Wines of Rioja has reported that the region grew volume sales by 4% in the UK off-trade during 2013, outperforming a total wine category that was down 3% (Nielsen, year to December 7, 2013).

The region has enjoyed bountiful harvests in recent years but the price has not dropped accordingly, with value sales also rising 7% in the past year.

Marketing director Ricardo Aguiriano told OLN: “We continue to see very positive results for Rioja in the UK, which remains Rioja’s largest export market, accounting for 34% of exports, a 2% increase on the same period last year.

“Rioja fetches a higher price (£6.20 per bottle) than the UK average (£5.21) and we are witnessing a trend for premiumisation within the category as a whole, with wines over £6 showing growth of 31% in the last year alone, to account for 96% of all Rioja sold in the UK, compared with just 18.6% across the market as a whole.

“This premium positioning is also evidenced by Rioja’s performance within the Spanish category, where it over-performs in terms of value, accounting for 29.2% of volume and 37.5% of value, clearly underlining Rioja’s position as Spain’s flagship wine region.”

Rivals have taken note and Californian supplier Gallo recently told OLN its new Darkhorse brand was hoping to steal Rioja consumers.

But Aguiriano said competition will only spur it on. “Strong brand equity and high level of engagement with consumers, combined with a proactive and focused marketing campaign will allow Rioja to retain its strong position,” he said. Jésus Madrazo, winemaker at Contino, who plans to double exports to the UK in the next few years, said: “The UK is a complicated market with a lot of competition from wines from all over the world. But UK consumers are open-minded about Rioja and it was powerful in the UK market for many years before the rest of the world arrived and we will continue to do well here.”

Market leader Campo Viejo is outperforming the Rioja category, up 14.3% in volume and 22% in value (Nielsen, year to February 1) and Chris Ellis, commercial director for wine at brand owner Pernod Ricard, said: “The overall wine category is a challenging environment and brands are competing for the attention of the consumer. However, Campo Viejo is able to tap into the love affair that the UK consumer has with all things Spanish.

“Campo Viejo dials up its Spanish heritage in a modern and relevant manner for the consumer. A direct example of this is the Streets of Spain festival, which will be taking place on London’s South Bank from May 2-5 for the second year running. Last year’s festival saw 160,000 visitors enjoy the event which captured the unique modern culture associated with Spain and Campo Viejo.”

Alison Gaston brand manager at Gonzalez Byass added: “It is up to us to educate people about what makes Rioja special, unique and authentic and to ensure that each bottle offers quality and value for money.

“Our Beronia brand is growing from strength to strength, despite the huge number of Rioja brands available in the market, with Reserva being the most popular style. Retailing at around £12 a bottle, it is one of our top three bestsellers across our entire portfolio, and we see no signs of that enthusiasm waning.”