Spanish Wines in the Limelight in Ireland
Every year, Spanish Wine Week descends on Ireland, bringing with it a wealth of opportunities to delve into the world of Spanish winemaking, wine regions, grape varieties and styles. We interviewed a few of the key players in making this event a success, including celebrated Irish sommelier Ian Brosnan, wine and food writer Gaby Guedez of TheTaste.ie, and wine distributor Rafael Salazar.
This year’s edition, the third of its kind, ran from April 23–29, 2018, tantalizing palates across Ireland with a wide range of opportunities to discover Spanish wines through tastings, talks, wine dinners, competitions and more – all organized by the Spanish Economic and Commercial Office in Dublin in collaboration with local restaurateurs, wine sellers, sommeliers, distributors and others.
As the wildly successful week came to a close, we interviewed a few of the key players in making this event a success, including celebrated Irish sommelier Ian Brosnan, the wine manager of Dublin establishment Ely Wine Bar; wine and food writer Gaby Guedez of TheTaste.ie, “Ireland’s Digital Food and Drink Magazine”; and wine distributor Rafael Salazar of Vinostito.
This is what they had to say about the present and future of wines from Spain in Ireland:
What types of Spanish wines have entered with the most force in the Irish market?
Ian Brosnan: The most exciting change in the last few years has been the exposure to new regions and varieties, meaning that wines from regions such as Madrid, Navarra, Ribeira Sacra, Bierzo, the Canary Islands, etc. have massively increased in popularity. If I was to simplify it, I’d say lighter, cooler, less-oaky reds, and the lesser known white varieties.
Gaby Guedez: In principle, the ones I call the “Four R’s” of Spanish wine, which are “Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Rías Baixas and Rueda” (Rueda in lesser amount than the others, but it is still quite common on wine menus and in specialty shops). I think people still prefer regions and brand names that they’re familiar with, although they are becoming more and more adventurous.
Rafael Salazar: At Vinostito, where we target restaurants and specialty stores, DO’s like Bierzo, Valdeorras, Priorat and Vinos de Madrid (from the subzone of San Martín de Valdeiglesias) are becoming more well known and gaining ground.
Do Irish consumers have more interest in unknown varieties or do they still prefer the classics?
I.B.: While Rioja will always have a special place in the hearts of Irish wine drinkers, there is a definite desire to seek out newer regions and varieties. The Spanish section of our own wine list has doubled in size in the last year as a result of the newer styles available on the market, and we are now pouring Mencía, Verdejo, Xarel-lo and others by the glass, a fair testament to their increased popularity.
G.G.: The informed consumer is keen to explore but I think there is still a long road ahead before lesser known regions and varieties can consolidate their place in the market. I think people know and seek out varieties like Tempranillo, Garnacha and Albariño, but there needs to be a little bit of “up-selling” in order to motivate someone to try something different. Of course, when they do, their reactions are generally very positive.
R.S.: Yes, there is interest in local and lesser known varieties, as long as there is quality and affordable prices (15–20€). But the largest volume of sales comes from Ribera del Duero, Rueda, Rioja and Rias Baixas, which is the same problem that we have in Spain.
Are Spanish and non-Spanish restaurants in Ireland helping to popularize wines from Spain?
I.B.: I think any restaurant that serves out of the ordinary Spanish wines helps to popularize them, and, as a wine bar, we certainly try to do our bit with most Spanish wines, but at the moment particularly with Cava.
G.G.: Definitely. It is unusual to see a wine menu without at least one (and usually various) wines from Spain on it, and at different price points too. There aren’t very many Spanish restaurants in Ireland, but fortunately the wines from Spain are not just thought of as something that can only be served with tapas. I think that those who work in the industry benefit from constant contact with Spanish wines through events like Spanish Wine Week, the Spanish Wine Fair, and the many smaller tastings where there is direct communication between importers/distributors and those in charge of decision-making at restaurants, hotels, etc. This helps to foster a positive disposition, as well as personnel who are informed and enthusiastic.
R.S.: Yes, restaurants like Las Tapas de Lola and Cava are doing a lot to promote Spanish wines, and offer an ample selection of wines from different regions.
How do you value the versatility of Spanish wines when it comes to pairing with food?
I.B.: We love using Spanish wines to pair with food, in particular Sherry, Cava and the many indigenous varieties which are grown nowhere else. We regularly run Sherry flights with food pairings at the wine bar.
G.G.: I believe that they are seen as versatile wines that combine well with food from many different countries. In the case of the whites, since Ireland is a country with quality fish and spectacular seafood, it is common to see Albariños paired with these types of dishes (in fact, the popularity of the wines from Rias Baixas in Ireland is noteworthy). In terms of reds, the pairings are more classic, with red meats, cheese boards and charcuterie being the closest allies of the variety of Spanish wines. Of course you are also going to see them in restaurants that serve tapas, whether they are typically Spanish or offer more of an international fusion. I think that the wines that require a little more love are the sparkling ones. The fact is that although the more informed consumers value Cava, it still needs to find its niche in the mainstream. I think that interest has increased a bit in the past few years, but it still needs to reach a wider public.
R.S.: This is our strong point. The best restaurants in the country are incorporating more and more Spanish wines all the time, both due to the quality/price ratio and the variety of styles.
Over the past two years, the selection of mid- to high-range Spanish wines has increased, including Cavas, Sherry wines, etc. I also think that the tendency towards wines with less oak and extraction is helping in terms of pairing with a cuisine that is leaning more and more towards local products and purer flavors.
How do you see the impact of Spanish Wine Week?
I.B.: Spanish Wine Week has been a revelation for the Irish wine scene in terms of promotion, showcasing new regions and renewing interest in older ones like Sherry!! We have held tastings focused on Sherry, Navarra, Spanish whites, etc. during the various Spanish Wine Week events and each has been a wonderful opportunity to present fantastic wines to our guests. When I speak to colleagues from other countries, I use Spanish Wine Week as the perfect example of how it should be done.
G.G. I think that Spanish Wine Week in Ireland is one of the most anticipated and fun events on wine lovers’ calendars in this country. The Spanish Economic and Commercial Office shows excellent leadership in terms of getting store owners and restaurant and bar managers to participate, as well as the general public. This is a very inclusive event that takes into account all types of venues, not only Spanish-themed ones, but also places that serve Irish, Thai, Indian or other cuisines, all of which come together (for this event).
Also, a very nice thing about the week is how it manages to combine educating consumers with having fun and celebrating. There are Flamenco shows, talks, dinners, etc. and there are events that wine lovers of all different budgets can enjoy. The Commercial Office and the different producers generously contribute the wines to make it possible for the different establishments to offer activities at very good prices. I think that Spanish Wine Week in Ireland is a fantastic event, which in only three years has become a reference point for good organization and cooperation, and I am sure that it is an idea that could be adapted to many other markets.