Rioja: Breaking boundaries

18 July, 2014

The grape was the result of a mutation of the black Tempranillo back in 1988, which joined the consejo’s list of eligible grape varieties in recent years. The wines were four of 14 experiments in 2013, and will be sold initially from the online and winery store. Each year there will be more experiments, with the hope that some could become the wines of Campo Viejo’s future.

The on-trade is the natural platform for innovative wines. In restaurants especially, consumers are more open to experimentation, whether it be food or wine. Now owned by Sogrape, Bodegas Lan has refocused. “Now we are going for the modern style rather than more classical and focused on the on-trade to show our quality,” says Enrique Abiega, general manager of Lan.


The UK is by far the region’s top foreign market, making up a third of exports. “In the UK you have a more sophisticated consumer. Some are focused on entry-level wine but others are experimenting and looking for new flavours and tastes. Rioja can offer on both categories,” says Aguiriano.

What the UK is drinking a lot of is Campo Viejo Tempranillo. In the year to April 26, 2014, the wine became the UK’s number one red wine sku by value in the off-trade (Nielsen), which is quite incredible for a rioja with an rrp of £9.09. The much-publicised move from crianza to single-variety Tempranillo a few years back was not about reducing aging costs (crianza is required to spend 12 months in barrel), according to Christian Barré, chairman and CEO of Pernod Ricard Winemakers Spain, it was about improving communication with the consumer.

“We realised a few years ago that we had an issue with crianza,” says Barré. “While reserva is understood [in international markets], people had no clue what crianza was – they thought it was a grape variety. It was bringing confusion.” The arm of Pernod Ricard has said it hopes Tempranillo can be to Rioja what Sauvignon Blanc is to New Zealand.

Barré reports that the brand grew 20% in the UK last year, without sacrificing margin, though the wine sells on average closer to £7.00 than £9.00. “The increase in volume did not impact the value of the brand. Some retailers have used Campo Viejo as a loss-leader – but discounting is not good for the brand and playing this game with Campo Viejo is a short-term gain. It impacts the premiumness of the brand. We have tried to prevent it.”

Instead Barré attributes success to Pernod Ricard UK getting across the message that “Campo Viejo is rioja and Spain in a bottle” and the taste profile of the wine. “People are looking for less wood and more fruit. The style is less traditional rioja but it’s still true to what rioja is.”

But traditional styles are still central to rioja’s future. “My personal feeling leans in the shorter term towards oak-aged older wines,” says Oscar Urrutia, export manager at CVNE. In many markets this is still the expectation of rioja. “Germany and Switzerland are more profitable than in the UK because we are trying to focus on the the reservas and gran reservas,” says the consejo’s Aguiriano. “They are more classical markets but are not as open to the modern wines.”

Keywords: rioja, campo viejo, tobia

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Nick Strangeway

Bar food's blurred lines

Once upon a time pubs and bars were somewhere you went with the sole purpose of getting pissed and there wasn’t a knife and fork in sight, just a packet of dry roasted nuts.