Cha, cha, cha, changes…Spanish wine needs to learn from the Pancho affair | Catavino
Great and credible information with a fresh approach about Portuguese and Spanish wine and food. Not to mention, fantastic info about new trends as well as age-old traditions from the vibrant Iberian peninsula.
Bento Amaral

Cha, cha, cha, changes…Spanish wine needs to learn from the Pancho affair

Jay Miller is out. Neal Martin is in.

This is the story that spilled onto “the Twitter“, in the blogosphere, and onto “the Facebooks”. Regurgitated and recycled from one blog to another showing that there is no limit to the amount of naval gazing possible by any niche community. The scandal relates to whether Pancho Campo charged money to make Jay Miller magically appear  in any given Spanish wine region’s back yard so that Parker‘s surrogate point giver Jay, could bestow a fresh layer of numerical digits upon the Spanish countryside. Read the full details here if you’ve been under a rock this week.

Between you and me, I think Pancho is guilty and Jay is just lazy. For Jay not to know implies ignorance, and while Jay may be ignorant about Spanish table wine under 15% alcohol, he’s no dummy, or so I’m told. And for anyone who thinks that Pancho is not buddying up to the Parker crew so as to sell bigger and better tickets to his events, not to mention raise funds for his “seminars” when Jay’s in town, well, there’s a bridge that just came on the market. Interested?

Pancho once said to me, “Ryan, I’m a business man…”, a statement made after he had turned down a proposal where I had asked for actual money from him to help promote WineFuture1 through live video. I agree he is a business man, and business men by their own admission can be quite slimy. Wine is secondary to Pancho, business is first. We wanted to promote the wine event, but he wanted to line his pockets with more of Rioja’s euros(disclosure my accommodations were paid, as a speaker at this event). Wine Future exists, not because it discusses the future of wine, but rather because a bunch of people whose names are at the top of the wine industry’s glittery rankings all get together on stage for a big group hug. And in doing so, Pancho can then raise enough money to live a life high on the hog.

I’m a bit envious actually. I wish I cared less about wine, and was more cut throat. In being so, I might actually be living in a better apartment, driving a bigger car (actually any car would be a step up, currently carless for 7 years now), drinking better wines, and doing as I please.

Now I’m sure at this point some of you are wondering what happened. This nice little blog that simply helps wine loving travelers to find tips on what to buy and what tapas to eat has all of a sudden gone rogue! I guess the simple explanation is that I felt this needed to be said, and with the “end” so near, I say “why not”! The wine industry here in Spain and in Portugal is suffering and mainly due to ego and silly politics. Nothing more. Pancho is not the problem by himself but rather a nice indicator of a system that’s broken. It makes him an easy target. I feel bad for him in that way, but then again, I can’t say he didn’t ask for it.

Back to Spain.

When I started in wine in the 90’s, while living in Minnesota, Spain was an up and coming wine region. Today, it still is. In that time South Africa up and came, Austria, Chile and many more. In fairness, the wines here have gotten considerably better in that time period, but on the other hand, they ‘ve been good for a long time. The question being, why is Spain so often struggling to be accepted as a quality wine country?

Personally, I’m sick of it! Spain makes great wine and should be recognized as a quality wine producing country – at the same level as France, Italy, and others. And to be clear, these quality Spanish wines I’m referring to do not include wines such as the  100pt anointed splinter ridden, syrupy, over-extracted fruit bombs of Toro, or the big “new style Rioja’s” that often have enough tannin to warrant a 2 year decanting so as to make them safe for human consumption. Oak, by and large, is a disease in Spain. And though the trend is waning, we still tremble when opening a Spanish red in fear that another wooden lollipop full of fruit juice flavors will pour forth. All that said, there is amazing quality here, under the 90pt ceiling, even lower sometimes!

