Soul of Rioja: 44 Group wins Wines from Rioja competition

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Drinks: Drinks, Wines

The bottles of wine have been selected and activities to promote them drawn up, but how did they fare in practice? Four restaurant groups across the country competed for this year’s Wines from Rioja cash prize


Earlier this year, Wines from Rioja challenged four restaurant groups to pick half a dozen wines from the region and create a coordinated two-week promotion to showcase what Spain’s most famous DO is all about.

Rioja’s slogan is ‘saber quién eres’ – or ‘knowing who you are’. And on this evidence, the answer is ‘diverse and complex’. Over the summer, the region’s full gamut of wine styles was on display in venues across the country – reds, whites and rosés, both traditional and modern.

Despite each venue’s fantastic efforts to showcase Rioja’s remarkable diversity, only one restaurant group could take home the £1,000 cash prize. In the end, 44 Group’s inventive approach helped them win the competition. What creative strategies did each venue employ? What winning tactics set 44 Group apart? Read on to find out!

Owen Morgan, 44 Group

CHOSEN WINES
Finca Manzanos, Blanco Fermentado en Barrica 2016, Alliance Wine, £7.99

Bodegas Riojanas, Viña Albina Reserva Vendimia Seleccionada 2013, EWGA/Haywards, £11.70

Finca Allende, Finca Nueva Reserva 2010, Ellis Wines, £16.95

Bodegas Valdemar, Conde Valdemar Rosé 2017, Berkmann Wine Cellars, £7.33

Bodegas Altanza, Lealtanza Reserva 2012, Georges Barbier of London, £10.50

Ramón Bilbao Lalomba Rosado 2017,
Enotria & Coe, £15.11

Tell us about the Batalla de Cardiff.
Ha! It was a big wine/water fight that we staged, videoed and put all over social media. It really got people talking.

What else did you do?
We had a loyalty card with the six wines for each venue. Each time someone bought a glass of Rioja, they received a stamp. If people completed all the cards, they went into a draw to win a visit to our new opening in Bristol with a night in a hotel. We got a lot of completed cards. People really made the effort to go to all the venues.

Anything more traditional?
We did red, white and rosé wine flights, using the six we’d chosen and adding a few others. We also did tasting menus, where you could have six dishes with a different wine for each, or use the tapas dishes as a main course and just have the one wine match. We always had staff about to help.

How did it work?
It was brilliant. I’m so glad we did it. Almost every table that came into our tapas bars had something off the tasting menu. Jess Walker and Sophie Ehlers, who chose the wines, went heavy on the whites and rosé, which turned out to be a masterstroke with the hot weather.

Any star wines or styles?
The rosés. Our normal house rosé is £29, but people had no problems paying £20 more than that for one of the Riojas. If there’s any Spanish region that can make people trade up like that it’s Rioja, and the Lalomba was a very pale, fashionable style, yet still recognisably Rioja.

Any surprises?
The barrel-fermented Manzanos white proved popular not just in our restaurant, but in the bars, too.

Did this all pull in business?
Absolutely. We ran the promo during Wimbledon and the World Cup when all other non-sport venues were quiet. But this created a lot of buzz, attracting the kind of customers we’d want to see – and new people too.

Why they won

‘The Think Rioja promotion launched in 2017 and we were excited to run it again with a few new restaurants and some returning.

‘We were massively impressed by the activities that were organised as each group ran promotions that suited their customers brilliantly.

‘In the end, we chose 44 Group as this year’s winner as we were blown away by its enthusiasm and the creativity put behind the activities, including its own take on the Batalla de Haro!’

