Despite the quality and diversity of its wine, Spanish wine can be overlooked on the Australian market, especially compared to other European winemaking countries such as France or Italy.

Three Spanish wine experts spoke about the category at the Spanish Food and Beverage Open Day on 1 July, hosted by the Trade Commission of the Embassy of Spain in Australia and Foods and Wines from Spain.

With almost 70 Denominación de Origin regions, the world of Spanish wine is quite diverse. Beth Willard, Decanter World Wine Awards Co-Chair, spoke about how Spain’s geographical features affect its wine.

“Altitude is absolutely key in Spain. It differentiates Spanish wines from a lot of other wines not only from Europe, but from around the world. People often think Spain is a very flat country, because when you’re driving through Spain, it often seems like you’re driving across plains, when in fact there’s impressive altitude,” she said.

“We can get lovely, intense, rich red wines from Spain, or whites with loads of flavour because of that wonderful sunshine, but at the same time, the wines are super fresh with great acidity because of the altitude.”

Spanish wine
L-R: Javier Polo (Tablao Group), Iain Sandler (ISWine), Beth Willard (Decanter), Lea Margetic (Hopscotch Season)

A nation of innovation

Another promising element about Spanish wine is a wide-ranging commitment to innovation.

“For me, Spain is the most dynamic wine country in the world at the moment, and I think that stems from an ability to look forward,” Willard said.

Much of this innovation involves blending modern winemaking knowledge with ancient techniques, such as fermenting wines in large clay amphorae. This is boosted with a revival of old vines, some of which are over 100 years old.

“There’s a quiet revolution in Spain which draws from its past. There’s a whole generation of winemakers who are going back to resurrect forgotten vineyards, abandoned vineyards, and really old vines,” Willard said.

The Spanish wine industry also has a keen focus on sustainable production, which is of high importance to Australian wine drinkers.

“Sustainability is a key concern. In fact, Spain is the number one organic wine producer in the world.

“The other thing that’s really important about altitude is that Spain has the capacity to adapt somewhat to climate change, because there is room for growers to go up higher in altitude to combat the negative effects of climate change. This is certainly happening in some key regions,” Willard said.

The Australian appeal

Australians are familiar with a number of Spanish varietals, such as Tempranillo, Grenache, and Albariño, which many Australian wineries produce. Tablao Group Founder Javier Polo said that Albariño’s versatility is particularly appealing.

“We are selling Albariño well, both in the UK and here. If someone can’t choose between a Chablis or a Pinot Grigio, an Albariño is a good choice in the middle,” he said.

Despite a good knowledge of Spanish varietals, Iain Sandler, Founder of importing and distribution company ISWine, has found that this does not translate to a broader knowledge of Spanish wine.

“The big problem we have in Australia is that there’s three things that people think of when they think about Spanish wine: Albariño, Rioja, and sangria. It’s a shame because there are around 70 regions, and wineries ranging from successful, generations-old wineries with big production volumes, to tiny backyard operations,” he said.

For Sandler, one of the biggest reasons that Australian wine drinkers are less familiar with Spanish wine is that they have had little exposure to Spanish culture.

“I’ve always felt that part of the struggle with Spanish wines being recognised in Australia is the lack of an imbedded Spanish community in Sydney and Melbourne. We don’t have somewhere that really portrays the experience you get in Madrid or Barcelona, whereas we have established Italian communities, Portuguese communities, and French communities scattered throughout the four big cities.”

Gastronomic connections

Spanish wine benefits from strong connections to food, as well as a style of drinking that is similar to Australia’s own culture.

“The easy-drinking nature of Spanish wines is the most appealing characteristic for the Australian market. Another thing is that Spain is a very multi-cultural country, and our food is very diverse. The wines match with almost any cuisine. If you have spicy food, or seafood, there will be a Spanish wine to match with that,” Polo said.

In addition, Spanish wine has a great potential in the fine wine space.

“I know here in Australia, there’s a great fascination with French wines and Italian wine. It’s quite established, particularly among fine wine restaurants. But trust me, Spain is the next fine wine region, and there are already wines which are among the greatest in the world,” Willard said.

In particular, Willard highlighted the potential of Spanish rosé, which is currently growing in popularity in Spain.

“There’s a Spanish rosé revolution happening at the moment. I think it’s one of the most exciting categories. There’s a real gastronomical movement going on, and Spanish producers are making some serious, interesting, textural rosés that are featuring on the menus of top restaurants. Watch this space.”

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