It is nine in the morning. The rain has ceased and there is a cool, fresh smell in the air. I walk to Hornsey Road and catch the number 91 to Caledonian Way and take the Overground to Kensington Olympia. A pretty young woman outside the station is showing the way to the 34th London International Wine Trade Fair. Inside, another pretty young woman scans my invitation and gives me a badge. I collect an ISO glass and a show catalogue and walk into the forest of wine stands.
I stop at the Azerbaijan stand and chat to Timur Mamedov, the commercial director of the Savalan Winery and taste his rather run of the mill viognier and chardonnay. Firelands Winery close to Baku has an Italian winemaker – Andrea Uliva. I taste their Rkatsiteli 2011 (with hints of oxidation) and the robust and tannic Saperavi 2011. I first encountered these two varietals in Georgia a few years ago. The wines today on offer are no match. Madrasa, an indigenous varietal of Azerbaijan however, is impressive.
Marchel Kolebaba of the Caspian Coast Winery & Vineyards wants me to taste his entire range including the brandy. The wines are pretty ordinary. The Madrasa here is sweetish and oxidised. His two assistants speak little English so we chat in Russian. They are pleased and ask me to visit the winery when I am in the Caucasus this September. I make a note to let my agent in Georgia know.
I stop briefly at the Turkish stand and arrange to visit Doluca winery, which is close to Istanbul, on my way to Georgia this autumn. I say hello to Julia Trustram-Eve of English Wine Producers and head towards the Austrian section.
The larger than life figure of Willi Opitz walks over, beaming and gives me a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from Weingut Georgiberg in Berghausen. It is pretty good and Willi says I should visit them next time I am in Austria. Nora Trierenberg from Georgiberg joins us with a husband and we chat and drink and chat more. “You can stay with us” Nora says. “We could make excursions in to Slovenia as well.” She says spring is the best time for a visit.
I spend a lot of time at the John Fells stand (one of my suppliers), and taste Guigal’s Condrieu and Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2012 with Cristina Torres, making a note to order both wines. I taste all the Torrontes and Malbec from the two Argentinian wineries Chakana and Trapiche, trying to decide what to buy for a Malbec tasting later this month. Renatto Rati’s Barberas and Nebbiolos are perfumed and full of fruit and the Barolos are surprisingly forward and approachable.
I talk to Mike Ratcliffe (Warwick Estate, South Africa) and André van Rensburg – the celebrated and somewhat controversial winemaker of South Africa’s excellent Vergelegen winery. When I last met him at the winery several years ago, Andre was deciding to make only a white and a red blend at Vergelegen. I was horrified and told him so. “If Bordeaux can do it, why not Vergelegen” he responded. He is making varietal wines again and I ask him what happened. “Not many people are capable of understanding these concepts” he says and pours me a glass of his excellent Sauvignon Blanc. I taste his top white and red blends and love them.
I stop briefly to listen to Tim Atkin MW conducting a masterclass. It is already late and palate fatigue is setting in. On my way out, I stopped at Enotria, another one of my suppliers, to taste the current vintages of Ken Forrester‘s Chenin Blancs and an amazing Fiano from the great Sicilian producer Planeta.
The annual London Wine Fair was held from Monday 2nd to Wednesday 4th July 2014 at the Kensington Olympia.