreed, saying that while some Spanish wines, such as those of Tondonia and Pingus, had “transcended into investment”, the real story of quality lay in the equation of affordability for character found in the more off-piste – or ‘extreme’ – styles shown at the tasting, ranging from Rias Baixas to Jumilla, with much in between (including new wave Rioja).  

“I think that ‘extremes’ is not a category of wine, but a collection of nice projects, good producers, with a big understanding of the areas they come from, and that is very important for the future because the wines they are producing are going to become more and more interesting,” said Bastida. 

“Now, the possibilities at the current time, with good distribution, is that you can get very exclusive, very interesting wines, and at the same time good value for money.” 

All agreed that Spain’s evolution has made it one of the most exciting countries in Europe, with more clearly to come. And that perception is changing as this diverse country’s ‘extremes’ make themselves better known.  

“The diversity is impressive, and if you step outside of the more traditional, there are plenty of impressive wines,” said Howard. “We know it exists, but to have it highlighted – every one of the wines tasted are pretty affordable and that is where Spain is very exciting.”  

A full report on Harpers ‘Extreme Spain’ round table and tasting will appear in the October issue.