Winning formula: Rioja's restaurant competition results are in



22 January 2020

This year’s Rioja competition saw restaurants from across the UK hold tasting flights, host dinners and encourage customers to try unfamiliar styles of Rioja

Everyone knows that you don’t change a winning formula. And following the runaway success of last year’s Rioja restaurant competition, which saw restaurants compete to boost their sales with a combination of carefully selected wines and innovative promotions, our competitors gathered for more of the same again this year.

The 44 Group from Wales/Bristol were back to defend its crown from 2018, with D&D and Camino from London and Scotland’s Bon Vivant all determined to beat them to the prize.

Earlier in the year, the restaurants had all selected six wines from a large tasting of 170 Riojas in a variety of styles, from fresh whites and zesty rosados to funky expressions and classic crianzas and reservas.The venues then used their newly acquired wines to put together a series of promotional events throughout the autumn – from tastings and reward schemes to specially matched dinners – all aimed at raising awareness of what the region can off er their customers, and, of course, turbocharge their sales in the process.But when the fi nal corks had been pulled and glasses cleared away, what was the feedback from our venues? And who came out on top to win £1000 to spend towards Rioja purchases?

D&D GROUP Selected wines:

Bodegas Manzanos, Voché, Blanco Fermentado en Barrica 2017 (Alliance)
Bodegas Valdemar, Conde Valdemar Tempranillo Blanco 2018 (Berkmann)
Bodegas Vivanco, Vivanco Reserva 2012 (Bibendum)
Bodegas Valenciso, Valenciso Reserva 2012 (Boutinot)
Ramón Bilbao, Viñedos de Altura 2016 (Enotria&Coe)
El Coto de Rioja, Coto de Imaz Reserva 2012 (Liberty)

Sales uplift: +88%


What did you do? We listed all six wines at New Street Grill and New Street Wine. They were on by the glass, by the bottle and available as a take-away, with no corkage attached. In our Fish Market restaurant we listed the two whites – a great match with our menu.

Any specific events? Sixteen guests booked our three-course Meat Up With Rioja dinner, and we had a Drink Rioja evening, where people could walk in off the street and try the selected wines. We presented the wines to the customers, talking about the grapes, ageing, pairing and so on. We had around 20-25 guests who had a sip and purchased bottles to take away or drink in.

Any star wines? The Valdemar Tempranillo Blanco 2018 – accessible, easy to drink and refreshing – and Coto de Imaz, Reserva 2012. Having a ‘mature’ wine for under £29 was really appreciated by the customers.

Any good matches from your Meat Up With Rioja dinner? We were meant to serve four Riojas, but our guests were so enthusiastic that we ended up serving more! Star match of the evening was octopus with the Tempranillo Blanco.

What was the feedback from the public? Really positive. And a lot of them mentioned Rioja’s great value for money. We are planning to get some more Rioja wine on our list.

CAMINO Selected wines:

Bodegas Franco-Españolas, Bordón Gran Reserva 2009 (A&A Wines)
Bodegas Valenciso, Valenciso Barrel Fermented 2018 (Boutinot)
Unión Vitivinícola, Excellens Blanco Viura 2018 (Fine Wines Direct)
Bodegas Campillo, Campillo Rosé 2018 (Inverarity Morton)
C.V.N.E Contino Reserva 2014 (Hatch Mansfi eld)
Bodegas Ollauri, Conde de los Andes 2015 (Moreno



What promotions did you do? We offered the wines in 100ml glasses at a flat price of £4.50 to encourage people to compare the different styles. We also had flights of three wines for £12, with free tapitas to go with each drink, and a tasting event, where for £25 people could try the six wines with matching tapitas. We offered a 20% discount to anyone who wanted to stay for a meal – and most people did!

Any further customer incentives? We ran a competition to win a £100 tab – redeemable at any Camino restaurant, and a staff incentive (bottles of Rioja as the prize) for whoever sold the most.So how did it all go? We sold far more Rioja than usual, and we had some fun with it, too. It’s the first time we’ve done it, and people did try mixing up the styles, as they were encouraged to do by getting their cards stamped for each different wine. The better, more expensive wines and combos were the most popular. People realised they were on to a winner because all of the wines were priced the same.

