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miércoles, 8 de febrero de 2017

Spain's White Wine Revolution ..Comment of /Comentario de Wines Inform Assessors

Spain's White Wine Revolution
© Marques de Riscal | The first Rueda wines to be taken seriously came from one of Rioja's most traditional producers, Marques de Riscal.

 
Spain is trendy right now, but not for the wines you would expect,

James Lawrence reports.

If anyone needs an example of how a wine producing nation can reinvent itself, they should look to Spain.
Forty years ago, Spain had, effectively, no clout or reputation in the still white wine department; there were some notable exceptions, Torres, for example, had been successfully marketing its Viña Sol/Esmeralda brands across the globe for decades, but these wines were few and far between.

What essentially held Spain back was a lack of investment in modern white production, coupled with the country's generally red grape-friendly climate, culture and gastronomy. "The story of Rueda is a great example of why Spanish white wine seemed more of an afterthought," says US sommelier Max Kast. "In Rueda, Verdejo and Palomino had been used to make the oxidative white wine called Vina Dorado. Modern winemaking techniques were not necessary for this style of wine, however, once tastes around the world started looking for cleaner more fresh wines, the need for modern white wine winemaking techniques became a necessity."

He continues: "The story of Rueda demonstrates why white wine was marginalized in Spain – there was no market for the old styles of white being made and the wines could be extremely variable once they reached their final destinations."

Yet salvation came, ironically enough, from Rioja's oldest and most traditional of bodegas – Marques de Riscal. With the aid of stainless steel and temperature control, Marques de Riscal successfully rebranded Rueda as a fruit-driven, crisp and aromatic white wine, encouraging a younger generation of winemakers to bring modern techniques and a more international outlook to Spanish whites. "In the post-Franco era, the technology necessary to create white wines that could compete internationally was finally more widely available," agrees Kast.

Galicia's Godello is another interesting case in point. At one time extremely prolific in northern Spain, by the 1970s much of it had been ripped out in favour of Sherry's Palomino. But inspired by the success of Albariño, the grape was replanted in the 1980s, initially led by the producer Godeval.

Today, many of Spain's most important regions are producing white wines and with sales growing exponentially, more unique styles are bound to follow. Indeed discerning oenophiles have many options to choose from, starting with Rueda in Castilla y Leon, Rias Baixas in Galicia, as well as Penedes, Somontano and Costers de Segre in the Catalunya region of northeastern Spain. And the experimentation continues apace – Torres, for example, are set to release a white wine produced from a lost Catalan grape called "Selma Blanca".

Nonetheless, Spain's superlative white wines were largely consumed quietly and domestically until the end of the 20th Century, and rarely seen on lists in Manhattan, Hong Kong or London.

The question is why?

"Simple," answers London-based restauranteur Jose Pizarro. "Before the collapse of the Spanish economy, cities like Madrid were a major center of demand for Galician whites – there was no real need to export." Then the financial meltdown of 2008 arrived and suddenly wineries were falling over themselves to sell abroad.

As a result, the past nine years have seen an explosion of interest in Spain's now varied and exciting white wine styles, with restaurants globally relishing the opportunity to list racy Albariño from Galicia and aromatic, fresh Verdejo from Rueda. But don't just take my word for it – ask Rafael del Rey, director-general at the Spanish wine market observation center. He explains: "Spanish white wines have increased their export market share significantly since 2000." Rueda is the volume driver, with brands like Marques de Riscal and Pernod Ricard continuing to invest in the once-neglected region.

Galicia is the latest Spanish white wine region to get sommeliers and wine writers excited.
© Visit Spain | Galicia is the latest Spanish white wine region to get sommeliers and wine writers excited.

But for sommeliers and importers everywhere, it is Galicia which is generating the most excitement.

Epicureans in the US have particularly enthused over Albariño, its pungent, lime-scented aromatics offering a welcome alternative to the ubiquitous Sauvignon Blanc option. "Albariño has become a major brand in itself," said Thomas Pastuszak, wine director at The NoMad hotel, New York. "We now typically have anywhere between 10-20 Spanish whites on the menu – it's easy to get guests to try Galician wines when drawing reference to comparable whites from say Sancerre or Chablis," he added.

Kast agrees: "I think that the perception of Spain as a predominately red wine country in the US is starting to change. Part of that new popularity is that Spanish white wines from Galicia, Rueda, Catalonia, Rioja, and the Basque country fall into a great price point. They are affordable and often deliver a lot of quality for what you pay, and guests [consumers] always love that." Moreover, E.& J. Gallo has undertaken a joint venture with producer Martin Codax, to increase the amount of Albariño coming into the US, while several Californian brands such as Marimar Torres are now marketing their own version. Proof indeed, that the American palate is not indifferent to Spanish white wines.

