For those of you who were not present at the 38th Investiture Dinner held at the Landmark Hotel, London on Thursday 29th June 2023, we publish the welcome speech by Sarah Jane Evans MW, Chairperson of the Gran Orden de Caballeros del Vino:

“Baroness Hooper; Sr. Nadal; Acting Chancellor; Vice Chancellor; New Caballeros; Caballeros; Ladies and Gentlemen; Welcome!

Guests from last year will recognise our Toastmaster Ted Prior. His role is to keep me – and all of us – in order, and ensure there’s plenty of time after this dinner to enjoy the Stirrup Cup. My role, as you will see on the menu, is to welcome you, the guests.

It’s a most enjoyable task as I can see so many good friends here. It is terrific to welcome you – importers, press, wine buyers, retailers, winemakers, representatives of business and government.

This is a unique event in the London world of wine, where those of us who work with Spain and its fine wines come together to celebrate the wines and your achievements this past year.

It’s been a good year for Spain so far. In the recent World’s 50 best awards Spain had three of the top four restaurants in the world. Spain also excelled at The Decanter World Wine Awards – the largest wine competition in the world. Spain ended up with eight wines ranked  Best in Show – the same as France and only just pipped at the post by Australia.  (Two each from Rioja and Sherry, one each from Ribeiro, Rías Baixas, Bierzo and Clàssic Penedès).  Some of the producers, importers and retailers of these winners are in this room. So let’s have some applause for the achievements this year.

Now I’d like to welcome our new Caballeros. We acquire our first ever sommelier this evening. We also have two winemakers. Our first winemaker and wine buyer is Jo Ahearne, Master of Wine. Jo has had an impressive career across Europe and beyond, and her Spanish agencies at Boutinot are very lucky to have her. I’m delighted to say that with Jo Ahearne’s election we are reliably into double figures with women Caballeros. But we still have a way to go to reflect the real diversity of today’s Spanish wine trade.

Our next Caballero, Ferrán Centelles is an extraordinarily enthusiastic and generous ambassador for Spain, always ready to share ideas and build networks. His latest achievement is the huge publishing project of the ElBulliFoundation. By the way if you have ever wondered what I would look like in a toga, (I’m sure you have ) you’ll find a cartoon of me judging wine with our fellow Caballero Pedro Ballesteros in his book. Both of us are in Roman togas. Not a great look, I can assure you.

Our third Caballero, Jesús Madrazo holds a special place in my heart as he was the first winemaker I ever visited in Rioja.  That appointment with him was a result of winning the Freixenet scholarship for my WSET Diploma – and Philip Rowles on Table 10 is the man who made that trip happen. Philip is one of several people in this room who set me on the path to my work today. I’m very grateful.

If you look at your menu, you will see that Philip became a Caballero in 1991. There are two people in the room who have even a longer history as Caballeros. Andy Henderson (1987) on Table 10, and John Hawes (1986) on Table 13. Also on Table 13 is Caballero Richard Bigg, who has just celebrated his 60th birthday. Happy birthday Richard!

Now to today’s wines. They were chosen by Caballeros from wines submitted by Caballeros.  You have already enjoyed the traditional method sparkling from Torres named after the English sea captain, Vardon Kennett. I’m also delighted to have a Corpinnat from Gramona for the Stirrup Cup. Thank you, Catriona Felstead Table 7.  For the Investiture the lovely Manzanilla Pasada, came from Lustau.

We have two delicious whites, showing a different face of Spain from the usual Albariños and Verdejos. The Albillo Mayor came from Cillar de Silos. Thank you Amelia Aragon (Table 11). Amelia is a very loyal supporter of this dinner. The amphora-aged Garnacha Blanca from Bodegas Bhilar comes from Melanie Hickman on Table 10. A delicious wine.

The first red is from Jumilla. Is this the first time we have had Jumilla at this dinner? Thank you to Paul Shinnie on Table 9. And our Rioja, the Cosme Palacio 1894, is a lovely old vine classic from North South Wines and Entrecanales Domecq e Hijos on Table 12.

And with the ridiculously indulgent pudding we will be enjoying a brilliant match – the González Byass Solera 1847 (Table 14). A quick shout out to Melissa Draycott of González Byass. The Wine and Spirit Trade Association has just given her an award for lobbying the government on behalf of the challenges facing the wine trade. Congratulations.

Thinking about challenges – sorry, that’s a rather obvious link. But if there’s one challenge we all face urgently it’s reducing carbon emissions and working sustainably. Spain has many advantages in this respect – the altitudes, the local varieties, the geography –  to adapt to climate change. Importantly it is also the number 1 producer of organic grapes in Europe. It has a head start over France and Italy, and is really well placed to take the lead.

Many of you in this room have already signed up to sustainability initiatives. The Wine Society (Table 5) has made an ambitious commitment. Waitrose (Table 2) has already made some impressive wins, such as changing from small bottles to cans. You’ll notice that we no longer have printed invitations; and our menus are smaller. Though I must confess I was the first to object when the tasting book from the Annual Tasting was replaced by QR codes.

Time to conclude.  First my heartiest thanks to the team from Foods and Wines from Spain and the Caballeros who uncorked and tested the several hundred bottles for this evening. Also for the very intense preparation in the run up to this dinner. Please give them a round of applause.

The date of this dinner is moving steadily earlier in the year. The Cabs dinner was always the first big event of the wine trade year.  We want to edge it back that way.  Look out for announcements in due course.

And now may I conclude by asking all the Caballeros to stand and please join me in toasting our guests.”

Chairman’s welcome speech at the 38th Investiture Dinner