Any star wines? Without a doubt, the Contino Reserva – sublime, deep rich, full and assured. The Valenciso Blanco was also a winner. Luis Valentín ferments all his wines in concrete then ages them in eastern European oak. The results are elegant with bold flavours coming through. Special stuff indeed.

BON VIVANT Selected wines

La Rioja Alta, Viña Arana Gran Reserva 2012 (Armit Wines)
Bodegas Valenciso, Laderas de Cabama 2014 (Boutinot)
Castillo de Sajazarra, Digma Graciano Reserva 2015 (Farthinghoe Fine Wine)
Bodegas Valdelacierva, Valdelacierva Rosé 2018 (seeking distribution)
Ibai Viticultores, Clos Ibai Blanco 2017 (seeking distribution)
Bodegas Navajas, Navajas White Crianza 2015 (Walker & Wodehouse)

Sales uplift +63%


What did you do? We had an influencer and blogger preview to kick things off, three bespoke wine flights, sampling in the retail store and a Coravin wine menu, all of which were available throughout the entire period.

How did people know about it? We had a lot of internal visibility including a window display, blackboard display, signage on the bar and inserts in the menus so the fi rst page in the drinks list was promoting our ‘Bartender’s Choice’. The staff also recommended samples. There are a lot of regulars in Bon Vivant, so they were able to make personalised recommendations to a lot of people.

Was it educational for all concerned? The team had a lot of fun putting together the diff erent off ers, and they all learned a lot about the Rioja region and the variety of wine available – a sentiment echoed by many of the customers as well. It was great to take part in the campaign.

Star wines? Overall, the Digma Graciano Reserva 2015 was the most popular wine, however the wildcard favourite was the Valdelacierva Rosé 2018, which really appealed to the widest variety of customers.

44 GROUP Selected wines

Bodegas Franco-Españolas, Viña Soledad Tête de Cuvée 2010 (A&A Wines)
Bodegas del Medievo, Medievo Crianza 2016 (Burridges of Arlington St)
Bodegas Bohedal, Gran Bohedal 2018 (de Burgh)
Bodegas y Viñedos Ortega Ezquerro, Ortega Ezquerro Reserva 2014 (Jeroboams/Laytons)
Bodegas Patrocinio, Zinio Garnacha 2017 (Mr Wheeler)
Ibai Viticultores, Clos Ibai Garnacha Blanca 2017 (seeking distribution)

Sales uplift: +127%


Run us through your huge range of events. We had a Rioja Wine Trail in all fi ve venues, where people got cards stamped once they’d bought six glasses of Rioja. We had 124 of those submitted – 744 glasses worth! We also did a blind tasting in all our venues – 29 booked tables for that. We had red and white Rioja wine flights and we sold hundreds of those, plus food pairing menus – again across all of the venues – where we matched six dishes to the wines we’d chosen.

Any events specific to any particular venues? We used the Rioja promotion to launch our own social club in Asador 44, where guests can come after work from 5.00pm-7.00pm and enjoy free nibbles and wines by the glass. But the highlight was a Rioja Showcase dinner with Fiona Beckett in Bristol’s Bar 44. We packed out the restaurant on a rainy mid-week night with nearly 80 covers for a six-course fine-dining dinner. There is a huge buzz all around town about us and what we were doing.

Any wines make a big impression on your customers? People were pretty au-fait with the ageing and process of reds from Rioja (although our youngest red was a nice surprise for people), but the whites they weren’t familiar with, so the Ibai Garnacha Blanca and Gran Bohedal (barrel fermented white) were real surprises.

Any feedback from the guests? It was superb. We believe there was even more engagement than last year’s campaign, with staff and customers benefiting hugely. The versatility and variety within Rioja was enlightening to many when put into a Rioja flight for them to see and taste side by side. It’s a fantastic way to get the public engaged and asking questions.

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