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Ramón Bilbao crowns its Spanish Wine Master

Ramón Bilbao has crowned the UK winner of its Spanish Wine Master competition with wine communications professional Kirsty Woodgate receiving the award.

Keen to shine a light on the incredible diversity of Spanish wines, leading Rioja producer Ramón Bilbao launched a global Spanish Wine Master competition this year, as part of its goal to place education within the wine trade at the forefront of its communication efforts.

With more than 1,500 members of the trade taking part in the worldwide event, the UK leg of the competition saw nearly 200 entrants fight it out over three rounds.

Taking place at London’s Four Seasons Hotel on 3 July, the final was presided over by a panel of judges including Masters of Wine Sarah Jane Evans and Pedro Ballesteros Torres, Ramón Bilbao’s chief winemaker and technical director Rodolfo Bastida, and winemaker Rosana Lisa.

The competition has its origins in Ramón Bilbao’s Spanish Wine Academy, an educational platform launched in 2020. “It’s important to promote talent and the quality and diversity of Spanish wine worldwide,” Bastida said.

In addition to the UK, the Spanish Wine Master competition took place in three other countries where Ramón Bilbao has a significant presence: its homeland of Spain, the Dominican Republic and Colombia. In all four countries, contestants were challenged to undertake blind tastings devised by The Wine Studio, which pioneers WSET courses in Spain. In the UK, finalists also had to identify soil types and give a technically accurate description of wines to the judges.

Emerging triumphant was wine communications professional Kirsty Woodgate. As part of her prize, Woodgate won a bursary of £3,000, which she’s putting towards the Spanish Wine Scholar programme, to further advance her knowledge of Spanish wine. She was also invited to Ramón Bilbao’s headquarters in Haro to make her own blend.

Woodgate said she was “shocked” and “honoured” to have scooped the top gong. “There were a lot of great minds in the final, so it’s a privilege to have been recognised by such well-respected judges,” she said.

Bastida added that Woodgate was a worthy winner: “We were very impressed by the way she approached the tasks and demonstrated understanding and knowledge of Spanish wines,” he said. Having recently returned from Rioja, Woodgate is fired up about her fledgling blend. Going against the grain, she decided to make a hero of Graciano.

“Some might say that’s a bold choice, but a lot of the Riojas I love have a dash of Graciano in them. I like the softness, acidity, colour and herbal aromas that Graciano brings to a blend,” she said, highlighting that, as a late-ripening variety, Graciano may become increasingly important in Rioja as winemakers seek to combat the effects of global warming. Among her winemaking duties during her trip was the analysis of must, and yeast preparation.

With around 1,000 bottles of her wine due to be made, Woodgate is currently in talks with Ramón Bilbao’s winemaker, Rosana Lisa, about which vessel will be used for maturation and for how long. As for next year ’s global final, Woodgate is feeling “nerves, pride and excitement” about representing the UK. She said: “Competing on an international scale will be daunting, but it’s an innovative initiative that I’m thrilled to be part of.”

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