Alex Layton, Wines from Rioja

Desiree Russo, Humble Grape

CHOSEN WINES
Bodegas Tarón, Tarón Blanco 2017, Ellis Wines, £7.10

Finca La Emperatriz, Viura 2017,
North South Wines, £7.12

CVNE, Viña Real Barrel Fermented Blanco 2015, Hatch Mansfield, £9.35

Bodegas Valenciso Laderas de Cabama 2013, Boutinot, £7.00

Torre de Oña, Martelo 2012,
Armit Wines, £20.00

Montecillo Edición Limitada 2011,
Las Bodegas, £12.00

What did you do?
Rioja became the focus of our weekly Tasting Tuesday, where customers pay £13 for a flight of four wines. We also did a big Rioja wine dinner, featuring all six of the wines we selected. It was out on the terrace with live music and a four-course tasting menu – 26 tickets at £75 a head. One of our regulars said it was the best tasting he’d ever been to at Humble Grape.

How did it work?
We poured the Tarón Blanco as an aperitif, then two different styles of white – oaked and unoaked – with the starters, the Valenciso and Martelo with the main course, and Montecillo with cheese – all sharing boards, so people could try different wines with different food. We asked for a show of hands to see which wines people preferred, so it was very interactive and we got good feedback.

Any stars?
The Valenciso was my personal favourite, but the Montecillo with the cheese made the greatest impact.

What did the staff think of it all?
They loved it. It was a great chance for them to try different styles and learn about the different sub-regions etc. They really understood what they need to be able to sell Rioja.

How did sales look?
It definitely improved them. We kept the tasting flights on for another month.

Gui Mahaut, ETM Group

CHOSEN WINES
Bodega Clássica Hacienda López de Haro Blanco 2017, C&D Wines, £5.77

Marqués de Murrieta Capellanía Reserva 2013, MMD, £12.48

Bodegas Vivanco Crianza 2014,
Matthew Clark/Bibendum, £13.00

Hacienda El Ternero Crianza Selección 2013, Ellis Wines, £20.95

Viña Bujanda Promesa Crianza 2015, Berkmann Wine Cellars, £8.99

Bodegas Luis Cañas Reserva 2012,
Alliance Wine, £12.86

What did you do?
We had five-wine Rioja menus – two whites, a rosé and two reds – at our most food-led venues. The Jugged Hare had an extra page clipped on to the wine list with all six wines on sale at a very competitive price. We also did a five-course dinner at the White Swan and sold 28 tickets at £45.

Any stars on the night?
My personal favourite was the Luis Cañas Reserva. But our big surprise was the Murrieta white with a grapefruit posset. The oak in the wine and the acidity in the dish worked amazingly well.

What did the customers think?
It was very hot when we were running the promotion in July, so the whites went very well. They flew out the door and were a real discovery for our customers.

And the staff?
The training was great for them. We had a lot of new people compared to when we did this last year, so they learned a lot. They mostly liked the reserva styles of red.

So worth the effort?
For sure. We brought in about £11k net over the two weeks.

Georgina Laing/Nicola Ruda, Salt Yard

CHOSEN WINES
Abel Mendoza Jarrarte 2016,
Alliance Wine, £8.37

Bodegas LAN D-12 2015,
Liberty Wines, £12.04

Beronia Mazuelo 2014,
Gonzalez Byass, £15.55

El Coto Verdejo 2017,
Liberty Wines, £7.50

Izadi Rioja Blanco 2017,
Liberty Wines, £10.35

La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza 2009,
Armit Wines, £19.00

What did you do?

We had three main events: Two early evening wine tastings at the Opera Tavern and Ember Yard, where people could try all six wines for free, and a bigger five-course dinner plus tasting at Salt Yard.

How did they go?
We had great uptake for the tastings. We expected them to last 45 minutes, but they were still going two hours later! For the sit-down dinner, we sold 36 tickets at £40 a head and that was a sell-out.

What did it involve?
There were five courses: canapé, a vegetable starter, ibérico pork, dark chocolate dessert and cheese, each matched with a different wine. Wines from Rioja gave us a tasting mat with information about things like oak and the different sub-regions that people could write their tasting notes on, which went down really well. We spoke a bit about Rioja in general and introduced all the wines before the courses. People were really engaged – asking questions, sharing experiences and so on. It was a great night.

Any star wines or matches?
People were very excited to see the Rioja Alta wine, but people were also amazed by the Jarrate carbonic maceration Mazuelo.

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