Spanish wine for us is white and often bubbly. It’s a wine that is fresh and crisp and often preceded with a statement from the winemaker that goes like; “This is just our basic wine, it is not serious, just something fun”. Well, I’m serious when I say that this IS the wine we love, and it’s not  the wine that Mr. Miller would be giving any points too(not sure if they could afford them). We consistently find ourselves being drawn to these simple wines. Fruit driven Godellos, herbal Mencias, fresh Carignans, silly little Moscatos, and fruity Tempranillos that show us their berry laden underbellies as they dance across our palate. Our award winning wines we purchase here in Spain rarely cross the 15€ mark, though they do stray into the upper tiers every so often. We can’t deny loving wines of all calibers, but we still gravitate to the “simple”.

Sadly, Neal has no chance of helping us out in this regard. Neal Martin is a great taster. Granted he has admitted a certain ignorance of Spanish wine, and I personal don’t find this to be an issue, having seen the ratings that Jay Miller has given over the past few years to Spanish wines, I’m sure many would agree it doesn’t appear he harbored much knowledge himself about Spanish wines. If it wasn’t red and rich, both in price and character, with a few exceptions, Jay didn’t seem to see to care much. So I don’t think Neal will do poorly. I’m sure he can hand out random numbers as well as any other wine critic. I just don’t see the style focus changing that much. I truly hope I’m wrong.

However, I truly wish Spain would change. There are already grumblings over Jay’s replacement, but in all sincerity, Who Cares?! He’ll give out numbers, and you will put them in press releases, and the country and wineries will say, “See we get big numbers too…” and all will be happy. But it really won’t. We’ll still be reliant on someone else to sell our wine. Shifting responsibility for our sales, or lack there of, to a third party. Again more whining and kevetching, but no real work. No change of attitude.

But I have a dream. The dream is fanciful, and at times, powerfully emotional; but in the end, it’s a simple construct of an overly active imagination. The dream starts with a tableau: one where the wineries look out at each other, everyone on their own boat, floating in a sea of wine. Instead of trying to out paddle their neighbor, searching for the shore by themselves, struggling to stay afloat, they join hands and begin to link boats together with small strands of magical string. Forming a flotilla that moves rapidly through cooperation and coordination, they explore new directions and water. Now, granted, I know this is a dream, because no one is using the phrase, “What about me?” in my version. Instead, they are saying, “We can go further and grow stronger”. The larger rafts cautiously avoid the hidden reef of “points”, and “shiny medals”, wise to their dangers, while the ones not willing to tie up to the group teeter cautiously on point ladden reefs, hoping they will not float adrift.

The “points” reef is a real danger. When you land on it in calm waters, it can provide stability and structure, allowing the freedom to breathe and not worry about perpetual paddling. But we all know that in a storm that same sense of stability can tear apart the strongest foundations. In my dream, the flotilla quickly moves beyond, trying to seek out more stable lands. The dream usually ends when the flotilla connects with boats and rafts of other niches. Avoiding those sharp and scary reefs, the wise winemakers throw a rope to fellow wine drinkers who are out enjoying a thing we call life. Laughing, drinking, sharing stories, they will even break the consumer barrier and become “friends”.

I know it’s a silly dream. Removing the needle of points from the arm of Spain’s wine industry (heck who am I kidding, the whole damn wine industry) is going to take a lot more than a blog post and knowledge of the pointy reefs. No, it will take more of us wine communicators talking about life and opening a nice bottle while we do it. Being human first and geek second. Points have a place, they just don’t need to be taking up the whole table!

Spain’s addiction to points helped create the mess that is the “Jay and Pancho Affair”. They are just guilty as the person who brings the “point giver” in exchange for money, or the point giver who naively thinks he’s not involved.

Pancho, you’re helping the industry. We know the industry is full of “Languedoc Pinot Noir” and “La Mancha flavored Riojas”. Many a critic as been paid to write a favorable article and I’m sure you’re not the first to try sell the opportunity for  points to a region. You just helped us all see how dirty it makes us feel. You’re helping the industry to realize, or I would hope, that this whole imbalance of power that is given to the “point weilders” is wrong. Thank you.

