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Spanish Wines See Profile Rise In U.S.

September 24, 2013

Long overlooked in the U.S. market behind more developed import segments like Italy and France, the Spanish wine category has been coming into its own of late. Spain’s bottled imports to the U.S. rose 8% to 4.3 million cases last year, according to Impact Databank, and the strong progress has continued so far in 2013.

“Sales of table wines from Spain are up 20% so far this year, and we see that growth continuing,” says Vince Friend, president of CIV USA, the U.S. arm of Colección International del Vino. “It’s a go-to area now for retailers, rather than an afterthought.”

The vast majority of Spanish wines in the U.S. market retail at less than $20 a bottle, and many are priced lower than $10. But marketers note that within the sub-$20 price band there is considerable upward movement. “The $14.99 price point is the new $9.99,” says Patrick Mata, co-owner of Olé Imports, adding that consumers are becoming more knowledgeable about the differences among key Spanish wine regions like Rioja and Ribera del Duero. “Another exciting thing is seeing some grapes that haven’t been well known—such as Albariño, Tempranillo and Garnacha—slowly becoming mainstream. Restaurants now have these wines by the glass. Five or 10 years ago that was very rare.”

Last year, Spain’s leading brands underperformed the overall sector. Marqués de Cáceres, the largest Spanish brand in the U.S. market, was up 0.6% to 158,000 cases. Marqués de Riscal gained 5.7% to 129,000 cases and Campo Viejo advanced 3.8% to 109,000 cases.

“Reserva offerings are still showing strong growth in the U.S. among core Spanish wine drinkers,” says Jennifer Drapisch, brand manager for Campo Viejo at Pernod Ricard USA. “Still a value in comparison to other countries of origin, Spanish wine has seen an influx of new brands with lighter, more fruit-forward styles at lower price points.” In recent days, Pernod introduced Campo Viejo’s first 100% Garnacha wine in the U.S. market. According to the winery, the launch marks one of the first Garnacha offerings to come from a premium-quality Rioja estate.

Luis Burgueño, export manager for Marqués de Cáceres, says Spain’s “great value” moniker can be a double-edged sword. Noting retailers’ enthusiasm about sub-$15 Spanish wines, he explains that the category has been able to make significant volume headway in recent years, but that the luxury end remains underdeveloped. “Consumers see Spanish wines as great values, but the downside is that perception means every wine above $20 is a hard sell,” Burgueño says.

Still, some retailers say upscale Spanish wines are beginning to thrive in their stores. “There’s a good flock of wines moving at $15-$20, but a number of them are moving at the $20-$30 price points because people see these offerings as alternatives to more expensive Bordeaux and Napa wines,” says Chris Zitzman, associate director of sales and marketing at New Jersey’s Englewood Wine Merchants.

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