RAW v LIWF, not a unification bout for a wrestling title but an opportunity to compare two events during a frenzied week of tastings. As the sun finally arrived, East London became the destination for wine geeks from around the globe. The main pull was the London International Wine Fair but my impression was that this was smaller than last year. It seemed to attract a slightly more diverse crowd than usual though and I spent a pleasant couple of hours there catching up with people. It was particularly good to see Ridgeview showing and, for me their range blew away the other fizzes scattered about.
I felt sorry for those so focussed on business that they didn’t have time to step outside to admire the view and soak up the sun. The Royal docks are going from strength to strength and it promises to be an interesting summer. The London Pleasure Gardens will be opening soon (website here), a floating 24 hour bar and other entertainments no doubt in part stimulated by Olympic expectation but also another reflection of the regeneration of this part of London. The new cable car between Excel and the O2 may not be ready in time for the athletes but we will be riding it once the tourists dissipate.
It is an incredibly exciting time to live in East London. Earlier in the week I made my way to RAW, a ‘natural’ wine fair organised by Isabelle Legeron AKA That Crazy French Woman, at the Truman brewery. It was a fitting venue and had much to admire in terms of vision and scope. Unfortunately the wines were not always up to the hype or the delicious food. A vertical tasting of David Leclapart’s Champagne was interesting because of his personal take on each vintage but my guess is that they wouldn’t shine in a blind tasting and might be viewed as faulty. That isn’t to say they are faulty, it is just that many of the wines on show represent a different paradigm and so do not fit into the dominant discourse defined by homogeneity, consistency and typicity. These wines are not going to get Parker 90 plus scores but they do add interest.
I always try and make it to a few talks as well as tastings and at RAW there was a session on polyphenol content in natural wines. Findings presented by Francisco Bosco, from research for a Masters in Enology, seemed to suggest that some approaches, unsurprisingly, result in vines having increased levels of what are essentially their own defence mechanisms. This is unproblematic as long as any ‘health benefits’ are kept in perspective.
So if there is a winner in the battle of the wine fairs it is probably the consumer simply because of the sheer diversity of wines available. There is something out there for everyone’s taste. The challenge for the industry is to encourage engagement with this diversity and in their own different ways both LIWF and RAW do this.
Another year another London International Wine Conference. This behemoth continues to thrive at Excel although my impression was that 2011 was characterised by a sense of resources being increasingly scant and a tangible competitiveness amongst attendees. The big brands were especially evident in their posturing and various corporate clones busied themselves working angles. Unsurprising given the economic conditions, and the main point of the event, but disheartening in the way materialism pervades and distorts. The bigger the company the more sociopathic its behaviour. The venue is great though, familiar and easy for me to get to. We often take the kids to Thames Barrier Park and I hope attendees explored the area a bit. If you have never been to Trinity Buoy Wharf nearby it is well worth a visit.
On the wine front I enjoyed those shown by Seabright and Seabright, a small set up, who are establishing themselves in a hard market. Their portfolio includes 4 winners from the ‘Sud de France Expert’s choice’;
Galatee 2008, Cotes de Roussillon-Villages, Domaine Piquemal
Pygmailon 2007, Cotes de Roussillon-Village, Domaine Piquemal
Vent dEst 2007, Cabardes, Domaine de Cabrol
Alma Soror 2008, Vin de Pays dOc, Chateau de la Tuilerie
These are solid reds for drinking, technically good, full of fruit but enough complexity to generate interest. The Pygmalion is ‘in your face’ in a good way, Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, 14.5% alcohol but lovely garrigue notes underpinning the rich fruit. I can understand the Cote Rotie comparisons and at £16.95 this provides really good relative value. It will only get more approachable and refined over the next few years.
I also enjoyed tasting (mainly 2010) Albarinos at the Rias Baixas stand. The usual suspects showed well; My favourite is consistently the Fefinanes (which I have blogged on previously). I had not tasted the Castro Valdes from Adegas Castrobrey before and am surprised that there is no UK agent. It is more mineral than floral and has that saltiness which I love. It was also nice to see Remoissenet showing some of their’Grand vins’. No Le Montrachet unfortunately.
Less successful for me was the ‘Wines of Greece Masterclass’. Basically 5 wines from ‘the 3rd largest and fastest growing producer in Greece’. We tasted an Assyrtiko, Moschofilero, Agiorgitiko, Xinomavro and Mavrodaphne. I love Greek wines, especially Assyrtiko, but none of these shone. I also thought some of the industry briefings lacked real substance and descended into smug self publicity in line with the sell sell sell atmosphere. I was intrigued by seminars such as the ‘How to make money from wine writing’ with one guru beamed in by skype to hype progressive business models based on ad revenue with little reference to editorial integrity. The ‘access zone’ appears to be going from strength to strength though and does provide something a bit different which is welcome.
Best marketing must go to recruitment specialists chinchinjobs with their “If it pours, we reign” tag. Whoever thought up that deserves a bonus. The just-drinks.com ‘State of the nation’ analysis of the UK wine market was interesting reading and I will try to blog on this in detail.
My most enjoyable time at LIWF was, as last year, with Jonathan Simms of Justerini and Brooks who turns managing the Pommery stand into a wonderful cabaret. After the hustle, bustle and impersonal nonsense of the conference what better antidote than a glass of good Champagne and some divergent banter with a bit of humour.