Focus on sub-regions key to Rioja success

A vague understanding of Rioja as a region and use of “Rioja” as a blanket term for its wines is holding it back, according to Florent Thibaut, export manager for Europe at Marqués de Cáceres.

RiojaLast year sales of Rioja in the UK, which remains its largest export market, surged 10% by value, surpassing £200 million for the first time, and 6% by volume. Meanwhile the average price of a bottle of Rioja rose to £6.43, up 4% on 2013, pulling further away from the average price for a bottle of Spanish wine, which currently sits at £5.06.

However Thibaut argues that the continuing strength of “brand Rioja” is dependent on producers and distributors alike working to better communicate the differences between Rioja’s multitude of sub-regions, soils and terroirs, which he believes will build value into the category.

While confident consumers are now convinced of the quality and value of Riojan wines, Thibaut argues a vague understanding of Rioja as a region and a tendency for “Rioja” to be used as a blanket term for its wines is holding it back.

“It is incorrect to talk only about Rioja. Rioja has a very high diversity of soils and climates and we should be more specific about what Rioja is and explain to people what the characteristics of wine from a high altitude vineyard compared to lower altitudes are. We should educate people about this and try to do it in a simple way. It’s not good to put all our eggs in one basket.”

He added: “I think everyday it’s better and Spanish wines are taken more seriously these days. We still have a lot to do but I think people are convinced about the quality of Spanish wines and about its value.”

This outlook appears to echo the ambitions of a new generation of Riojan winemakers keen to build their brands by expressing the distinct characteristics of their terroir.

Richard Grant, international division director for Hijos De Antonio Barcelo added: “The future success of Rioja will depend on explaining the sub-regional and even town or specific single vineyard differences that exist in Rioja and which add quality and diversity of styles to what is already a solid consumer brand.”

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