Angelo Gaja: Spain is our greatest competitor

angelo gaja winery

Above: Angelo Gaja in the Gaja tasting room in Barbaresco (photo taken in 2010).

The following is my translation of Angelo Gaja’s most recent “open letter,” posted today on Luciano Pignataro’s Wine Blog.

As the elder statesman of Italian wine, Angelo Gaja often shares his insights into future trends in Italian wine and the challenges faced today by Italian winemakers.

I hope you find his op-ed as interesting as I do. Buona lettura


We need to remember that we Italians are not the only ones who produce wines made from historical/indigenous grape varieties.

Spain is the other country that has its own grape varieties and its grapes are different from ours.

Just to name a few, the following are some of the most well known varieties.

Reds: Tempranillo (in its different classifications as Tinto), Bobal, Garnacha Tina, Monastrell, Carinena, Mencia.

Whites: Airèn, Pardina, Macabeo, Palomino, Albarino, Godello, Verdejo.

Spain doesn’t have as many as Italy. But like Italy, it has a wealth of grape varieties. As in Italy, Spain’s international grape varieties represent a minority.

There’s no doubt that foreign consumers and lovers of native/indigenous grape varieties view Italy and Spain as the leaders.

Official data on Spanish wine production are still not available.

According to estimates, the 2013 harvest in Spain should be around 46 million hectoliters. If that number were to grow — and we will find out in a few months — Spain could become the leading producer of wine in the world and would overtake Italy by a hair.

In terms of volume sold abroad, Spain is in second place not far behind Italy.

The average price of a liter of exported Spanish wine is less than half of the average price in Italy, where prices are already relatively low. As a result, in foreign markets, Spanish wines are seen as an excellent value for their quality. Spain is also able to offer the lowest prices for bulk wine.

Spanish producers have been forced to explore foreign markets because the amount of wine they produce is prolific when compared with domestic wine consumption, which is much lower than that in France and Italy.

One of Italy’s greatest strengths in foreign markets is the presence of Italian restaurants that function as ambassadors of Italian food products and Italian wines.

Spain doesn’t enjoy this advantage. But the appeal of Ferran Adrià and his Spanish haute cusine movement has generated a lot of attention — and even a few imitators — outside of Spain. At the same time, the current growth of tapas restaurants in foreign markets continues to be solid and the trend has been spreading in Asia as well.

Spain has benefitted greatly from high [European Union] subsidies for the restructuring of its vineyards. The number of wineries has grown and now stands at just over 5,000. This figure is very low compared to Italy, which has more than 30,000 wineries.

As a result, Spain doesn’t enjoy the same advantage that Italy does thanks to Italy’s high number of producers who market their products by traveling abroad and telling the stories of their wines and the places where they are made

Like Italy, Spain is also a country visited by a large number of tourists each year and like Italy it plays the terroir card.

One of Spain’s clear advantages is that, among its western counterparts, it is home to the second-most spoken language in the world after English.

—Angelo Gaja

translation by Jeremy Parzen

One thought on “Angelo Gaja: Spain is our greatest competitor

  1. Perhaps it’s just me, but I don’t think the quality of Spanish wines in general is close to that of Italian wine (sherry excepted). I think Italy’s only true rival in quality is French wines.

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