“It is fortunate to be living in these times for Spanish wine”
You are celebrating a decade as Editor of the Peñín Guide. What is your assessment?
As we are always working on next year’s edition, the years go by faster for me. This decade has been particularly significant for Spanish wine. Everything has changed: the sector, the wines, the way of communicating… Fortunately, the Guide has continued to be there to show all these changes through its main players, the wines. We continue to strive to be the benchmark for Spanish wine, seeking to provide a very accurate picture of the sector every year, without being selective. This is what has made it the most democratic and accessible publication of all those known, as practically all wines can be found here, from the simplest and most accessible to the most complex and expensive.
What was the conversation with José Peñín like when he asked you to take charge of the Guide?
It was not a one-off conversation, rather a natural process. Little by little José was retiring from the day to day and I had already been coordinating the Guide for some years. Everything was precipitated by the publishing crisis of 2010 which, in our case, caused the closure of the magazine Sibaritas and prompting the company to focus on its cornerstone, the Guide. At the time, I only saw that the name of my position changed. Then, over the years, I realized the added responsibility and exposure that came with it.
The advice that the Honorary President has since repeated most often to you is…
To be persevering and conscientious, something I have learned from him. Even to this day, he still pushes me to keep my guard up… and also to be faithful to my instincts, which are based on constant and endless tasting…
How do you handle the responsibility and pressure of being in charge of the Guide?
Undoubtedly, with dignity. I have great support at home from my wife Nieves, who really helps me to manage and channel the pressure. I try to be objective, serious and discreet. Having previously worked in both wineries and shops, I am aware that there is a lot of work and effort behind each wine. And I apply it to every uncorking. On the other hand, the vast knowledge you gain from tasting 10,000 wines a year for so many years has made me much more confident in my decisions. Of course, the team I have formed with Javi and Boris is also very important: serious and with different sensibilities, which encourages debate and consensus.
Tell us about the most thankless part of your job, if there is one.
None right now. It's not that I don't want to answer, it's just that I don't really recall any. As a prescriber, you have to learn to live with praise and criticism. This is something that takes time to learn and costs some suffering. However, once you assume this play of forces and learn to relativize them, few things are ungrateful.
Have your enemies grown too?
Well, I don't know, I hope not, far from my intention of course. But if that's the case, they're the ones with the problem. If your assessment is well-founded and respectful, and the Peñín Guide always is, there should be no problems with the producers. We do not evaluate people, just wines. As a winemaker you know that some vintages are better than others, even if you don't want to admit it. I'm always open to explain why I have given a bad score; I have nothing to hide…
Are you optimistic about the future of prescribing?
The model is different from when I started. With the advent of social networks, consumers have more ways to access information and convey their opinion. That's good because it helps to create information, links and encourage drinking. But all this excess of information runs the risk of not being very rigorous. The important thing is that the Guides and prescribers know how to transmit that guidance, recommendation and score from a more distant and professional level, based on the objectivity that gives you the knowledge and access to so many different wines.
Your diagnosis of the current state of Spanish wine is…
We are certainly at the best time. There has never been so much quality and so much diversity of styles, varieties and origins. The return to the autochthonous, to the plot, to agriculture by many producers means that we have different and more representative wines in each area and, moreover, at very competitive prices. It is fortunate to be living in these times.
You claim that 2021 is a decisive year for Spanish wine.
Both 2021 and 2022 are decisive years for the sector and, in such a competitive and fragmented international context, we have to go out with strength and believe in the possibilities that exist in Spanish quality wine. The sooner we assume our productive strength and our capacity to offer quality to the world, the better we will play on the international wine chessboard.
The number of wines on your podium increases year by year and the elite of Spanish wine is getting bigger and bigger. What will it take for global positioning to increase at the same rate?
Never in the history of Spanish wine have there been wines of such high quality and so diverse. This is known abroad and, little by little, greater prestige and positioning are being achieved in the world, as corroborated by the awards and scores in different guides, magazines and international media. But we must not forget that it is a branded sector in which it is difficult to gain a foothold and in which the highest levels are very crowded. My advice is always the same: travel, be daring, expose yourself to other languages and cultures, be more commercial and defend your brand abroad with the same impetus as at home. Our wine fairs across the world are always full of visitors eager to taste quality Spanish wines. There are many opportunities out there and we must not neglect them.
How do you imagine the Peñín Guide of the future and how would you like it to be?
To be a brand that brings the end consumer and the professional even closer and to continue being promoters, communicators and trainers of quality Spanish wine both at home and abroad. All of us who work professionally in the world of wine are part of a great chain that goes from the grapes to the consumer's gullet and, in this chain, Peñín must be a solid and fundamental link.
One last question. You have chosen our Gran Reserva 890 from the 2005 vintage 'Selección Especial' as the best wine in Rioja with the highest score awarded this year by the Guide, 99 points.
The reasons are clear, because it is the best. After tasting some 10,000 wines and then comparing them one by one with the more than 400 wines with 94 points or more that exist in Spain, it turned out to be the best wine from Rioja. My sincere congratulations, great job! On a descriptive level, what happened with the 2005 Gran Reserva 890 is that, from the very beginning, as soon as it was poured into the glass, it already gave nuances of the highest level: very complex, expressive, silky, subtle and balanced but, above all, elegant. How difficult it is for a wine to be so elegant… It is the best Spanish representation of one of the most recognized and famous styles in the world, the classic style!