Barcelona by the Glass: Vila Viniteca

Established: 1932 (Shop opened in 1993)

Style of establishment: Wine Shop and Distributor

Price by the glass – NA

Price by the bottle – €5 to €15,000

Address – 7 Carrer Agullers, Barcelona, 08003

Phone number – 937 777 017

Opening Hours – Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 8:30pm
Saturday from 8:30am to 5pm
Closed on Sundays

Vila Viniteca is the largest distributor of wine in Barcelona and probably all of Spain, with a huge portfolio of wines and spirits available across the country. The business has actually been in operation since 1932 as a general store, but really became what we know it as today when their flagship store opened on Carrer Agullers in 1993. The catalyst for this move was a relationship formed between Joaquim Vila and Francisco Martí of the Ca N’Estruc winery in Esparreguera. The two met at a wine tasting, created the idea, opened the shop together and the rest, as they say, is history.

This is one of these improbable stories in the wine world, where something that shouldn’t really work in the time and place does, and not only that but becomes the most successful operation of its kind! It’s hard to say exactly what the magic combination was, but Vila Viniteca have always been aggressive in the marketplace, working hard to secure the business of bars, shops and restaurants around the major cities of Spain, have a strong presence at trade fairs and events whilst simultaneously having the largest and best stocked shop in Barcelona as well. Not a bad combination! In addition, Vila Viniteca have also become famous for their blind tasting competition, where pairs compete for a hefty cash prize of €30,000, most recently won by wine critic Luis Gutierrez. As their business is understandably quite diverse, including a gourmet food shop next to Vila Viniteca itself, for the purposes of Barcelona by the Glass we will only focus on their flagship store on Carrer Agullers.

The Selection

This is the reason you come to Vila Viniteca. The shop itself is a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of wine, with the best selection of Spanish and international wines in the city. As there’s so much to choose from, I’m going to list the major wine producing countries and styles of the world with a brief note about the strengths and weaknesses that Vila Viniteca have to offer. However, be aware that what you see in the store is only a fraction of what’s available; for a more detailed look, ask the store for their updated catalogue and as always, ask for assistance if you’re unsure about anything.

The Old World

Spain: I suppose it goes without saying that the selection here is fantastic. Nearly every famous name in Spanish wine is sold and distributed here, including a few exclusively sold by Vila Viniteca. The prices are also excellent, with many smaller stores around the city purchasing from Vila and adding their own mark-up on top. In particular their in-store selection of Cava is tremendous and it’s rare that I would come in looking for a bottle and not find it here. Recently I visited Priorat for the Fira del Vi festival and fell in love with a stunning new release of a white wine from Bodegas Mas Alta. Their only distributor? Vila Viniteca. They’re also quick to move with changing trends within the country and whilst Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat are strongly represented, there is increasingly more shelf space given over to Galician wines and new-wave producers from classic regions.

France: This is a really mixed bag, as you might expect from a country as diverse and complicated as France. Bordeaux is the pride and joy of Vila Viniteca and the vast majority of the space directly next to the counter is dedicated to expensive Chateau. The problem is, like their Burgundy selection, the top wines are all simply far, far too expensive. If you’re serious about buying premium wine from either Bordeaux or Burgundy, it’s much cheaper to buy it in the UK or France and have it shipped to Spain. That being said, there are some minor Chateau at reasonable prices and their selection of Burgundy from areas such as the Macon and the less established villages is very good. Drouhin’s Santenay 2013 remains one of my favourite, affordable Burgundies in the city.

Where Vila Viniteca shines with regards to France is within the other regions of France, notably the Loire Valley, Alsace, southern France and even the Rhone to an extent. Crisp Gamay and Grolleau Noir from the Loire makes for affordable, delicious summer-time drinking, their range of Alsace goes from the generic bottlings of the major producers to rare, 20 year old sweet wines and everything inbetween. The Rhone is a little hit-or-miss but everytime I go in, there seems to be a better selection. The Louis J Chave Selection range is fantastic and whilst pricey, usually worth every penny. Take your time and peruse their catalogue with regards to French wine; there are definitely bargains to be had, particularly where you least expect them to be!

Germany: Very few of these wines are available in the store itself but the selection is really quite impressive and often reasonably priced. It still revolves primary around Riesling, which is presumably why Spaniards aren’t interesting in buying it, but Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris are starting to slowly creep in as well. Look out for older bottles from top producers such as Egon Müller , Fritz Haag and Dr. Bürklin-Wolf amongst others!

Italy: Ah, Italy. This is probably the most poorly represented major wine producing country within Vila Viniteca, for reasons that aren’t immediately obvious to me. There are a few odd-ball bottles, a little bit of Amarone but the small selection they have seems to be dedicated to enormously expensive trophy wines, mainly from Tuscany with a few Barolo and Barbaresco producers thrown in for good measure. Whilst I appreciate having the opportunity to blow my savings on a single bottle of Massetto, I’d prefer the chance to buy a good quality, reasonably priced Chianti Classico, given the choice!

