The award for Cune Imperial Gran Reserva 2004 as best wine of the year by Wine Spectator is the perfect reflection of the evolution of Spanish wine in the U.S. market. The article presenting the winning wine, written by Thomas Matthews, states that this award is the culmination of twenty years of progress of Spanish wine.
Ten years ago we only saw cheap Rioja or Ribera del Duero Wines in American wine stores, especially competing in the good value segment with other cheap wine from Chile or Australia. For many years, the amount of Spanish product didn’t change (around 12 million bottles each year). However, a decade ago, the number started improving and now this is getting dramatic, with steady growth that has already quadrupled those exports.
Shanken News Daily reports that bottled wine exports from Spain to the U.S. increased by 8% in 2012 to 52 million bottles and the trend is accelerating. Large groups like Southern Wine & Spirits have expanded their portfolio of Spanish wines and view them like an area of interest to traders, rather than being a mere supplement. And we can see more and more dedicated articles to this Spanish phenomenon.
But all this is not a mere coincidence; the Wines of Spain campaigns (the wine section of the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade) with important events like Spain’s Great Match, the activity of some relevant DO’s in the country like Rueda, Ribera, Rioja or Rias Baixas among others and the hard work of some importers have achieved that Spanish wines are perceived as an opportunity rather than a risk.
One more key element has been the popularity of Spanish cuisine through famous chefs like Ferran Adriá and especially the work of José Andrés. The prestige of their cuisine has led to an increased interest in Spanish products in general.
Another important trend observed is the growth of the Spanish wine exports in value by 6.4% in the U.S. between January and September 2013, up from 2.082 million euros. However, volume sales have fallen by 18.2% to nearly 1,500 million liters. That shows a different positioning of Spanish wine, competing now with more expensive wines and also a market acceptance that sees those wines as a quality, smart purchase.
A large majority of Spanish wines in the U.S. are sold below $20 per bottle, and many for less than $10. But the sector is moving within the sub $20 bottle, increasing the prices from around $10 to around the $15. Consumers are distinguishing regions of production and their differences, as in the case of Rioja and Ribera del Duero. Another exciting thing is to see that caste, which was not well known here, such as Albariño, Tempranillo or Verdejo, is gradually entering the field than usual. Now restaurants serve these wines by the glass when five or ten years ago it was very unusual.
Spanish wines are working well in the U.S. There are many wines that move not only between $15 and $20, but also between $20 and $30, because people see Spanish wines as good alternatives to more expensive Bordeaux and Napa. This will be beneficial for everyone, from Spanish wines expensive and cheap, to American consumers that will have more access to high quality at a good price.