Indigenous flavour

Spain’s diverse wine regions offer unprecedented choice for the on-trade buyer. Andrew Catchpole asks some of the best for tips on what is gracing their lists

Spain is blessed with a fantastic flagship in the inimitable form of Rioja, a wine that has long opened doors to the country’s vinous offer, and for good reason. Over the past couple of decades, though, you’d have had to be hiding out on the moon to miss the on-going emergence of myriad varieties, regions and styles from across Spain’s varied quarters.

Consumer recognition of Spain’s broader wine offer has been growing too, with styles such as Rueda’s Verdejo, Albariño and Garnacha providing stepping stones, while tourist become more adventurous, moving inland from the Costas to explore regional culture, along with the local wine and food.

Meanwhile, this has allowed restaurants to tap into this growing sense of adventure when it comes to Spain, with the best lists reflecting the growing consumer interest in individual and characterful ‘finds’, which this country delivers in spades.

Hispanophile Richard Bigg, owner of the Camino restaurant and bar group, has long been at the forefront of pushing the best of Spanish wine, revelling in the diversity.

“I love to encourage our guests to try something less obvious from Spain’s typical and excellent grapes and regions. Rich rewards await the more adventurous here, not only in taste and style but also value for money,” says Bigg.

On Camino’s all-Spanish lists, the grapes on their uppers and pulling in the punters, “building a good fan base”, are currently Godello, Graciano, Bobal and a high altitude Malbec, of which Bigg says “no surprise, I guess!”.

“It’s all about giving people more bangs for their buck, with the aim of exceeding people’s expectations,” says Bigg of these emerging but increasingly popular styles.

Another Spanish specialist, Owen Morgan of the growing Bar 44 group of tapas bars and restaurants, is equally upbeat about Spain’s diverse wines, and especially the fresher and cooler climate styles that have increasingly emerged onto the market.

“There is a trend towards lighter styles of red from Spain and the so called ‘new wave’ producers,” says Morgan. “So although a chunk of custom still wants a big old oaky Spanish red, there is definitely a shift.”

Morgan is finding that whites from the northwest – ‘Green Spain’ – such as Godello are increasingly resonating with customers that have discovered Albariño and are now ready to move on.

“More varieties of white native grapes from those regions are becoming popular and easier to sell,” says Morgan, adding, “more often than not customers are enlightened, enjoy, and come away thinking we’ve added to another unique experience for them.”

Of course, it’s not so difficult for Spanish specialists to encourage customers already immersed in Spain to broaden their horizons. But Spanish wines are exerting an increasing pull on lists in the mainstream-dining scene too.

Piotr Pietras MS, until recently head sommelier at London’s Hide, is also impressed by the ‘new wave’ of fresh, individual native-varietal wines coming out of Spain.

“Buyers and sommeliers are now looking more for freshness and drinkability than heavy oak regime and extraction. At the end of the day you end up pairing these wines with food and you’d rather want them to be versatile companions,” he says.

“Today you can find these wines in most regions, especially Galicia, Basque Country and Catalonia,” adds Pietras, who had much success with “Garnacha’s great renaissance”, via wines such as the Comando G project near Madrid and from Priorat, along with the minerally Listan Blancos emerging from Tenerife’s volcanic soils.

Consultant sommelier Agustin Trapero agrees, also citing the fresher, more poised styles at the forefront of modern Spain.

“Spanish wines are well in fashion lately. I am particularly enjoying the style of Galician white grapes, regions like Valdeorras with its local grape Godello and Ribeiro with Treixadura, which are doing very well,’ he says.

“This is due to producing light and delicate wines, with fresh stone fruit characteristics and a refreshing finish, which is pleasing to the English palate,” adds Trapero.

He adds that high altitude, cooler climate Spanish wines are much in vogue on high-end restaurant lists in London, with grapes such as Garnacha and Albillo also doing well, and that such wines will continue to gain in popularity across the trade.

It’s an exciting time for Spain and its wines in the UK, and a rich hunting ground for buyers looking to add interest and points of difference – with a Spanish flavour – to their lists.