Spanish wines are on the move. In 2006, the U.S. imported nearly 12 million gallons of Spanish wine to the U.S. – for a 5.6% share of the total U.S. imported wine market – more than that of Portugal, Germany or Argentina, according to the Adams Wine Handbook 2007. But even so, many Americans are not aware of the diversity of Spanish wines available today. Spanish cavas, or white sparkling wines have been enjoyed by Americans for some time, and in fact, imports of Spanish sparkling wines accounted for 21% of the total U.S. imported sparkling wine/champagne market in 2006. Today, there are not only quality red wines coming from Spain, but there are also a spate of quality whites available as well.
Getting the word out about Spanish wines in the U.S. is the job of Katrin Naelapaa, Director, Wines from Spain, a division of the Trade Commission of Spain, in New York. Naelapaa is a tireless supporter of Spanish wines, and became director in 2001, but she started in 1992 as its sales promotion manager. Here, Naelapaa details her interesting background and what led her to Spanish wines, what today’s best selling wines are and how to match up wines with food, as well as the events she has planned for this year.
The Beverage Information Group (BIG): Your background consists of multi-cultural influences; tell us a bit about that. Also, what got you interested in Spanish wines, and how did you get involved in that industry?
Katrin Naelapaa: To start with, I have an unusual last name: it’s Estonian, both of my parents are Estonian and I’ve kept it even though I’m married and I speak the language, too. I was born in the U.S., but when I was in the first grade, we moved to Mexico City where I learned Spanish. I went to Georgetown University in Washington, and I also studied in Spain. I have always been interested in food and wine, am an avid cook and did a lot of entertaining while I was a corporate banker.
I started to learn more about wine through wine tastings, took a wine course at Windows of the World and did a six-week stint in sales during a holiday season at Morrell Wine Merchants in New York to learn more. I knew I wanted to work in wine, but wasn’t sure where. I pursued the Wines from Spain. I was in the right place at the right time and was hired as a sales promotion manager in 1992.
BIG: Please give me an overview of your responsibilities as the Director of Wines from Spain in the U.S.
Naelapaa: As the director, a position I have held since 2001, I am responsible for overseeing all programs that are promotional, advertising, public relations, or marketing related for Spanish wines in the U.S. I also advise quality wineries in Spain on bringing their products here and help them find importers.
BIG: Can you provide a few more details on the Spanish Wine Cellar and Pantry, the largest showcase event for Spanish wineries and food producers seeking importers, distributors and trade representatives in the U.S. Also, tell me a bit about some of the other promotional events you have planned for this year.
Naelapaa: In its third year, the Spanish Wine Cellar and Pantry will be held in April in San Francisco and in New York. In New York, we’ll have about 50 wineries represented, and demand is far greater than space -- we could easily have 100 producers. We’ll also have roughly 20 producers from the food component. With the wines, producers have to meet certain criteria to participate – an English speaking representative is required, they must have an export department, and there are minimum prices, too. We’re not looking for bulk wine shippers; wines have to be $7 suggested retail and up. However, with the Euro’s impact, our best calling card is no longer the $5 to $10 range – it is going to be in the $12 to $30 range.
Also, we are in the 15th year of the Great Match tasting event. This is generally done in from four to six cities, from the late spring to October. This event is historically done with all types of cuisines, and we’ll match our wines with various Asian, Mexican, and of course Spanish dishes. We’ll also sponsor the Aspen Food & Wine event this year and we do regional wine events as well.
BIG: Spanish wines are traditionally paired with tapas. Beyond tapas, what other foods or dishes pair up nicely with these wines?
Naelapaa: Because of their diversity, Spanish wines pair well with a variety of foods. But any of the cuisines of the Mediterranean pair particularly well with Spanish wines. Foods from Italy and southern France and other Med countries have so many dishes that are garlic-based, contain a lot of vegetables, and also have a lot of fish, lamb and pork. They are flavorful, but not spicy; spicy foods are generally a bit harder to match with wines. Also, good matches can be made with Asian cuisines.
BIG: Has the demand for Spanish wines in the U.S. increased in recent years? What are the best-selling Spanish wines today (i.e. red or white, varietals, regions)?
Naelapaa: I’ve had the benefit of seeing Spanish wines evolve in the U.S. over many years. Spanish wines have achieved double-digit growth in the U.S. over the last eight years. These wines have grown by 15% in volume each year. Miami and New York are fixed markets for Spanish wines, and our largest sales markets.
Tempranillo is the backbone of Spanish red wines. It is a varietal from the Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions. It is a grape with all the characteristics to make a great wine – a good nose, good structure, and good acidity. And it’s not overly alcoholic – most are 13% ABV.
When I started in the 1990’s, Spain was not known for its white wines but that has changed. Today the calling card for white wines is the Albarino, produced in the northwest region of Rias Baixas. It is an aromatic grape, perhaps a cross between an Alsace Riesling and a French Sauvignon Blanc. It is a high quality wine that’s readily available at retail stores at approximately $11 or $12 per bottle. Also, people can remember the name as it is not difficult to pronounce! While the top-selling wine is Albarino, a second popular white is Verdejo, a varietal from Rueda.
BIG: What would surprise people, or what about Spanish wines may not be generally known? Are there any trends you’re seeing in the Spanish wine market now?
Naelapaa: People are always surprised by the diversity of Spanish wines. The country offers the big, deep inky red wines to white wines. Also, people may have preconceived ideas about Spain, but it is making quality wines today. Spain is a virtual vineyard, and a trend that is emerging is that winemakers are finding great pockets of “old vineyards” to make their wines. With these old vines, the yields are lower but the quality is better. Also, although wines are generally labeled by region, there’s more varietal labeling today. In addition to the popular Albarino, Monastrell and Grenache grapes can be seen on labels. This will help consumers in the long-run, as they are so familiar with varietal labeling here in the U.S.
BIG: If a restaurateur would like to add Spanish wines to his or her wine list – what would be a good place to start and what are some of your recommendations?
Naelapaa: Firstly, I see many restaurants carrying Spanish wines at $100 or $150 a bottle – and that’s too bad because Spain’s greatest advantage is that it offers wonderful wines at prices lower than that. Wines in the $15 to $20 suggested retail price range can translate to wine lists at $30 to $60 and they are quality wines. For recommendations, I would start with Albarino wines – these have good mouthfeel and guests used to chardonnay would enjoy these wines. And, add Tempranillo bottles, as these can marry with a range of foods. Also, the alcohol level of these is less than 14% or 15%. When wines are so highly alcoholic, people can’t drink much more than one glass. With the Tempranillo, guests can order a bottle, and maybe a second so in this way operators can potentially see wine sales increase. I’d also recommend adding a Grand Reserva from northern Spain to lists, from 2000, which was an outstanding year, or 2001.