Editorial: Disappointment with Jose Peñín | Catavino
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Editorial: Disappointment with Jose Peñín

sibaritas_76This past week I sat with José Peñín at the same two person table judging wines that were to become the “best of Portugal”. It’s a humbling experience sitting next to someone with so much history and credibility in the Spanish Iberian Wine Industry. Called the “Robert Parker” of Spain, his small empire includes an annual Spanish Wine buying guide, which he contributes to annually, and most notably, a magazine entitled Sibaritas. José judges, tastes and travels year round in hopes of promoting the wines that he knows and loves so well, while at the same time making a nice living out of it. I have enjoyed talking with him both times we were together in Portugal on a variety of subjects from wine tasting notes, points, social media and Haute Cusine.

Today , however, I have to regrettably say, “shame on him”.

This afternoon, I found myself in a local bookstore browsing the magazine rack when I came across Sibaritis. I’m not a big fan of the magazine, just doesn’t rub me the right way. Not to say it’s bad, just not my cup of tea. Regardless, today I realized that I really don’t need to bother anymore, and maybe even go so far as to say that we here at Catavino need to work harder to increase our influence, if only so less people have to read headlines like this: “Rioja – Ribera del Duero ¿Cuál es el mejor?” translated: “Rioja – Ribera del Duero: Which is the better region?”


I opened the page and there was the opening column where José analyzed and discussed this entirely ridiculous and laughable question.

Seriously? Which is better?

In a country that is struggling to promote its own wines effectively, handicapped by its inability to get its wine regions to collaborate to promote a simple idea “Brand Spain”, the leading critic in this country fuels the fire with this baloney? Please José, help Spain to better itself rather than egging it on as it fights within its own borders.

Since I’ve lived in Spain, I have seen regions as closely related as La Rioja Alavesa and La Rioja (yes to anyone who does not live in Spain, these are the same regions, or rather one is a sub region of another), argue and fight about how to promote themselves. La Rioja Alavesa being on the Basque side of the border within the DOC of Rioja, refuses to collaborate on various promotions, and La Rioja, principally Longroño won’t admit that La Rioja Alavesa exists. I’m sorry, I know this is confusing, but it needs to be said so that you can all understand that it makes NO FREAKING SENSE!

Vist to Dinastia Vivanco

Back to the topic at hand. La Rioja, making wines from Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano, Mazuelo, Malvasia, and assorted other bit players. Ribera del Duero, making wines from Tempranillo (every region pretty much does here in Spain), Cabernet-Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Garnacha. Both can be said to be located in a river valley, though Rioja has mountains that funnel the air down said valley, while Ribera has only plateaus.

So far, they have a couple of grapes in common and the proximity to a river. Having been to both, I would say that’s about it. They are different. Different things cannot be said to be better than one another, only different. And this difference is what we should be celebrating, rather than pitting one against the other.

Within Spain, regions do matter to sales, to people’s perceptions, to peoples pride, but the truth is, we don’t have issues in this country selling wine to Spainards. We have trouble selling wine to those outside our borders. My solution is simple: Brand something bigger.

Brand Spain vs The World

Brand Iberia Versus Europe

Brand Diversity vs Banality


It doesn’t help. It only hurts. Confuses us at times and leads to anominity. We’re better than you, your better than us, it does no one any good, and it cuts at the very reason we all love wine, diversity.

José you sat next to me and talked about all the various incarnations of Touriga Nacional that can be found in Portugal. It was fun, as we discussed what we liked from each regions terroir as it influenced this wonderful grape, and it was these differences that we both agreed is why we love it. We never mentioned which region was better, we only mentioned how they differed, which we might prefer, and why. We agreed that each region showed a shade of TN, that we appreciated for different reasons.

Ribera and Rioja both happen to make great wines. They both are very different, and at the same time, similar. Let’s make the next headline a bit more helpful, maybe “Rioja and Ribera what we love about both”.

Maybe its too sappy, but at least we won’t be further strengtheing the walls that divide us.

