The pendulum continues to swing. The consumer preference toward balanced wines is growing as a result of the urging from the sommelier community. As is widely understood, the full-bodied and flabby (or acid-deficient) styles of wine retired with Robert Parker, a wine critic who stopped reviewing California wine for The Wine Advocate and eRobertParker.com as of February 1, 2011. With this trend, we will start to see a return to classic representations, including Spanish wine.
“The pendulum is swinging back to wines that are less dense, have higher acidity and are better with food,” says Katrin Naelapaa, director of Wines from Spain, a division of the Trade Commission of Spain. Northwest Spain provides that style of wine because the terrain is so difficult to farm. Specifically, a lot of wine buyers are venturing into newer regions such as Galicia and Bierzo. According to Naelapaa, the Priorat wine region has suffered a bit by the push back.
As I quoted in my last article about wine trends to look for in 2012, “One of the up-and-coming regions to look for value is wines from Spain,” says Master Sommelier Patrick Okubo, managing partner for Formaggio Grill in Kailua, Hawaii.
However, this isn’t exactly Spain’s first rodeo. During the 1850s and 1860s, oidium and phylloxera ravaged the grape vines of France. Winemakers supplemented the disease-ridden vineyards by using Spanish wine, particularly from Rioja, in their blend. Over the past 10 years, domestic demand for Spanish wine has risen dramatically because its alluring lower price point in comparison to other classic old world European regions.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission, $265 million worth of Spanish wine was imported into the U.S. in 2010, up 158 percent from 2000 and 28 percent from 2005. The U.S. imported 53 million liters of Spanish wine in 2010, growing 175 percent since 2000 and 38 percent since 2005.
“Perhaps influenced by the state of the economy, we have seen a trending down in price,” says Naelapaa. The value wines, between $8.99 and $20, have seen a lot more growth than the luxury category. Falling prices have spurred two other trends in Spain: more wines that fall under the qualification of Vino de la Tierra and increased production of younger wines.
According to Naelapaa, importers are creating their own brands and sourcing from larger production areas under the qualifications of Vino de la Tierra, or wine of the land. This system was invented for wines that do not fulfill the Denominación de Origen (d.o.) requirements of grapes and aging, but must be from a specific region. Because they are not regulated as strictly, the winemaker has more flexibility.
“Rioja has ramped up production of younger wines that see a lot less time [in oak] due to demand,” Naelapaa says.
In response to the trend of lower-priced wines, winemakers are producing more joven or crianza. Red wine labeled crianza must be aged two years, including six months in cask. Red wines labeled joven require less aging than crianza. These wines hit the sweet spot of value wines. Red wines labeled reserva are aged three years, including one year in cask, and gran reservas are aged five years, including 18 months in cask. Falling above the value-wine category, they typically sell for between $30 and $50. However, for the consumer seeking mature wine, Spain still offers better quality for the price than most other countries.
According to Naelapaa, we can expect to see a continued growth of white wines from Spain. In 2010, 1.9 million liters of Albariño was exported to the U.S. (a 259 percent increase from 2004, making it the No. 1 international market for Albariño). Cornerstone Communications Ltd. launched a Rías Baixas Albariño wine marketing campaign in the U.S. last November. The campaign will run through 2013 with a budget of $2 million, using a marketing concept called the Albariño Explorers Club, or AEC. With increased domestic awareness, Albariño exports can be expected to grow.
The latest initiative of Wines from Spain to promote awareness was a soft launch of its new website http://www.winesfromspainusa.com/ on Dec. 14, 2011. With the help of Master Sommelier and Master of Wine Doug Frost, the Wines from Spain wine guide is now available online. Other features include an interactive map to find Spain’s 69 D.O.’s as well as wine-locating services. Those informative services provide the name of the importer and stores that sell the product.
“The website brings the consumer much closer to being able to purchase the product than ever before,” Naelapaa says. She also says Spain is the only country promoting such capabilities. The website currently features 160 wines, but the plan is to double that number by next year. The interactive map will eventually help users locate and contact wineries directly. All in all, this resurgence means nothing but positive growth for some of the best wine producers in Spain, which will keep its many fans happy for some time to come.