The UK wine market has a heavy bias towards New World varieties but Britons still have a fondness for Spanish wine and the focus isn't all about the Rioja region.
Spain maintains a healthy position in the list of top ten wine exporting nations to the UK at number six. In 2006 volume sales were down slightly, but it recorded a 0.7% growth in value to £286m, according to Nielsen [year to 30 December 2006].
María José Sevilla, head of Wines From Spain, says value growth is down to recognition that Spain can offer variety. "Our message to the UK is about diversity. It is catching on but slowly. It's not going to happen overnight."
Last year's value growth for Spain was driven by consumers trading up through independent and multiple wine retailers, says Sevilla. The knowledge and advice staff can share is helping encourage consumers to trade up.
Another driver for Spain's value growth has been the introduction of the New Wave Spanish Wine Awards. Many winning wines selected in 2005 gained listings in the off-trade last year, and some of the 103 winning wines from 2006 are expected to be a source of inspiration for retailers, particularly in the £5-plus bracket.
Exhibitors at this year's Wines From Spain trade tasting event, held in February, showed off the nation's wealth of indigenous grapes, including Tempranillo, Albariño, Godello, Verdejo, Mencia, Graciano and Pedro Ximénez. These sit alongside better-known varieties, such as Chardonnay, Syrah and Shiraz.
Some Spanish-branded wines are making their mark, though its key 'brand' is still wines from the Rioja region.
One of the leading brands in the UK, Pernod Ricard's Campo Viejo, has helped drive awareness of this region.
"Rioja is one of the best- known wine regions and if pricing and quality levels are consistent the sky's the limit," says Pernod's UK wine development director Adrian Atkinson.
But consumers are realising Spain has more to offer than Rioja. "I think Spain has turned a corner in terms of how it is perceived by consumers," he says.
Sevilla adds: "More top-class Cavas are being sold in the UK."
Sherry is also fundamental to Spanish culture, but producers still battle to improve sales in the UK. "It can be a sophisticated drink but it needs to find its own niche," says Sevilla. "It is a complex drink." n