The London Wine Fair is in its thirty fifth year and I made my annual pilgrimage to the Kensington Olympia on Monday with my target list of wines I wanted to taste and producers and merchants I needed to see.
My first stop was Armit to chat to old friends Christoph and Graeme Oliver. Christoph used to work at Fells and before that at Berkmann. I remember how he fixed for me a near impossible group visit to Antinori in Tuscany for a private tasting and lunch some years ago. He poured me a glass of Pierre-Gimonnet’s new release Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut Oger Grand Cru which I had not tasted before. I will have the chance to taste it again and perhaps buy in quantity when I visit the estate in October and Gimonnet mailings show that it is priced at Euro 30. I wanted to taste the just released 2005 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 but it will get to Armit only towards the end of June. Farr Vintners have it at £250 per 12 bottles in bond but I am sure, the Armit price will be a lot better. I will wait.
It was a pleasure to see Ralph Hochar and his father again. I tasted the current vintages of Chateau Musar Rose, White and Red and talked about visiting Lebanon. “Come in May next year and we will arrange everything” they said.
I stopped at The generic Austrian stand to thank Caroline Lloyd of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board for tirelessly inviting me to the annual Austrian tastings in February even though I have not been able to attend for several years as I tend to be out of the country in the winter months. “Willi Opitz is not here this year” she said. It is hard for me to think of Austrian wine without the larger than life figure of Willi. I said hello to Nora Trierenberg of Weingut Geordiberg in Berghausen, introduced to me by Willi last year. I have promised to visit them when I am in Illmitz next.
“Did you get any En Rama?” Louise Bartholdi asked. I nodded. “Have you tasted it” she probed. “Not yet” I said. She grabbed a glass and poured me the 2015 En Rama which actually tasted better than ever. When I told her that I am visiting Quinta do Noval in June, she dragged me to Xavier Sanchez, the marketing director of Noval. We talked about the visit and he asked me to drop a note to Ana Carvalho at the Quinta if I needed anything special. “A taste of Nacional would be great” I said. He asked me to name the vintage!
I passed by Enotria and Berkmann to Fells. Vergelegen winemaker André van Rensberg was holding fort at one end. I chatted with Etienne Hugel who was manning the Hugel section with his Japanese wife. As usual he wanted tell me all about Gentile. He did the same when we last met in Colombo two months ago. He gave me a stick-on tattoo and said “Pleas stick it on your arm and send me a selfie as soon as you can. I am including you in an album of Hugel friends I am making to celebrate our anniversary.” He showed me pictures of those who have already done it. I shivered.
Across the way from Fells, Sarah Ahmed was conducting a Decanter Masterclass on Portuguese wines. Sarah has tutored tastings for me in Harrogate in the past. I stood and listened and when she finished, walked across to say ‘Hi.’
The bold, big sign saying “Smarter Grower Champagne” attracted me to the stand. The smart young woman behind the counter talked to me about her Derouillat Champagnes from Monthelon. I told her that I am a sucker for grower champagnes and visit the region often. “You must visit us next time” she said. “We give you a great visit and lunch.” Her champagnes however were not to my style.
CONSELLO REGULADOR RIAS BAIXAS
Rias Baixas secretary general Ramón Huidobro Vega is a charming man. We chatted about the region, Albarino, Martin Codax and Pazo Senorans, seafood at Berto in A Grove, the Camino de Santiago etc. etc for some time sipping the wonderful Pazo Senorans Selection de Anada 2007. He gave me his card and said “When you come to Galicia again, you must contact me and I will show you many more interesting things.”
CONSEJO REGULARDOR D.O. VALDEORRAS
All I wanted to discuss here was Rafael Palacios’ Godello – As Sortes. The Chairman of the Conserjo, Jose Vicente Solarat Lopez spoke very little English. But he understood Godello and Rafael Palacios and we got on splendidly. A Sortes was not on the tasting counter but he found Palacios’ Lauro and a bottle of A Sortes 2013 and poured me a glass each. I told him that I want to visit the Valdeorras winery where As Sortes is made. He gave me the contact details.
There was no Georgian stand as such but pretty Eka Tchvritidze and her husband Olaf Malver were showing non-qvevri wines from their Danieli Winery in Kakheti. Her Kisi and Saperavi from two Kakheti subregions were delightful. We chatted in Russian and I told her that I have visited Georgia twice and will be going there again next year. She knew my Gerogian travel agent well and said: “You must visit us next year. My mother is a wonderful cook and we could drink our wine and eat traditional Georgian food.” She wanted to be friends on Facebook. Eka is infectious and so is her wine. I e-mailed my agent in Tbilisi.
A father & daughter team was in charge of Wine Cellar Villa Melnik. I remember the rustic little wine village of Melnik and its wines from Broad Leaf Vine of Melnik from my last visit to Bulgaria. Young and attractive Militza Zikatanova poured the wines which were well made but not really distinctive. Again we chatted in Russian which pleased the old man.
Wines of Vasse Felix from Margaret River, which I admire, attracted me to the Negotiants stand. I chatted with Thomas Begault from Vasse Felix and tasted my favourite wines – Sauvignon Semillon and the two “icon wines” Heytesbury Chardonnay and Heytesbury – a Cabernet dominant blend with Petit Verdot and Malbec. I told Thomas that I hate the term ‘Icon Wine’ and thought that the Chardonnay had too pronounced oak flavours but would still like to buy the three wines. He smiled politely and introduced me to the Negotiants marketing manager Scott Edge.
It was already past 3 pm and I have had no lunch. I bought a selection of hams and cheeses and various salads from a trolly near the Esoterica Tasting Section. “Would you like a glass of wine?” the waiter asked. I settled for water.