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Rioja - A commercial view from Ned Llewellyn

Alliance Wine imports a substantial part of the UK's Rioja, litres well into seven figures every year. We were keen to share some of our UK market knowledge of Rioja by asking Ned Llewellyn, our sales director for off-trade.

Ned Llewellyn Sales Director - Off Trade

Why do you think Rioja is so popular in the UK?

Rioja has long been a staple of the UK wine industry and its popularity seems to be ever-increasing. As the first recognised DOCa in Spain, and with such a rich history, it is no wonder that we see continued growth in sales of wines from Rioja. Rioja seems to have styles to cover all bases, from the traditional oak aged red styles through to modern, lively interpretations, and a plethora of interest in between.

How has the UK Rioja consumption has changed over the last years in the UK?

It is difficult to put numbers on this however we are seeing a clear move upwards in quality and price point, a noticeable increase in sales of white and Rose styles and a move towards cleaner, brighter, more precise expressions of Rioja.

What price points are most popular?

For many wine lists in restaurants where they may only list one Rioja wine, we have seen an upward trend from having quite basic wines to pushing better quality and higher-priced wines. This is obviously good for the restaurant, the importer and the producer. In retail there is still a demand for ‘good value’ Riojas, but again, our sales of better quality wines at £15 RRP and over are well up and still increasing whilst sales of wines at £10-14 remain fairly constant. We are seeing growing demand for premium wines too and the newly developed Vinedos Singulares. 

What styles?

What seems most exciting at the moment is the creative thinking of the region to not only offer the more traditional styles of wines, but to be pushing boundaries in terms of changing the perception of Rioja from the somewhat old fashioned view of wines being determined by a fairly basic ageing-related status, to that of (sometimes)single varietal, single-site expressions that truly reflect the quality and diversity of the microclimates and terroirs that the region has to offer. We also see continued growth in the premium regions of Rioja, and the styles that Rioja Alavesa can offer.

What are the Alliance Wine USPs on the UK Rioja market?

Our USP’s are really the diversity of wines and styles that we can offer as an importer and the added benefit to Indies of being able to groupage these wines together. We work with some incredible producers in the region – Bodegas Manzanos who produce wine from across the region but are based near Azagra in Rioja del Reyno, Bodegas Luis Cañas in Villabuena de Alava in Rioja Alavesa, and Abel Mendoza in San Vicente de la Sonsierra (towards the border of Rioja Alta and Alavesa). As well as working with these fantastic producers, we also make wines ourselves at Bodegas DeAlto in Rioja Oriental. This strength and depth in the region really sets us apart.