Know your Albariño from your Alicante, Garnacha from Graciano and Verdejo from Viura? Ramón Bilbao is giving you the chance to prove it by entering the Spanish Wine Master, the latest initiative from its Spanish Wine Academy educational programme. The Spanish Wine Master is open to anyone who works in the UK trade and is pitched at the equivalent of WSET Level 3 (and above) knowledge. Here Rodolfo Bastida, chief winemaker and Kirsty Loftus, UK and Ireland area manager for Ramón Bilbao explain what the competition is all about and why education is such a key part of what the winery is about.
The Spanish Wine Master involves a timed online qualifying quiz right through to an in-person final this summer, via an online tasting challenge. The overall winner takes home a cash prize and the opportunity to make their own wine in partnership with the Ramón Bilbao technical team. Entries are now open at Spanish Wine Master.
Tell us about the new Spanish Wine Master competition – what are you looking to offer?
Rodolfo Bastida (RB): We call our Spanish Wine Academy our “educational platform” and since 2018 we have been holding tastings and events – both online and in person – all over the world. We know how many distinctive, excellent styles of wine come from the different DOs of Spain and our mission is to help other people discover this for themselves. We want to take them on their first – and then their second, third and beyond – steps through the wines of Spain.
And so the Spanish Wine Master is the next stage for this – we want to find the person who can clearly show they have studied and learned about Spain and want to show us all the knowledge they have. But we’re here to help them do this, so we also have a huge library of information, facts and stats about Spanish wine for people to refer to and learn from.
Then it’s a case of demonstrating their knowledge and wine tasting skills via a course we’ve devised in collaboration with Elisa Errea, the founder and director of The Wine Studio in Spain – a WSET certified wine education facility.
The first step is to go to www.spanishwinemaster.com and sign up.
What is the overall prize for the winner?
RB: There will be a cash prize for €3,000, but more importantly they will have the opportunity of making their own wine in partnership with me, and my fellow Ramón Bilbao winemakers. A money-can’t-buy learning opportunity.
What is the inspiration behind the competition?
Kirsty Loftus: Sharing the knowledge of, and passion for, Spain as a wine-producing country. The competition is open right now to anyone who works in the UK trade – whether that’s in a wine shop, in a restaurant, behind the bar or teaching wine themselves. We invite everyone to come and learn with us, and pass their knowledge on to those they speak to – let’s call it “paying it forward” with wine education.
To take part you have to start with an online qualifying quiz – how does that work?
KL: Once registered, they will receive a link to a timed quiz – 50 multiple choice questions in 50 minutes – which has to be completed within 48 hours. This first round will cover geography, history, viticulture, oenology, trends in Spanish wine and ‘reverse wine tastings’ – ie. working out the wine from the tasting note.
You are then inviting people who go through the qualifying stage to take part in a semi final tasting event and then a live final. What will they have to do?
RB: This is where it gets really exciting. The top 50 entries from the initial round will go through to the semi-final on June 5, which will be live streamed – semi-finalists will participate from home with wines and instructions we send them and watched by our panel of judges. We’ve brought on board Sarah Jane Evans MW who is a long-time friend of Ramón Bilbao and very well-known Spanish wine specialist.
KL: And then the final…The top 10 from the semi-final will go through to a face-to-face event which will bring together the selected finalists to perform a live tasting, identifying eight wines before the jury, and giving notes justifying their decision. And then a ‘pop quiz’ where they must identify a wine or a region from clues we give them.
When and where are you holding the final?
KL: In the UK, this will be on July 3 in London. It’s also a celebration of everything Spanish wine so we’ll also be inviting our trade friends from around the country – and of course our finalists’ own friends and colleagues – to come and raise a toast to the UK’s Spanish Wine Master.
What level of knowledge of Spanish wine do you need to have in order to take part?
RB: We welcome anyone at any level, but we’ve devised the competition for around WSET Level 3 and above. But don’t forget that we are here to help and we have all sorts of resources on our spanishwineacademy.com website.
