There are three days in the calendar that I block out every year, as soon as the dates have been announced. Pity the fool who has a birthday or a wedding during that time (luckily, none of my friends have a birthday around then, and I can always vet any new ones I might make; weddings are trickier, but so far, so good). Frankly, there is not much that will get in the way of immersing myself in enough wine to fill Olympia London – which is precisely the opportunity that the London Wine Fair brings.
I started attending the London Wine Fair three years ago on behalf of a client who was researching for a new wine list. It was fantastic to be able to try all kinds of wines, from the very famous and exquisite to the tiny grass-roots productions and the rare. I loved seeing the brands presenting themselves, as well as meeting the people behind the bottle – the very winemakers – and learning about what goes into the whole process of making their wine.
It was even more exciting for me this year, having just completed my WSET 2, because I had a thirst for the knowledge that was available in a way that I hadn’t before. It was perfect timing, because the format had been revamped and they had introduced four new zones, including the Innovation Zone, where they held bookable TED-style talks from business innovators, and the Education Zone, where WSET educators hosted training sessions and masterclasses.
I went for two of the three days (work got in the way of my three-day Wine Fair extravaganza – gah!) and even then, I didn’t even make a dint in the schedule. The first day was a bit overwhelming and it took a while for me to scope out the main trading floor. I mean, there was wine everywhere I turned – quite the scene for a wine lover like myself, and I had to take a minute or two to compose myself. Fresh from my training, I wanted to taste as much as I could, find the regions I learned about and put my knowledge of grape varieties and tasting notes to the test. Much of the day was spent going around the stands, seeing if I could spot some key regions, chatting to the producers and tasting lots of wines.
I was thrilled to find some fantastic examples of Clare Valley riesling almost straight away at the Pikes stand. I chatted to Jamie Pike, the Sales and Marketing Manager for the family business that began a few generations earlier, who told me the Pikes story and all about their prized Polish Hill wines. He led me through a tasting which culminated with ‘The Merle’, widely judged as outstanding and the benchmark for dry Clare Valley rieslings – a wonderful tribute to the winemakers’ mum, the first and original Merle. I found the wine refreshing, complex, zesty, mineral and completely delicious – it made me think of seafood and sunshine. Seafood in the sunshine on a terrace overlooking the ocean. That was definitely my favourite find on the first day.
On the third day and final day, I managed to check out a couple of the walk-up tastings, an awesome feature that I hadn’t tried before at the Wine Fair. I attended a tasting on Chilean wines called Itata and Bio Bio – The Cradle of Chilean Viticulture led by Alistair Cooper MW and a tasting on South American wines called Pushing The Boundaries of South American Wine led by Amanda Barnes. The Chilean tasting was a real eye-opener and challenged most of our perceptions of wines from Chile. Deep, bold, spicy reds, right? Nope. All of these wines were light in colour and unexpectedly complex with interesting palates – some were really earthy and mineral. My absolute favourites were a 2011 Los Patricios Chardonnay and a 2015 Pinot Noir – also from Los Patricios. If you get to try them, expect the unexpected! Old World grapes, New World style – very exciting. And the South America tasting was even more of a confirmation that there is much to discover in this diverse region of the New World with such a rich history.
I made some great discoveries this year at the London Wine Fair, but I know that I left many a stone unturned. I look forward to returning next year armed with even more knowledge, a finer palate and more vineyard experiences under my belt, ready to tackle everything it has to offer.