The New World

New World wines aren’t popular in Spain. Trying to find a decent selection of wines from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa or anywhere for that matter is like finding a needle in a haystack, so thank God for Vila Viniteca in this regard. The prices are generally competitive with the rest of the European market, the selection is solid and better yet, due to the majority of Spaniards not buying them, I’ve been able to buy mature examples of some top wines over the years for the same prices as current releases. In order of their selection and price rating, their New World offering is roughly as follows:

1. New Zealand – Their selection here is pretty great. Good, often aged, examples from major regions on both islands. I was delighted to buy the last of their Kumeu River Hunting Hill 2011, a wine I regard as being one of the greatest New World Chardonnays available.

2. South Africa – Eben Sadies wines from the Swartland and Olifants river, Pinotage and Cabernet blends from Paarl and Stellenbosch and even a reasonable range of cooler climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Walkers Bay; a surprisingly strong selection here!

3. USA – This is the big surprise; buying wine from the USA is typically nigh on impossible in Spain. However, due to the American business interests of producers such as Torres, Drouhin and Roederer, who they also distribute, their selection of American wine has gradually grown and grown. Drouhin’s Oregon wines aren’t cheap but are top quality examples from the region, the Torres family vineyards in the Russian River Valley are well established now and hey, if you’re purchasing wine for anonymous millionaires docked in their yachts, there’s plenty of Harlan Estate and Screaming Eagle as well!

4. Argentina/Chile/Australia – Coming in last are these three countries as whilst wine is available, it’s mainly represented by mostly generic brands and often a little overpriced. There are still some bargains to be had and a 2009 bottle of Catena Alta’s Historic Rows Malbec was a recent highlight. With Chile making inroads into the fine wine scene, let’s see how the selection changes accordingly over the coming years!

The Space

Walking into Vila Viniteca is a moment of cheek-clenching glee for the wine geek; rows upon rows of beautiful wines from across Spain and the rest of the world, all aching to be drank. I won’t bother trying to paint a picture of which wines are where, as with only a few exceptions the orientation of the store tends to be moved around every 6 months or so. Just be aware that:

1. What you see is not necessarily all there is. The selection of Vila Viniteca is absolutely enormous with something like 8,000 wines available, the majority of which are stored in a huge underground cellars around Barcelona and Esparreguera.

2. The catalogue is not always up to date so be sure to ask the members of staff to check the up-to-date stock on the computers if you’re looking for something specific.

3. Remember that the staff are there to help you. The selection may be overwhelming but just like a good sommelier in a restaurant, the staff are there to help you choose the right bottle at the right price; don’t be afraid to ask for it!

Conclusion

It’s hard to look past Vila Viniteca as Barcelona’s premium wine store. If you’re looking for something specific or just want to browse their enormous selection, I highly recommend you go in and look around. Whilst the customer service has improved over the last few years, being such a large company does mean that it’s inevitably lost a little personal charm, but my experiences over the last year have been excellent. Go and check it out and if you fancy something a little special to eat, don’t forget to check out their gourmet food shop next door.

Tips

Whilst I understand this isn’t possible for everyone, do try and visit Vila Viniteca either in the morning or the afternoon. As a great deal of customers come in the evening after work, it makes it difficult to find the space to browse and also to get the attention of the staff as the shop gets so busy!

Make sure you come at least once with an hour to spare. The joy of Vila Viniteca is being able to casually browse around the entire store and patience is often rewarded; some of the very best bargains I’ve found have come as a result of poking through dark corners of the store to uncover hidden gems!

Vila Viniteca are understandably incredibly well connected in the world of wine and host/attend a large number of wine fairs through the city. It makes sense to follow them on twitter, facebook and instagram to keep up to date with these announcements.

I know I’ve said it before but do make sure you ask for help! The entire point of hiring trained professionals in wine stores is that so they can streamline the world of wine for you and help you to make sensible, delicious choices. If you feel overwhelmed, grab someone to help you navigate the selection.

Within the store itself, there is a stock-room in the back that not everyone knows about. Here they store some incredibly interesting, rare and often very expensive wines, but also some really great bargains are to be found here as well. The room isn’t open for casual browsing but if you ask a member of staff to take you back, they’ll show you around.

As with any store, it pays to get to know people. If you find a member of staff who you get on with, seek them out! One of my good friends, Alex, is someone I met through shopping at Vila Viniteca and both Gonzalo and Cristina are people I make a point of chatting to whenever I go in. They’ve got their pulse on the heart of the shop and are likely to point out interesting and special bottles that otherwise may pass you by!

If you’re looking to purchase an expensive bottle of something that you’ve found in the store, make sure to ask that they sell you a bottle from their stock room or cellar, not the bottle that’s been stood up for weeks at room temperature in the shop itself.

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