Spanish honour for wine ambassadors

Tim Atkin MW, OLN's wine editor at large, and Tony Laithwaite, founder of Direct Wines, have been welcomed to the ranks of Spain's Gran Orden de Caballeros in recognition of their contributions to Spanish wine.

The customary investiture dinner took place at the Four Seasons Hotel in London on Monday. It was attended by many members of the now 56-strong Gran Orden and more than 300 guests from the Spanish wine trade who enjoyed a gastronomic menu and wines selected from the New Wave Spanish Wine Awards 2006.

The new members were presented by María José Sevilla, director of Wines from Spain. Atkin was praised for his role as chairman of the judges of the New Wave Spanish Wine Awards, which has brought Spain's contemporary wines to the fore over the past two years, as well as his regular contributions to publications including OLN, Class and The Observer.

Atkin said: "This is a huge honour. I'm very flattered and delighted and I will wear my robes with pride."

Tony Laithwaite said Spanish wines had been "the second wines of his career (after France)" and that Spain "just fits" for the mail-order specialist. He credited his "Spanish-mad" buyers Peter Greet and James Snoxell for the healthy position of Spanish wine at Direct Wines - it accounts for 17 per cent of sales, a figure well above Spain's market share of around 7 per cent. As he donned his robes, Laithwaite said: "I didn't realise they knew what I was doing. I'm quite astonished."