From tariffs that upended the American wine market to a pandemic that shuttered on-premise operators and reshaped consumption patterns, 2020—to say the least—was a year the wine industry will not soon forget. But in every challenge that tests our resolve, there’s always a silver lining to be found. The good news?
For the wines of Spain, an unusual year resulted in a run of exciting accolades, as consumers left their “old normal” behind and ventured (virtually!) into new regions and grape varieties, making exciting discoveries and bringing the vinous riches of one of the Old World’s most inimitable winemaking nations to the fore.
As we look back at a year that accelerated change in nearly every area of our industry, we’re taking stock of the state of Spanish wine in the American market—and the results are exceptional. Let’s dive into a year in review:
Bodegas Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 2010 won the crown as Wine Spectator’s #1 Wine of 2020, with the esteemed publication writing: “Great wineries are not made in a day... This year, a benchmark winery in Spain showed how such a long-term project can result in remarkable success. . . This Rioja demonstrates how tradition and innovation can work together to deliver great wines. For its history, its quality, and for reminding us of the value of commitment and vision, the Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 2010 is Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year for 2020.” The magazine went on to note that “through the difficulties of 2020, Spain's vintners have found hope in an impressive crop of current releases.”
Sales of Spanish wine on go-to ecommerce platform Wine.com showed exceptional year-over-year growth in a key period of Q4, lifted by an effective promotional campaign and with revenue climbing by nearly 90%—beating already-robust growth on the platform, while also taking share from other categories. Millennials and Gen X-ers led the charge, with both demographics growing significantly since 2018, and with overall customer growth for Spanish wine spiking up by 135% during this period.
In a piece on accessible bottles for at-home enjoyment, New York Times Wine Critic Eric Asimov led with three Spanish selections, with nearly half of his recommendations coming from Spain. Cava also earned a quite well-deserved share of the accolades.
Two wines from Spain cracked Vinepair’s eclectic list of The 50 Best Wines of 2020, with Bodegas Avancia’s 2019 Godello helping to bring the native variety to a whole new audience, with the outlet naming it an “overlooked Spanish white variety that deserves a spot on your radar.” Espectacle del Monsant 2017 also made the list, with Vinepair praising its intense fruit notes and harmonious, well-integrated texture and structure.
In 2020, USA Wine Ratings awarded Gold Medals to thirty-four Spanish wines, with a wide range of styles, regions, and grapes represented. In the NY International Wine Competition, Spain took two out of twenty-one Double Gold Medals. And when it came to the trade’s love for Spain, the Somm Choice Awards served up twenty-five Spanish Gold Medal winners.
Town & Country closed out 2020 with a recommendation of “The Best White Wines to Drink Now”, with Do Ferreiro Cepas Vellas Albariño noted as a “phenomenal pairing for seafood” alongside other world-class offerings from Germany, California, and France.
Forbes wine writer Katie Kelly Bell foregrounded two impeccable wines from Spain in her piece “Drink the Best Wines from 2020, and Raise a Toast to 2021”: Marques de Caceres Gran Reserva Rioja 2010, which she described as “a brilliant expression of what true age can mean for a Spanish Tempranillo from Rioja,” and PINEA’s Ribera del Duero 2017, which she noted as “an elegant and powerful wine, a full-throttle expression of terroir.”
Five Spanish producers earned praise on Wine & Spirits’ Top 100 Wineries of 2020 list: Gran Clos, R. López de Heredia, Quinta da Muradella, Bodegas y Viñedos Raúl Pérez, and Bodegas Vega-Sicilia.
Top critic and wine writer Karen MacNeil’s #1 Wine of 2020? From Spain, of course! Her favorite selection for this challenging year was a classic—Remelluri’s Rioja Reserva 2012, a wine, she writes, that is “so alluring, sensual, and complex that I was stopped in my tracks when I first wrote about it. . . heady incense, dark chocolate, sea salt, exotic spices, black licorice, earth and cigar notes have coalesced into aromas and flavors that are simply stunning. The wine has power, fantastic volume, and velocity.”
Rounding out the accolades for 2020, Spain made an impressive showing in Vivino’s 2020 Wine Style Awards. Winners were selected by consumer feedback and ratings on Vivino, the most downloaded wine app and sales marketplace in the world, with Spain winning in eighteen wine style categories. Spanish Sauvignon Blanc and Sherry debuted on the list for this first time, with Verdejo and Spanish sparklers among the fastest growing styles. Rioja also tied for the second most scanned wine style on the platform, and white Rioja saw the largest and most significant year-over-year growth: a stellar 60%.
In a year of trials and tribulations, growth and resilience, Wines from Spain made a lasting mark as the go-to choice for everyone from in-the-know critics to consumers venturing out for the first time on their own at-home journey of discovery and exploration.
Here’s to hoping that 2021 brings brighter days, a chance to gather again at the table, and—of course—continued enjoyment of the culinary and vinous bounties of Spain. Salud!