Spain, I say to you, invest in relationships, not with critics and communicators. Invest in real wine drinkers. And within your own market, cultivate a culture where wineries collaborate to raise the Spanish wine industry as a whole. Spend money on the crazy ideas and small projects that are working to present a united front of Spanish wine. Leave the medals and points to the accountants, you have great wines, be confident in that. Make friends with those who are not celebrity, but rather those that pay money each day for another glass of vinous liquid. The wine drinkers not the wine spitters. You can do it!

Consumer, you know what to do. Grab a corkscrew. Find a bottle, and make sure you have a friend or two with you. Get a couple of glasses, shape has no importance. Then start drinking. While your doing it, laugh a little. Smile. Heck go for it and cry a little. Just make sure to savor the flavors. It’s good for you. Oh and make sure to invite me!

Hope you enjoyed this one. It felt good to get it off my chest. Time to open a bottle of something pointless.


  • Ridesmith

    f to the yes sir!

  • Some Spanish producers have gotten caught up in making and marketing wines solely for magazines. It’s hard to blame them when the idea of tapping into a market(the U.S.) with a shameless admiration for these over-done styles of wine has fallen almost on your doorstep. At some point I always hoped that this epidemic would naturally rein itself in, that these producers would see that they’re doing themselves a great injustice by producing wines that are in no way true to varietal style or local terroir. It never happened. Maybe now it will. 

  • Djbk_nl


  • Daniel Lopez Roca

    Perfecto, amigo Ryan! Consumers know best.

  • It sucked when some of the producers in Navarra and even the Wine Academy there were talking incessantly about how Jay Miller had come through this year. I wanted to get up on stage and yell at them to STFU and listen to the bloggers, people without any commercial stake, people who wrote for FREE and did it because they love wine..Not some fatass, lazy wine critic and his sleazeball Spanish fixer.

  • I like this Ryan-carnation, lets hear more of his diatribes.

    • They won’t stop, just might take place in other venues

  • Good post, Ryan, thanks.  My best, Gerry

  • I love this post, particularly because it says things that I experienced in Italy too. I think that things are changing though, a lot of people here are also tired of fruit bombs, oaky wines, Parker and WS 95+ wines. A lot of people are redescovering the pleasure of drinking simple wines. And when I say simple, I say it with a smile, meaning to me that a wine is more true, more approachable, friendly with me that drinks it, not only with the food.
    A lot of people are still in need of that “old style” of wines, notably those pricey supertuscans, not because they actually like them, but because they think the have to like them, otherwise they should feel stupid. Try to ask a lot of people what they really drink at home, and you’ll be surprised to see how many drink lighter wines. What we have to do is to encourage people to understand that quality is not dependent from weight and new oak

    • Personally I think once we remove “agability” from equating with higher scores, we’ll be half way there. A fresh Fino sherry is a 100pt wine for the first month of it’s life! After that it becomes something different. 

      • GL

        Ryan, you are drinking the wrong Sherry if it only is 100pt wine (weren’t you against points?) for the first month.

        • GL – Trying to make a point. Yes I am anti points, but the people who do give points to wines, regard “age-ability” as a defining factor in determining qaulity(a reason the system is broken). 

          A delicate Manzanilla sherry is best from barrel, or shortly after bottling, IMHO. Granted it can change and become something else, but the beautiful point for me is it’s birth. That is when it’s the perfect wine. When you get to other sherries, my philosophy does change, as I love old Olorosos, and PX’s…

  • Neal Martin

    I’ll be brief. The quote (actually that I had not got “under the skin” of Spanish wine) was made back in March 2006. Secondly, Ryan: be more positive, have more faith, my palate ain’t Jay’s…you should know that. I agree 100% with Gianpaolo below. And you of all people should also know that through 1,000+ articles I’ve written since 2003, I like writing and entertaining. That won’t stop with Spain. Thirdly Ryan, maybe you know something that I don’t, but I’ve never played professional ice hockey.
    With regards

    • As to the quote I know it was 2006. The question is, you haven’t as far as I have seen updated it. How do you feel now? When is your first trip here?

