It’s the biggest irony that to get access to the most interesting wines from across Europe, you’re best off going to anywhere in Europe where they don’t produce wine (or at least not a lot of it.)

So, London, Paris, Berlin, Stockholm are all fine destinations. Rome, Barcelona, Lisbon, Athens, Bordeaux, a good deal less so as if there’s local wine production, the focus tends to be just on those wines. This is great when visiting, but if living long term and wanting to explore the greater wine world from time to time, you’re a bit out of luck.

I’ve always been a huge proponent of drinking locally and when traveling, always do, but to fully understand the world of wine, you need to drink from the entire world of wine, at least some small amount of the time. This is one of the reasons why wine education has been held back in Southern Europe as access to a wider selection of wines has always been a trickier proposition.

It’s for this that I was quite intrigued when Master of Wine, Álvaro Ribalta started up, Massal Selection in early 2022 with the concept of bringing in a selection of fine wines from outside Spain that he knew through his lengthy experience working in the London wine trade.

While Massal Selection started out dealing only with the on trade of restaurants and the like, he recently opened up to direct purchases from the public and I decided it was definitely time to go and have a chat about what he’s doing with the project.

“The whole idea behind Massal was that that I wanted to do something for myself after all these years in the trade. When I first moved back to Spain in mid-2021 I was still working for Indigo, but I wanted something that was mine.”

He says that the initial seed was actually planted by by Willy Pérez, one of the founders of Territorio Albariza down in the Sherry lands who said that Ribalta should work on a project like this to which he replied, “Yeah, definitely, do you have half a million Euros to lend me to get started?” as the buy-in for distribution is quite high given that you need to build up inventory which winemakers rightly want to be paid for, especially if you’re new to the game.

“But, I thought about it, do I really need a half million Euros?” and Ribalta worked up some business plans wherein he would lean on other distributors/importers in Spain so that they could boost each other in their respective territories and combine their portfolios without the need to take on an everything themselves. In this case, he started working with Minimal Wines as well as another from Galicia who didn’t have strong presences in Catalunya.

“There’s been a good reception to the project here from the on trade. So many Spanish sommeliers have worked abroad and, once coming back, they want to have a broader selection as restaurants here can’t survive on just Spanish wines.”

Ribalta says that about 20% of his portfolio is Spanish with the rest being international and mostly from France. But I had to ask that if he believes a restaurant in Spain needs to have a more international portfolio, what about the other direction? Do restaurants in say, Paris or London need to have more Spanish wines on their lists as they’ve typically been French-dominated.

He said that he felt it was moving the other way as well with Spain being taken more seriously and I would agree as well, but it still seems to me that the scales tip largely to visitors to Spain demanding French wines and those in the UK doing the same. But, yes, it is shifting slowly as people realize there’s more to Spain than cheap Rioja and Cava.

As to what the future holds, Ribalta appears to be keen on the concept of “slow and steady”, working to grow organically instead of in leaps and bounds. It’s a reasonable approach given how wobbly the trade has been in the last few years due to the pandemic, followed by a tourism boom, and then followed by who knows what, possible some form of economica retraction in the near future due to the high inflation?

Ribalta seems to have a fine concept in his hands with a great selection of wines that he’s working to click together with others of a similar mind and it all seems like a formula for success as much as anyone could possibly hope for to open up another side to the Spanish wine trade.

Visit Massal Selection to see their, well, selection. They’ve also just released a subscription club for those wanting to explore more about wine.

There was nor will be any commercial transaction between and the interview subject for the publication of this article.


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