KL: We’re really aiming this at at least WSET Level 3 and above so tough, but not too tough.
Who do you hope will enter and take part?
KL. Anyone and everyone throughout our industry – it really is open to all. If you’re unsure… just give it a go!
This is the latest initiative as part of your ongoing Spanish Wine Academy – can you explain how the academy works and some of the initiatives you have done with it in recent years?
RB: The Spanish Wine Academy is our way of talking to our trade about everything that is Spanish wine. Under the SWA umbrella, we’ve taught 1,000s of people all over the world – whether it’s looking at the Garnacha grape in different DOs or celebrating the huge variety of Spanish whites out there.
You are also at London Wine Fair – what are you doing there?
KL: We have a stand (B26), but we are also running a Spanish Wine Academy Masterclass on Wednesday morning looking at ‘Extreme Spain’ – wines from the highest vineyards to the lowest, from the rainiest to the sunniest. Spain has some of the most extreme landscapes in the world which used to be seen as a hindrance, but we want to show how it’s a blessing.
What else is happening at Ramón Bilbao in terms of wines and styles and developments at the winery?
RB: Well, my team and I are always looking at innovation and have some exciting things that we’ll be sharing over the coming months and years. But sustainability and reducing our carbon footprint really is so important to us – examining our impact on the environment in every way. So, just unveiling our new lighter-weight bottles for our Crianza, Rosado and Verdejo wines – 40g lighter than usual which will help save 248.42 tonnes of equivalent CO2 in the year. Next will be a 9% reduction in the weight of our more premium bottles in due course.
What are you seeing in terms of sales and trends of Spanish wine in the UK?
KL: In the past, Spain has really been mainly known for its red wines and for its flagship region, Rioja. But now people are becoming aware of the diversity of its wines – and there’s much more availability in the UK of, say, its white wines and more niche reds.
And its (removed the‘ from it’s) rosé. One of our biggest selling wines in the UK last year was our Ramón Bilbao Rosado – a great example of a pale rosé (it’s called ‘clarete’ in Rioja) in a growing category, showing that Spain can lend itself to sophisticated winemaking that is bang on trend.
The white wines from around Spain are also a bit of a sleeping giant and I do believe we’ll see an increase in styles and grape varieties that will exemplify the great diversity that the Spanish climate and geography offers.
What do you see as the big opportunities in terms of styles of wine?
RB: For a long time now we’ve been working on our fruit expression and not letting the grapes hide behind over-oaking – something that Rioja has been guilty of in the past.
We’re also really enjoying working with – and almost resurrecting – Garnacha at higher altitudes where the lighter fruit touch really shines through.
(A short video to introduce the Spanish Wine Master competition)
Is that similar to what are you seeing in other key markets or what is specific to the UK?
KL: I would say that across our key European export markets, red wine from Spain is still the growth driver for all key wine producers – and we see the same at Ramón Bilbao. The engagement with rosé is a bit more seasonal than it is in the UK.
Mature wine markets, like Germany, with an historic loyalty to Rioja is where you can play to your strengths with a roust range of red wines. The Netherlands is also a strong market for Spanish wine and there is a lively gastronomy sector that really drives a premium selection of Spanish wines, both traditional and modern, but again predominantly red.
What are the biggest challenges you are having to face?
RB: In the short term, the increased costs of goods is proving to be quite a challenging all our management abilities at all levels. Of course, this is affected the whole world and we need to tackle it on all fronts – from reversing and minimizing the effects of global warming to findings ways to make the wines we want in even tougher conditions. High altitude viticulture really is now becoming an opportunity in many countries in the Mediterranean.
Other initiatives you have planned for your wines for the rest of the year?
RB: 2024 is our centenary: 100 years since the adventurous Sr. Ramón Bilbao decided to make wines he could share with the rest of the world. Do we have big plans? Oh yes, and we look forward to our Spanish Wine Master being very involved.