SPAIN is the world's largest exporter of wine, beating France and Italy hands-down – but its takings are still lower than Europe's former top two, figures reveal.
Last year alone, Spain sold almost 2.4 billion litres – or 3.2 billion bottles, based upon the standard 75cc size – abroad, some way ahead of second-largest exporter Italy's two billion litres or just under 2.7 billion bottles.
And Spain far outstrips France, the third-most prolific wine exporting nation on the planet, with sales figures for 2015 of 1.5 billion litres, or two billion bottles.
But Spain's global fame for its temptingly-cheap wine – which has no bearing whatsoever on its quality, with supermarket bottles of little more than €1 being much-lauded by oenologists – has been its downfall in terms of international sales income.
Whilst France earned €8 billion from its foreign wine sales last year, and Italy €5bn, Spain's turnover was dramatically lower.
The price paid for wine from Spain by international buyers comes in at just €1.10 a litre – even though the retail mark-up means wholesalers make a hefty profit – even less than the cheapest brand on sale in high-street supermarkets at home.
This represents a fall of 2.9% on 2014's sale prices, according to the national wine market observatory's boss Rafael del Rey.
The observatory believes the way forward is to highlight the denomination of origin, or D.O., and the grape variety used, on Spanish wine bottles when selling abroad.
Italy does this and amasses considerably more money for a much lower quantity, whilst few consumers abroad could name any Spanish wine brand besides Rioja.
Effectively, the major difference between the biggest global exporter and the more financially-successful runners-up is pure marketing – which is where Spain falls down, Rafael del Rey believes.
Despite its fierce national pride in its own wines, France is, surprisingly, the largest international buyer of wine from Spain.
Last year, French wholesalers purchased 650 million litres, or 867 million bottles.
It is mainly retailed as unbranded 'table wine' labelled as 'produced in the European Union' – or, more rarely, 'produced in Spain', with no reference to its D.O.
This means that the wine peddled as cheap plonk most French consumers would not touch with a bargepole is very likely to be a superior Ribera del Duero, Ribeiro, Valdepeñas, Rueda, La Mancha, Montsant, Priorato, Utiel-Requena, or Rías Baixas, among many other brands which are highly-valued at home and can fetch high prices in restaurants.
Germany and Italy are Spain's second- and third-largest export markets for wine at 420 million litres (560 million bottles) and 270 million litres (360 million bottles) per year.
Spanish wine is a rare sight in the UK, with Rioja being one of the only brands seen and even then, in limited quantity, and occasionally the Valencia-made Castillo de Llíria, one of the cheapest varieties found on British off-licence shelves at around €5 a bottle.