Ryan Opaz

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  • Rod

    Ryan, your comments are spot on. When I was importing Spanish wines, I did not even consider Rioja wines because they were generally priced too high. I fell in love with wines from Ribera del Duero and thought they would appeal to drinkers in the US. Invariably, I was asked by wine merchants and restaurateurs if I imported wines from Rioja. It was fun exposing a lot of people to the virtues of wines from a region in Spain that many were not very familiar with. I was able to promote them as being quality wines for a value. Price was a difference, to me worth discussing.Also, I have been invited to a function in NYC next week that I usually attend every year sponsored by Jose Penin. http://www.grupopenin.com/newvaluesofspanishwin… I've met Senor Penin on a number of occasions at these events. This year they are presenting about 60 wines from Spain. If I'm able to attend, I will let you know how it goes.

  • Ryan: Who is the audience for Sibaritis? Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe it is only available in Spanish so its primary audience seems to be Spain, and any other Spanish speaking individuals. And if as you say, that within Spain, “regions do matter to sales, to people’s perceptions, to peoples pride” then is not the article catering to that idea? If the magazine was printed in English as well, or in several other different languages, catering to a more international audience, then I think your position might hold more weight. The average American is never going to read the Sibaritis article. It is not going to have any impact on their wine buying. By the way, which was declared the better region? Thanks,

  • Good point Richard from an “english-centric” POV. Turns out Spanish is the most widely, or was, not sure if China is up there yet, 'natively' spoken language in the world. South America is a HUGE spanish wine market, as is Spanish speaking America. The magazine does have interantional exposure and distribution. That said, even though region does matter in Spain, I should have been clearer in pointing out that it shouldn't matter as much as it does. Sales throughout Spain are hurt by Rioja's dominance.

  • gabriellaopaz

    I agree with Ryan on this one. Go to any region within Spain and you will hear that either Rioja, or at times, Ribera del Duero, is their favorite wine region. Despite the fact that their own regional wine is typically incredible, as are the surrounding wine regions other than Rioja. Therefore, this article only embeds the misconception that within Spain Rioja and Ribera del Duero are the only quality wine regions. For me, this is crime. Additionally, go anywhere outside of Spain, and you most likely will run into the very same misconception. Having just been in London, most people I chatted with were ONLY aware of Rioja, clueless to any other interesting wine regions in Spain. Our role as wine educators, as I see it, is to expand the consumers knowledge, both internally and externally, as to the wide range of styles available. To pit two of the most popular regions against one another doesn't help the consumer.I might suggest that one could, however, pit Rioja against a less popular red wine producing region within Spain, as long as the discussion was broad enough to leave the consumer interested in trying said non-Rioja region. Maybe I'm just exhausted with telling 90% of the people I run into that there are other wines in Spain other than Rioja and Ribera del Duero. I'm irritated that restaurants rarely have wines from lesser known but equally high quality regions. And I'm craving a fabulous critic like Peñin to help in the effort of supporting consumers to diversity their palates, and at the very least, growing a seed of curiosity as to what Spain has to offer outside of the 2 mega giant wine regions.

  • Andrea

    AMEN Ryan! Completely agree.

  • I agree with your overarching point about Brand Spain, Ryan. If the wine industry there is facing as much difficulty as you say, a united effort would assuredly define a stronger position for the entire market. However, you do f ace a lot of difficulty in the pre-existing biases. With intra-regional differences and varying success level, it's difficult for a specific region that's doing very well to let go of that edge so the rest of the businesses he/she has always viewed as their competition can be on even footing. You won't have much luck with regions which are on top and comfortable changing their viewpoint on that. However, there is a way to add pressure to them. If you were to organize regions of similar lower success level, regions with something to gain, their combined force could raise them up to the level, if not beyond the level, of the more well-fairing regions. Those originally stubborn well-fairing regions will then have a choice if the success of that union trumps their own–that choice, of course, “if you can't beat'em, join'em.” At that point it would only make the best business sense to join Brand Spain because that's where the money would be (no longer theoretically, but tangibly so). I'm sure there are intricacies of which I'm unaware that make what I said nowhere near as simple as it sounds, but I hope it motivates you in this direction.

  • Armando diaz

    Correct me if i am wrong , but the site sibarits is this http://www.sibaritis.com and it is a blog in spanish , with deligthfull themes , not only wine and dinner but a lot of delicious things ,, part my english

  • Juanjo Borras

    I could not agree more with you Ryan. If more people in Spain would take that same approach, I think Spain, as a brand would be much more recognised and not lagging so much behind France, not to mention Italy.