      Sorry but I don’t have faith that the general idea of what good will change. I do believe you’ll try, and I think you’ll probably overall do a better job, but I’m still not sure things will change. And worst of all you’ll still be slapping points on bottles. Something that I can’t see the point of! 🙂
      As to the link…well autosuggest failed me again! 🙂 thanks for catching it!

  • Very interesting read, Ryan.

  • Alison

    well written piece Ryan with some very perceptive points made. Hoping the dream will come true! Got to be better than the current nightmare!!

  • Robert Giorgione

    Great article Ryan!

  • SM

    Ryan, at the time I was collaborating with Winefuture. Your proposal was
    turned down because you wanted more than 20,000 euros plus expenses for
    the video recording. I dont think the organizers had any obligation to
    hire you. Thanks to your participation as speaker at Winefuture you were
    approached by several wineries to work on their social media . Good for
    you but isn’t true that a winery in Amporda turned you down because you
    wanted to charge 300 euros per hour? That is the true attitude of a
    real business man…. like US lawyers! Good for you if you get away with
    it but it seems that your formula was not well received by Spanish
    wineries. Like they say in Spain, ‘Al Papa lo que es del Papa’. Regards,

    • You are right. You had no obligation, and I am not complaining that you turned down a very reasonable offer.

      As far as work coming from wineries after Winefuture, I know of very little, or at least very few people talked to me about it. Again not an issue. I did get nice exposure from the event and am very grateful for the opportunity to talk. It was a great time.

      Many wineries have turned me down to do consulting, and many have hired me. I think the price I charge is pretty good, considering you get 1 on 1 time with me. It’s definitely better than 35,000/hr to have a power point slideshow explained to someone.

      It’s interesting too, when I go to London, people ask to hire me per hour. When I’m here in SPain they only ask to take me to lunch. I can’t pay rent with lunch, so I do turn down a lot of opportunities.

      As for not being well received, well, the people I work with seem to find value, as they do return. And I feel good that I have been able to help many wineries, or at least that is what they tell me.

      Thanks for your comments.

    • Just wanted to add one more thing. Ryan said “[…]you turned down a very reasonable offer.”

      I used to work for advertising industry, players like Saatchi&Saachi, DDB, Euro RSCG as a part of top management for digital thus I can say something about prices… 20k EUR for live streaming is extremely REASONABLE offer. Even in Poland we charge clients more than that… 

      The case is not total amount, it’s question about who gets all money… I’m guessing Ryan couldn’t because he has literally no infrastructure to deliver such a service… 

      Today The Wine Academy will do everything to defend their position. 

      Sorry, but… to late!

  • Olly (Indigo Wine)

    Great article, Ryan. I agree with the stylistic points over wine without wanting to get drawn into the political miasma of the Pancho/Miller situation. What I will say is that, for me, the true wine heroes of Spain are those such as the young but perfectly formed Dani Jimenez-Landi, Juan Antonio Ponce, and Joan Ramon Escoda and the amazing Lopez de Heredia and most of the sherry region (well, the almacenistas anyway). The aforementioned guys work collaboratively across DO lines, share ideas and make wine in an idealistic way rather than for commercial gain (although there is a little bit of business in us all, right Ryan??) And I agree that new oak is a disease that should be quarantined…

    • Business is important. We all need to survive. My argument is that you can do more and better business as a team than as an individual, at least in the wine world.

  • “”But I have a dream. The dream is fanciful, and at times, powerfully emotional; but in the end, it’s a simple construct of an overly active imagination. The dream starts with”””

    Best post I’ve read in a long time Ryan. Well done putting your heart out.

