Interview: discussing current demand for Spanish wine with leading importer

July 5, 2024
By Cody Profaca

Recently at an event put on by the Institute for Foreign Trade of the Spanish Government, Drinks Trade sat down for a few glasses of wine Iain Sandler, Manager Director of ISWine, a leading premium wine importer, to ask his opinion on the current market.

Drinks Trade: What Spanish wine styles have you found to be selling best in Aus?

Iain Sandler: Reds are probably more what Spain’s recognised for here in Australia, I think. So, [for us], it’s really just trying to get people away from the mindset of Rioja. There’s nothing wrong with Rioja, but it’s kind of the go-to thought for most of us when we think about Spanish red wine and Spanish wine in general. 

[In terms of whites,] I think I would probably sell more Albariño than every other Spanish white variety combined.

DT: What are the challenges regarding Spanish wine in Aus? 

IS: It’s tough trying to educate a wine-rich country about another wine-rich country that they maybe don’t know that much about, and that kind of scares people, I think.

I’ve spent a lot of time and effort to try and educate people, but it comes down to that whole idea they’ve got to be confident they can sell it… No-one says they don’t like the wines. The biggest problem is they don’t think they can sell the wines. They’re customer-based. That’s where I have to try a bit harder to convey that these wines are something different. 

It can be a bit of a challenge, but it’s worth it, because you’ve got to think, you’ve got to be on to the next big thing here. You just need five million Australians to get behind it and we’ll be in for it. 

DT: Australian wine is in a bit of a difficult place right now… Is this having an impact on European imports?

IS: It’s really tough, because we’ve got ongoing costs increasing over time. The deadline from Europe to Australia – I’m sure everyone’s aware of the crisis in the Red Sea with bandits and terrorists and stuff – that’s now diverting more vessels around through the Cape of Africa, so it’s set up for two extremes in the journey.

There’s a backlog of shipping in Singapore at the moment, so stuff that used to be passed through Singapore in a week is now three/four weeks, so you kind of fear a bit by the time the wine does get here, is it going to be as fresh as we would like it to be? 

It’s a gamble, it’s always a gamble, especially when you kind of work with sub-producers who are closer to home and the wines are much more accessible and easy to get a hold of.

DT: Why do you feel Spanish wine hasn’t quite taken off the same way Italian and French wines have?

IS: I think if you look at the basic population of particularly the main cities; you’ve got a very strong Italian culture here in Sydney and in Melbourne, and I think the same so with French as well. There’s much more French community here than there is a Spanish one, and I think it’s going to take a few generations. I think there’s a lot more younger Spanish people coming to Australia now.

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ISWine has a large global portfolio that spans nine countries across Europe, South America, and Oceania. This includes 11 producers from Spain. During Monday’s event, Drinks Trade staff had the chance to trial Costers del Sió’s Petit Comité, Hacienda Ucediños’ Mencia, and Martín Berdugo’s Ribera Del Duero. This is what the team thought:

Costers del Sió Petit Comité:
Viognier, Garnacha Blanca

Floral buttery nose, with a rustic nutty edge. Palate with some fresher stone fruit, citrus, apple and soft vanilla. The acid is low but notable and entwined in the fruit. Rich and textural.

Hacienda Ucediños: 
Mencia

Cherry and bramble berry fruit: ripe, fresh and rustic. Fresh, but in a homely and gentle manner. Chewy med grained tannin, and loads of personality. A light bodied wine that would be versatile with a range of foods.

Martín Berdugo Ribera del Duero:
Tempranillo

All about the perfumed black stone fruit, with a slightly preserved liqueur characteristic to it. Palate is dense and inky, with tannins that really tear straight through. Dense dark stone fruit, blackberry puree, black olive, cocoa, wet gum wood. Oaky and powerful.

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