In northern Spain, Rioja has the home field advantage. According to the latest AC Nielsen report, in north central Spain Rioja has a whopping 38% share of the wine market in food stores and wine shops and a 48% share in bars and restaurants.
Rioja is sold overwhelmingly in the latter channel. However you can buy them at retail everywhere: in wine shops, local ‘mom and pop’ stores, gas stations, cash and carries, supermarkets, the huge hypermarkets found on the roads leading in and out of our cities and increasingly, on line.
Most of the Rioja sold in these outlets sell wineries’ bread and butter brands for everyday consumption with a smattering of reservas and gran reservas. Wine lovers searching for Rioja’s super specialty wines, that account for about 0,5% of sales such as those from the ‘Viñedos Singulares’ category, have to look harder. One of these outlets stands out from the rest in our area: El Rincón del Vino in Bilbao.
El Rincón del Vino is a one-stop shop where wine lovers can buy fine wines not only from Rioja but also from the rest of Spain and around the world. Antonio García, winemaker, sommelier, founder and past president of the Basque Country Sommeliers’ Association, opened the shop in 1994.
The shop has over 3,000 bottles in stock, 70% from Spain and the rest from around the world. It is interesting to note that García currently carries wines from eight of the eleven Great Wine Capitals (Rioja of course, Bordeaux, South Australia, Verona, South Africa, Porto, the Napa Valley and Mendoza).
El Rincón del Vino’s activities include the wine shop and a wine club called Alaiki (joy or celebration in Basque). Alaiki has 300 members who receive newsletters with special offers and information about the world of wine. The shop has a seminar area where García and winemakers give seminars to members of the club, companies, or other ad hoc groups about any wine theme under the sun. From time to time, the shop organizes minifairs where producers pour their wines for club members and restaurants.
Specialities and unique wines
The shop has an informative website pasionporelvino.com that lists every wine in the shop along with a short description, a tasting note from Mr. García and a space where club members can write their own comments. Mr. García and his staff of five make buying decisions based on analyzing information from wineries and tasting samples. They are interested in specialties (for example, wines from Rioja’s ‘Viñedos Singulares’), unique projects and wines from producers’ own vineyards. Mr. García often visits these wineries personally.
The selection process is rigorous and not everyone passes the test. As an example, while I interviewed Mr. García I noticed a bottle of one of Rioja’s newest cult wines from a famous winemaker. I commented that ‘so-and-so’ was also sold in the shop. Mr. García replied, “Not yet. We’re still evaluating it.”
For wine lovers living outside Bilbao, El Rincón del Vino has a mail order business that delivers throughout Spain and the rest of the European Union.
As a former sommelier, Mr. García believes that what sets his shop apart is the key role he and his staff play in informing customers about the best wine to buy for a given occasion and chefs for their dishes and the shop’s rigorous selection process.
El Rincón del Vino
Tel. and Fax +34 94 410 4791
Other outstanding wine shops in Bilbao-Rioja
- Club de Gourmets at El Corte Inglés
Gran Vía 7-9
- Vinoteca Manu Martín
Tel. +34 94 413 2230
- Vinos López Oleaga
Tel. +34 94 423 0333
- Vinos y Licores Ruiz
Tel.+34 94 416 2261
- Vinoteca Larría
Pérez Galdós 52
Tel.: +34 941 582 392
Pío XII, 11
Tel.: +34 941 26 07 78
By Tom Perry, Inside Rioja
Photo credits: Tom Perry.