12/21/2007

Spanish exports in full flow

Each year, more than 3,000 exhibitors from over 40 countries participate at ProWein. Alongside Germany, Italy, France and Austria, Spain ranks as one of the trade fair’s leading exhibiting nations. Next year’s ProWein will be no exception and, from 16 to 18 March 2008, will once again provide a comprehensive overview of the range of wines Spain has to offer.

Spain’s vineyard acreage remains the largest worldwide, although the country ranks a mere third, behind Italy and France, in terms of production. Despite the systematic upgrading and modernisation of its wine growing techniques, the country’s complex weather conditions, as well as the extremely meagre soils in some areas, mean that Spain still only manages to harvest less than 4,000 litres on average from each hectare of vineyard.

In response to the sharp decline in Spanish domestic consumption of wine over the last few years, the various areas and regions are driving the export trade in a manner that is unmatched by virtually any other country. Indeed, total exports of roughly 12 million hectolitres per year make Spain one of the strongest wine producing nations on the international markets. In Switzerland, Spanish quality wines have overtaken those from France, thus positioning Spain as the second most popular import country for the Swiss. Spain has held its own in Germany for many years as the third largest supplying nation when imports of bottled and bulk wine are combined. The growth of Spanish exports to countries such as Japan or the United States is also in the double-digit range.

An outstanding 2007 harvest
Contrary to expectations, Spain recorded an extremely good harvest in 2007. This was complemented by a surprisingly large harvest volume that put Spain out on a limb in Europe during a year in which other key southern European producing countries suffered losses in volume. The north of the country reported very high quality, for example. As a result, winegrowers in the Navarra region are referring to an exceptional year, while the majority of producers in Rioja, where a damp and cool summer had given rise to fears of a poor harvest, now appear more than happy. The Catalonian areas are also reporting good-quality red wine with extremely high colour density and elegant tannin structure. The Levante region situated on the country’s hot south-eastern coast brought in a harvest of outstanding quality. Up-and-coming appellations such as Jumilla or Alicante were blessed with sufficient reserves of moisture during what was a rather cool year, and are therefore able to offer first-class red wine. Overall, the long sunny autumn saved the harvest in Spain, although the losses suffered in La Mancha due to adverse weather conditions represent a downside for the extremely important bulk wine sector.

A portfolio of strong vintages
More than virtually any other European wine producing country, Spain has managed to record a remarkably high number of very good to outstanding vintages in the new millennium. Hot on the heels of the almost legendary 2001 vintage, 2004 saw Spain shouting from the rooftops about yet another really good year. Connoisseurs of Spanish wine already rate the autumn of 2004 among the best of the last 50 years. The good news for everyone else is that this year’s ProWein will feature numerous Reserva wines that have been released in December 2007.

The following year saw the entire northern part of the country as well as the central region lay down yet another remarkable vintage. In contrast to the previous year, the 2005 vintage is characterised as smooth and palatable, with the result that the latest Crianza qualities are eagerly anticipated. However, visitors to ProWein will find more than a few producers already willing to offer their super-premium wines from this vintage without quality gradations for public tasting.

Although 2006 was a mediocre year for Spain overall, the Castilian winemaking region of Ribera del Duero is offering extremely high quality, as is the Catalonia region – in particular the Denominación de Origen Penedès. Consequently, providers of Spanish wine are likely to have an abundant supply of top quality wines on tap for ProWein 2008.

Castilla and Levante in vogue
Two regions stand out in particular as having been responsible for most of the interesting innovations at the quality-wine level over the last few years. Castilla y León has undoubtedly adopted a pioneering role as the region of origin for new quality wines. In addition to the five well-known appellations, the region referred to as northern Meseta has received four new D.O. areas this year. No other region in Spain has proved more dynamic when it comes to promoting unknown winegrowing areas and the associated autochthonic grape varieties. The two new quality wine areas of Tierras de León and Tierra del Vino de Zamora in particular contain a range of respected producers who will be attracting plenty of attention over the next few years. The two complete newcomers Arribes and Arlanza also offer great potential. However, the two highly sought after Toro and Bierzo areas within Castilla y León are operating at a very rarefied level. Situated at the western end of the Duero river, the Toro area produces an extremely homogenous quality, which explains why more and more of its wines have been awarded top marks by international wine critics. In contrast, Bierzo is still regarded as the insiders’ hot tip, but is garnering increasing attention thanks to an elegant style of red wine that is fundamentally rather less typical of Spain. Mencía, the top red-wine grape variety cultivated in this north-western D.O., is gradually building up an international reputation.

The Spanish offering for ProWein 2008
As in previous years, Castilla y León will again be strongly represented by the regional export society EXCAL at the upcoming ProWein. Visitors will be able to meet with over 80 producers along with representatives of local winegrowing authorities as part of the EXCAL grouping. Furthermore, this year’s fair will once again stage the impressive tasting event at which each of the Bodegas represented will have one of their wines on hand for tasting.

The producers from the country’s south-eastern corner are also worthy of eager anticipation. The Valencia and Murcia regions, long regarded as sources of quality wines typical of Spain at attractive prices, are likely to present yet more interesting products in 2008. Wines from Jumilla, which are profiting from the renaissance of the indigenous Monastrell grape variety, are especially in vogue – as are those from Valencia’s Utiel-Requena upland D.O. In the meantime, the area is also producing attractive wines based on the autochthonic Bobal red wine varietal.

For further information about ProWein 2008, please visit http://www.prowein.de/.

Author David Schwarzwälder is a Spanish correspondent for German-language periodicals Weinwirtschaft, Weinwelt, Sommelier Magazin (published by Meininger Verlag). He also writes for German magazines Feinschmecker and Weingourmet as well as various Spanish magazines.