  • Nice one Ryan, as always I catch all the action late. It will be interesting to see how things develop and what consequences this whole affair will have for the Spanish Wine Industry and its “Key Influencers”. Is it really true what Jim says that there will be a lawsuit against Apple, alleging that the email Pancho sent was invented?

    Your 20Gs compared to the 40K Jay allegedly charges is peanuts!

    I respect your boldness for publishing this article and if you’ve done it, it’s because your mind has been made up and you have evidence to proove your point of view.

    I am intrigued to know what the next step of your business ventures are with dear Gabriella.

  • Ryan, thanks for a great post. My 2c worth: About your dream – yes, it would be great if it could come true, but unfortunately (INHO of course) I believe that it’s easier to get Spanish wineries to work together for their mutual benefit, than it is to herd cats! I’m afraid I’ve decided that I’m not going to dedicate (waste?) any time at all to trying to organize any form of cooperation with other wineries (except for specific wineries/people that I know personally). Sad, I know. But I just don’t have the time – I have lots of grapes to grow, wine to make (chickens to stuff, joints to roll, etc!). It’s a question of time efficiency. And also a question of money efficiency: given the current state of affairs I don’t think there’s much guarantee that money spent on an association/company/whatever will be well spent. Another thing: personally I find paying money for good reviews ethically questionable. And it’s probably counter-productive in the long-run for the wineries doing it. No doubt it’s a good short-term business model for them at the moment, but eventually all the sleaziness comes to light. I see it’s just hit a mainstream newspaper (Baltimore) and El Mundo here in Spain covered it recently too. As you well point out, there are some great wines in Spain, and I believe it would be best to market and sell them on their own merits – as opposed to chasing points from Parker or whoever his man in Spain is.  Lastly, do I detect a softening of your sketicism towards nautural wines??? 🙂 Your paragraph “100pt anointed splinter ridden, syrupy, over-extracted fruit bombs of Toro, or the big “new style Rioja’s” that often have enough tannin to warrant a 2 year decanting so as to make them safe for human consumption. Oak, by and large, is a disease in Spain” is exactly the sort of thing I complain about and strive to avoid by producing wines that really express the terroir, variety, climate without any unnecessary adulterations. Am I right or a merangue?  🙂

  • Vserna

    I’m not pessimistic, Ryan. Neal will probably highlight wines that aren’t overblown, and if he does it with points (as everyone does, from Jancis Robinson to elmundovino), so be it – as long as the points reflect the quality, as long as he’s not afraid to do what we do: often give more points to the basic, attractive wine from winery X than to its contrived, spoofed, overoakes ‘star wine’. That said, the overall situation in Spain in 2011 is markedly better than in 2001 because there are many more young (or spiritually young) producers now who are going back to the land and to making more authentic wines, what Joe Dressner called ‘live wines’…

  • I think all journalists who claim to be independent should declare all conflicts of interest – Receipt from wineries or regional or national wine boards of flights, accommodation, speaking and consulting fees and tennis, football etc. tickets.  But not samples other than trophy wines being clearly payment in kind.

    Everybody who doesn’t declare all wine related income can be assumed to have vested interests in what they write and readers should read after adding appropriate pinches of salt.Simple.

    As far as I know only Chris Kissack declares his conflicts of interest. Why not everybody else.

    Hats off to Chris.See my earlier post Wine Writers should Publish a Register of Interests  

    • I think there are more writers who do this. I know Alder published a list at one point.

      That said, I personally could care less in 99% of the cases. I will read you if I trust you and if I don’t trust you I won’t read you.

  • Bill

    Ryan, Excellent distillation of points (pun intended) we have discussed and agreed upon in the past.  Wine drinkers of the world, EDUCATE YOURSELVES!!!  That is the best way to overthrow the shackles of the 100 point scale or 5 glass scale, etc., etc.  TRUST YOUR OWN PALATE!!!  EXPERIMENT!!   And, do take Ryan’s advice by sharing with friends.