Meanwhile, British consumers also can't seem to get enough of both Spanish cuisine and nation's pungent whites. Owen Morgan owns three tapas restaurants in the UK, with further plans to expand in 2017. "We list 17 whites at each venue; Albariño is a go to varietal for white drinkers now, although seasonality obviously plays its part with sales rising during the summer," he said.

"Verdejo though is probably our most popular choice, with obvious similarities for drinkers wanting an alternative to Sauvignon Blanc. What is really encouraging is that consumers request wines like Albariño and Verdejo without being prompted, although we are obviously a Spanish-led restaurant, so most people know they may be offered something different to their usual choice,” he added.

In addition, despite the fact that producers have clearly benefited enormously from the tapas boom in markets like the UK, there are growing signs that the trend is spreading its wings toward the prestige restaurant sector.

"I have an Albariño by the glass that sells very well, as its a fantastically versatile wine that can be matched to many of our dishes. It's becoming more and more popular," said Stefan Neumann, head sommelier at the two Michelin-starred Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. And, while he concedes that Spanish red sales do overall outsell the whites, the fact that it finds a home in such a prestigious address is solid evidence of the varieties' widening popularity.

Yet contrary this continued and enormous success, Spanish whites remain largely within the realms of the low/middle market, with prestigious and expensive examples rarely seen. The vast majority are available in retail for less than $50, and Rueda, in particular, has a very mass-market friendly price point. "There are a few expensive exceptions to this rule, even still many of those are worth every penny," answers Kast. "For example, Emilio Rojo in Ribeiro, Raul Perez's Sketch, and Telmo Rodriguez's Remelluri White are all some very expensive Spanish whites that I had a lot of success with when I was working the floor as a sommelier."

This select club may be poised to expand its ranks, however. The legendary producer Vega Sicilia is to move into white production, with plans to market wines from the Ribera del Duero and Rioja regions. In fact, the family has been experimenting with making white wine since the early 1990s, according to owner Pablo Alvarez.

"In I994, we planted Chardonnay, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne at Vega Sicilia, producing wines from the 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 harvests. However, we were dissatisfied with the results and pulled up the vines in 2009," Alvarez said.

But in a renewed effort to forge a pricey white, Alvarez said they had replanted new clones of Chardonnay and Marsanne in Ribera del Duero in 2015, in addition to planting the same varieties in Rioja Alavesa.
Alvarez, ever the ambitious optimist, said he wants to prove that Spain can produce a world-class white – something akin to Montrachet: "The world today contains white wines that are works of art, why shouldn't Spain try to craft something of equal magnificence."

Pie in the sky or realistic goal? Only time will tell, but in the meantime there is plenty of zesty Albariño, Verdejo and Godello to whet our appetites.

Comment of /Comentario de Wines Inform Assessors:

Me gustaría llamar la atención de que la distancia disminuye el conocimiento de los productos de un país. También el interés. Se puede mejorar esta situación promoviendo el conocimiento sobre la zona y las personas .

Pienso que el mercado principal para los productos de consumo, incluido el vino, debe ser el mercado nacional -que a la vez suele tener falta de conocimiento y aprecio sobre la gran cantidad de productos y productores diferentes que tiene.

Que el albariño era un vino reputado como excelente ya viene desde los años 60 del siglo XX. Que el Verdejo se convirtió en un producto estrella en los años 90 -relegando a la variedad Sauvignon Blanc que se plantó en la zona- fue una  revolución comercial.

La tendencia a revalorizar las variedades autóctonas es básica. La Garnacha Blanca es actualmente uno de las uvas que ha pasado de ser un vino oxidado a elaborarse de manera excelente con vinos que aúnan grado y delicadeza

Las variedades de Euskadi como la Hondarribi Zuri -y la manera peculiar de servir el vino- es otro de los productos estrella desde hace años

Y lo más importante es conocer la existencia de productores de calidad de los diferentes vinos

Wines Inform Assessors
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I would like to draw attention to the fact that distance diminishes the knowledge of the products of a country.

Also interest. This situation can be improved by promoting knowledge about the area and people.
I think that the main market for consumer products, including wine, must be the national market - which at the same time often lack knowledge and appreciation of the large number of different products and producers it has.

That Albariño was a wine reputed as excellent already comes from the 60's of the twentieth century. That the Verdejo became a flagship product in the 90's - relegating the variety Sauvignon Blanc that was planted in the area - was a commercial revolution.

The tendency to revalue native varieties is basic. The Garnacha Blanca is currently one of the grapes that has gone from being a rusty wine to being elaborated in an excellent way with wines that combine degree and delicacy

Euskadi varieties like Hondarribi Zuri - and the peculiar way of serving wine - has been another of the star products for years

And the most important thing is to know the existence of quality producers of the different wines

Wines Inform Assessors

Origin information: Wine Searcher

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