Wines from Rioja challenges restaurants to rethink the region’s offerings

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Location: UK

Wines from Rioja challenged four restaurant groups to pick six of the region’s wines for a series of summer tastings and promotions. But what did they pick and why?


The new Rioja slogan is all about ‘saber quién eres’… knowing who you are. But how much do you – and your customers – really know about Rioja? Probably not as much as you think.

That’s why Wines from Rioja challenged four different restaurant groups to pick half a dozen wines from a large selection of bottles sent in by participating importers, and then create a two-week campaign of events, promotions and tastings designed specifically to excite and enthuse their customers.

All 24 of the wines selected by the restaurants will be put front and centre on Wines from Rioja’s giant terrace at Imbibe Live, a wonderful showcase of great wine and food, with lots of jamón and cheese from restaurant group Camino.

In addition, the restaurant deemed to have the best campaign – both in terms of imagination and execution – will receive £1,000.

Having said that, just taking part is a reward in itself since the events and promotions can be huge crowd pleasers – as all of the venues that took part last year pointed out.

‘The moment we put the [extra]page in our wine list, people were asking for them,’ Galvin Restaurants told Imbibe last year.

‘The bistro kept calling to tell us they’d run out of wine.’

Last year’s winner, ETM Group, generated £12,000 in net revenues in Rioja sales alone over the fortnight.

ETM Group was back to defend its crown this year, and after the initial round of tastings, the group’s wine buyer and trainer, Guillaume Mahaut, could already see a strategy taking shape.

‘I most enjoyed the reservas,’ he says. ‘They weren’t too extracted, and had that lovely sour cherry/balsamic character. I was impressed with the whites, too. They worked well for us last year and we can use them in a summer promotion like this really easily.’

White in shining armour

Jess Walker and Sophie Ehlers from 44 Group were also homing in on the whites. ‘They were a really interesting range of styles, from fresh to oaky, but they were all consistently good,’ says Ehlers. ‘Our plan is to get as many of the lighter-style wines as we can. There are so many directions you can go down – though our customers know what Rioja is, so we have to be careful about pushing them too far out of their comfort zone.’

Salvatore Sicilia and Nicola Ruda from Salt Yard appeared to have no such qualms. ‘I was really interested by the flight of unusual reds,’ says Sicilia.

‘Carbonic maceration, natural wines, artisanal wines – and it was the first time I’d tried a single-varietal Mazuelo and Graciano as well. Coming from a Spanish restaurant it should be easy to sell people up into these.’

Humble Grape’s Desiree Russo, meanwhile, is in search of wines that have lift and balance, where the wines have come together to form ‘an all-together package, rather than disparate elements of oak, tannin etc’. And she found them, too.

‘I was impressed by how much balance there was across so many of these wines,’ she says. ‘I often go for older vintages, but these seemed to be performing well. The whites had great structure and backbone, too – they were a really pleasant surprise.’

Choosing the wines

We had six rounds of ‘picking’, with the order of who would go first each time selected at random. Here’s what our tasters picked and why

Desiree Russo, Humble Grape
Three whites, one reserva, one Tempranillo, one Tempranillo/Graciano blend
‘Rosé sells itself, so if we’re going to do a tasting, I like the idea of doing a red and a white one. That’s why I’ve got three different styles of white, from herby through citrusy to rich and oaky. For the reds, too, I’ve got a lighter, more modern style and two that are definitely food wines. We’re planning to do a Rioja flight and maybe a supper club. What I’ve got is perfect for that.’

Gui Mahaut, ETM Group
Two whites, two crianzas, two reservas
‘I originally wanted a rosé, but my preferred choice had gone, so I’ve gone for two whites instead. One is good for food, the other is more for by the glass in the bar, so they cover the range. For the four reds, I went for ones in a fairly modern style with plenty of fruit and richness. I’d expect to do themed dinners, serving three of them by the glass.’

Jess Walker and Sophie Ehlers, 44 Group
One white, two rosés, three reservas
‘We do lots of flights, so it’s good to have different styles of rosé. And one of our venues has a terrace, so these kinds of fresher wines play into that.’ Jess Walker
‘We were looking for wines with good integration of oak, and balance. We have everything from bars to an asador, so we can use them across a wide range of venues.’ Sophie Ehlers

Salvatore Sicilia and Nicola Ruda, Salt Yard
Two whites, one crianza, one reserva, one maceracion carbonica, one Mazuelo
‘It’s important to have something fresh, not just the richer style. One of our reds and the two whites could be served at cellar temperature.’ Salvatore Sicilia
‘We’ve kept an eye on the prices too. £10 is a sensitive price point for us. We can’t just have four £15 wines in our promotion.’ Nicola Ruda


The different campaigns will take place in June and July. Read about how they got on – and who won – in the autumn issue of Imbibe.


CATCH ME AT IMBIBE LIVE
Wines from Rioja will be showing all 24 of the wines selected by the restaurants on its terrace (Stand B44) at Imbibe Live, alongside delicious jamón and cheese from restaurant group Camino.

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