Making Spanish wine work in pubs

By Robyn Black

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Cabernet sauvignon Spain

Spanish food and wine at La Tasca
Spanish food and wine at La Tasca
Spanish wines offer a wealth of opportunities for canny pub licensees with new varietals and upcoming regions. Robyn Black reports.

Spanish wines offer so much more than just the standard Rioja — new varietals and upcoming regions provide a wealth of opportunities for canny pub licensees. Robyn Black reports.

Spanish wine is doing very well in the UK on-trade, up 3.5% in volume (MAT CGA December 2010. Individual companies report even better results; Carlsberg has seen a whopping 56% rise in sales of its Spanish portfolio, for example — following the relaunching of its Lobo Loco house range at the end of 2009 — and WaverleyTBS an 11% rise.

This can be attributed at least in part to the UK population's long-standing love for straw donkeys and sunning themselves on all the Costas, and also — if we are to move beyond the '70s clichés — the boom in tapas and Spanish cuisine that has swept the country more recently.

In the pub sector the classic Rioja has been a staple in venues from high-street chains to community inns and gastropubs for some years.

"Rioja has played a pivotal role in giving Spanish wine credibility in the UK," says Jonathan Pedley MW, wine consultant to Carlsberg UK.

"As far back as the 1970s Rioja showed consumers that there was a premium quality side to Spanish wine. Otherwise, there might have been a risk that the country would become perpetually associated with 'Spanish plonk'."

Moreover, Riojan winemakers and brand owners have consistently invested in the UK over the years, developing a loyal following for the category as well as building well-known brands such as Marqués de Cáceres, Marqués de Riscal, Campo Viejo and Faustino.

"Crucially," says Pedley, "a lot of the effort has been directed at the on-trade. Hence, Rioja has never become associated with the massive supermarket discounting that has damaged other countries in the pub trade."

Beyond Rioja

Just as Spain has already managed to move beyond sangria and cheap plonk, the category is now also moving well beyond just Rioja, with new styles of wine emerging, not to mention new regions and varietals.

"It is not an exaggeration to say that, of all the wine-producing countries, Spain has undergone the biggest quality renaissance over the past 10 years," explains Pedley.

"Massive investment since the death of Franco, plus the input of a new generation of technically competent viticulturists and oenologists has allowed a number of regions to spring to international fame."

These regions include Priorat, Rías Baixas, Rueda, Navarra, Penedès and Ribera del Duero.

The Grupo Faustino company, owner of the Riojan Faustino brand, has been exploring the lesser-known regions of Spain in more recent years and now has seven wineries in five of the main wine regions, including a brand new Norman Foster-designed winery in Ribera del Duero, which opened at the end of last year.

"When we first started building the winery we found few consumers knew anything about Ribera Del Duero, but over the past couple of years we have started to see increased interest and understanding of this premium region of Spain," says Lisa Duckenfield, wines and Champagne group marketing manager for Faustino's UK distributor Cellar Trends. "Now more and more accounts are starting to include a Ribera within their lists."

John Critchley, sales director for the Morgenrot Group, also points to Ribera as one of two regions he expects to grow significantly in the UK — the second is Penedès, just south of Barcelona.

"While Ribera is now really making its mark against Rioja, producing exceptional wines in the same vein as Rioja but with a more vibrant approach, in Penedès producers are focusing on better-known international varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. They are also employing eco-friendly techniques such as bio-dynamic and organic viticulture to craft their wines."

International varietals

Planting international varietals in new areas has helped give Spain a boost, particularly at entry level where they represent recognisable wines at good value for money, but where Spain has been particularly successful is pushing its indigenous grapes such as Tempranillo, Garnacha (also known as Grenache) and more recently Albariño.

This white grape from Rías Baixas has developed a cult following among wine fans and is one example of the growth in white wines from Spain. In fact, even though the country is most associated with red wines some 60% of Spanish vineyards grow white grapes.

"The better the food offer the more chance for regional whites like

Albariño or Verdejo from Rueda," says Natalia Posadas-Dickson, winemaker and buyer for WaverleyTBS. "We have to encourage outlets to think wider than just entry-level Rioja. The regions have so much more to offer too and Spain has something for on-trade outlets at every level. There's probably not another country that can offer the sheer price range from value-entry level, right the way up to very serious, food wines."

Of course, knowing all this but then managing to persuade consumers about it are two very different things. "Operators looking to persuade consumers to try something other than Rioja should certainly provide samples," advises Henry John of ViVas. "This is a massive opportunity for operators to trade up people easily.

"Another technique staff can try is to recommend specific wines, 'if you like this, you'll love this', for example. Consumers are looking for genuine advice on wines and those that complement their meals, so sign-posting them to wines they can trust is a great way to trade them into other areas that are outside their comfort zones."

John also suggests initiatives such as Spanish-themed evenings with a special tapas menu and/or running a range of promotions throughout the day on selected Spanish wines, driving demand through trial and promotions.

Like any wine category Spain needs support if it is to boost its sales, but its particular suitability for pubs at all levels of the trade means licensees will find their efforts are rewarded.

Strategies for Cava

Unlike its Italian cousin Prosecco, Spanish fizzy wine Cava has failed to make as much headway in the on-trade as it has in the off-trade. Some attribute this to the sector's focus on pushing volume through the off-trade and its subsequent reliance on big supermarket deals.

"Licensees are nervous about a product the consumer perceives as costing £3.99 in a supermarket," says Carlsberg's Jonathan Pedley MW. "It's a shame as the quality of Cava is pretty good."

Adrian Atkinson, wine development director at Pernod Ricard UK, owner of the Campo Viejo brand, suggests pubs and bars should think about offering Cava by the glass if they are looking to boost sales.

"Minimise wastage from open bottles by offering Cava cocktails, which are perfect for celebratory occasions and easy to make," he says.

"If consumers ask for a second glass of bubbly, suggest a good deal on the rest of the bottle and offer different price points from entry level to vintage Cava to demonstrate the breadth of styles across the category."

Did you know?

• Spain has more than 15% of the world's vineyards — the largest country in terms of area covered by vines.

• Although Spain is best known for its red wines, the majority of vineyards (60%) have white grapes.

• The Grenache grape, which in the past has been associated more with France and nowadays Australia and California, originates from Spain where it is known as Garnacha.

• Crianza means aged in oak.

• The portrait on the dusty-looking bottles of Faustino 1 Gran Reserva was painted by Rembrandt in 1641.

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