The London International Wine Fair was buzzing this year! Even at 9.30am, there was an instant atmosphere of intrigue and discovery as people weaved in and out, jumping from Chile to Spain at the clink of a wine glass. We had seven different producers at the show this year, ranging from Bodegas Carelli from Argentina to the far left of the exhibition through to Portuguese Madeira producer Barao de Vilar to the far right. To try and conduct some sort of methodical route through the fair, I decided to mark my map out by visiting them in order from left to right, thus covering the entire show in the space of a day!
I strategically skipped my religious morning coffee to keep my taste buds as fresh as could be (admirably, I also refrained from a Tuesday night glass of wine to increase tasting potential) and made my way to the Bodegas Carelli stand, which was already attending to its first visitors. Sitting down with Enrique Carelli, we talked about their 34 range, so called due to the latitude of a very important farm to the Carelli family. He showed me pictures of their building, built in 1845, boasting large stone bricks (that kept the winery cool) and wonderful wooden roof made 100% from cane. Due to the climate of Mendoza, which has no rain throughout the year apart from December, they create a reservoir of water collected from the ice caps of the nearby mountains, giving them complete control over the watering of their vines. The end result of this careful vinification and grape selection is an excellent range of exciting wines. My favourite would have to be the Malbec. Not always my personal varietal of choice, this showed a fantastic palate of spice and plum with soft tannins.
Sad to leave but determined to cover my ground I popped across to Spain to visit Finca Cerrada and taste their lovely Viura. This used to be made with Airen but they discovered that the Spanish and English markets were much more taken with the Macabeo grape. Now made of this variety, the Viura is doing incredible well and tasting fresh and clean with citrus and pear. Also, exclusive to Amathus, you can get it screw capped for preservation of freshness – and great value for money.
I decided that there was time to slot in a little South African wine before I braked for some lunch and, eager to cover some ground in my short time at the show, I skipped across to South Africa. This year there was a large red pod for the “Wines of South Africa”. This was the first year South Africa had done something like this and it was a great way to group together wines from particular regions and allowed visitors to peruse and taste at their own pace. I reached our Seven Sisters’ wines first and the Sauvignon was fresh and citric on the nose with hints of cut grass and passion fruit on the palate. Also on show was their Pinotage/ Syrah blend of black fruit, spice and vanilla with great roundness and length.
Idiom was also featured here and I was able to meet up with Roberto Bottega in person, from the family run business behind the brand, who chatted to me all about the production of their range and their journey from production to positioning. Unbeknownst to me, South Africa has over 350 years of winemaking experience but has only been able to come onto the scene with the emergence of the New World of wine-producing countries. With this background of knowledge and winemaking, it is no wonder that South Africa has produced its big character wines yet retains that elegance that is associated with its elder competitors. In this respect, South Africa is much better positioned somewhere between the Old and New Worlds, with its “elegance of the old, yet opulence of the new”. In the same way, this is where Roberto sees Idiom; “rich and juicy, but still elegant”.
My favourite of the Idiom range has to be the Cape Blend that adds the unique component of the country, the pinotage grape, with the well known Bordeaux combination of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. A smooth, rich wine with great depth and fruit on the palate, a definite must for a meat based meal, which definitely told me it was time to get a spot of lunch…
What better way to start my second half than a tipple of champagne from our Grand Cru producer Louis Martin. Louis Martin is a small grower from Bouzy, one of the 17 Grand Cru Villages in Champagne. Unlike a lot of other producers, they don’t buy in any grapes but grow all of their own on their 10 hectares of vineyards. This means they have complete control of the quality and the resulting Champagne. I had some of the Rose which has 15% Bouzy red wine, which adds to the increased quality, wonderfully fine bubbles and a fresh nose with red fruits and brioche – all there in the palate too.
Moving just a little further south of Champagne, I found myself at Domaine Moillard and tasting some exceptional red Burgundies. There are four steps on the Burgundy pyramid in relation to quality and price and these can all be noted from the label. You have the base comprising of blends that can be made from any pinot noir in Burgundy (though Bourgogne Haut Côte de Nuits can only be from vineyards in the Côte de Nuits, confusing I know). The next level up – the Villages – where grapes must come from a single Village or a blend from several. Above this are the Premier Cru Villages, where the grapes must come from one of the Premier Cru classed properties. Top of the pyramid are the Grand Cru Burgundies. These are made from small parcels within a Premier Cru vineyard – the highest quality fruit, where the high prices are more than compensated by the elegance and finesse of the resulting wine. I was lucky enough to try their 2010 wines which, still a little young, promise to be a fantastic wine in a few years time!
More than satisfied with my French experience I went forth to my final destination, Portugal. Here I met up with Fernando, the “Baron” of Barao de Vilar. He told me it was not necessary to curtsy but in the presence of the man behind some very enjoyable Madeira’s, the urge was rather strong. I held back. Tasting all three from Seco (Dry) to Doce (Sweet), I was not disappointed, and they had great dried fruit flavour, ranging from prunes to figs. If forced to choose, my favourite would have to be the Doce; with caramel and honey sweetness and nuttiness to the finish, it is typical of Madeira made with the malmsey grape. A fantastic finish to any meal and a perfect finish to my day!
By Clare Corlett