So, procrastination. Anybody know why it is not already listed as one of the Seven Deadly Sins? It certainly is my nemesis, I can tell you that. Procrastination explains why I never quite remember to buy Lotto tickets, despite fervently wishing to win. It explains why I have yet to write that novel I've been threatening to write for years. And it explains how the 2011 London International Wine Fair is starts today, yet I have not yet written up my visit to the 2010 fair. Hey ho. But as they say, the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, so let me strike a small blow against procrastination and tell you about the 2010 LIWF.
The London International Wine Fair is now in its 31st year and is one of the world's key trade events for wine and spirits producers and buyers. There are around 20,000 wines and spirits to explore over the 3-day event, as well as seminars and tastings. For importers, merchants, producers, agents, restaurateurs, wholesalers, sommeliers and wine writers, the event a wonderful opportunity to taste wines and meet with suppliers and winemakers. I will be visiting tomorrow, so let's recap what I did last year.
Once I'd found my pals Andrew of Spittoon and Denise of The Wine Sleuth, I headed like a homing pigeon for the Wines of South Africa stand to see what I could find there. (Incidentally, Wines of South Africa are the official wine sponsors for the Plate to Page food writing and photography workshop that I am presenting in Germany this weekend!). I enjoyed the area where the wines were arranged by cultivar and style rather than by estates as it gave us a chance to taste similar vrietals side by side. A 2008 Barrel-fermented Kleine Zalze Chenin Blanc impressed the socks off me by doing a pretty good imitation of a French Loire Valley Chenin; and a lightly oaked 2007 Rustenburg Chardonnay had the perfect balance of vanilla-ish oak and grapefruit flavours and a ridiculously long finish.
A visit to the nearby De Wetshof stand gave us a chance to sample some of their extensive range of Chardonnays – a wine for which the estate is well known and for which they have won a number of awards. The estate itself is in the Robertson wine region, one of my favourite wine-producing areas; and if you are ever in the area, do stop by for a tasting in their gorgeous traditional Cape Dutch tasting room. But back to the wine. De Wetshof make Chardonnay in a range of styles, from the unwooded Bon Vallon right through to the significantly wooded Bateleur, so we tried a selection. The 2008 De Wetshof Bon Vallon Chardonnay was fresh and zingy with lots of citrussy grapefruit notes. The medium-bodied 2009 De Wetshof Finesse/Lesca Chardonnay is lightly wooded (3 months in oak) and shows more muted fruit on the palate, although with a more nutty minerality on the finish. My personal favourite remains the 2007 De Wetshof Bateleur Chardonnay. Altough us spent 12 months in oak barrels the wood is surprisingly well integrated and not overpowering, complementing the citrus flavours with a mellow toasty vanlia flavours, and leaving an astonishingly clean finish. On a nearby stand, we picked up a quick glass of 2007 Idiom Viogner – mainly because there are not that many Viogners being bottled in South Africa and also because I did not recognise the name of the estate. As it turns out, Idiom is not an estate but a range from the Bottega family who also own the more established Whalehaven estate. I found the Viognier to be lighter and more elegant than some I have tasted, with an abundance of spicy clove flavours – I would love to test drive a bottle of this with a Cape Malay curry!
Our next stop was in Italy – or at least that's where our tastebuds went! Cantine Astroni vineyards are to be found near Naples – some of their vines are actually planted on the slopes of the Astroni crater. We were hosted by the utterly charming Astroni winemaker Gerrardo "call me Gerry" Vernazzaro who seemed genuinely pleased to be able to take us on a tour of his wines. The 2009 Astroni Falanghna Campi Flegrei intrigued me right from the start. The name comes from the Latin word phalangae referring to the earliest trelissing which lifted the grapes off the ground and prevented mould. The grapes are literally grown on the volcanic slopes and only 200m from the sea, which might explain the unusual palate: intensely minerally with a pleasant but almost briny/salty finish (a product, according to Gerrardo, of the proximity to the sea and the soil's volcanic influences). The 2009 Astroni Greco di Tufo (a little-known italian varietal) is grown at 500m above sea level and also displays mineral characteristics, but also an appealing nuttiness and a deep straw colour – I would have loved to try this wine with food as I think it would really shine. Next up was the 2009 Astroni Fiano de Avellino - my favourite from this estate. This Italian varietal is grown in areas with a big fluctuation in day and night time temperatures which produces a big (13% alc/volume), complex wine with fruit and nut flavours – very balanced and reminiscent of a good Riesling. The 2007 Astroni Strione is also made from Falanghina grapes but this time they are fermented on the skins, giving the wine a gorgeous gold colour and a rich, full-bodied mouthfeel – dry but with hints of apricot and spice. The Astroni Piedirossi Campi Flegrei was a glass full of ripe red berries, rather like a good pinot noir. The 2008 Astroni Rais is a blend of three Italian varieties: Aglianico, Piedirossi and Primitivo. It's a more substantial wine with an unusual, almost savoury "barnyard" nose and a super-appealing palate with lots of dark berries and soft tannins. We finished with the Astroni Astro Brut, a delighftully refreshing sparkling falanghina with a fine, yeasty mousse. Astroni won points not just for an excellent selection if really interesting and unusual wines, but also for their charming winemaker Gerrardo – and the best bar snacks at the LIWF
From there we decided to move on to a selection of Argentine wines from producer Bodega Francois Lurton in Argentina. We kicked our South American trip with the Gran Lurton Corte Friulano, a white blend made up of 70% Tokay Friulano as well as Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. This was a lovely spicy fruit salad of a wine, perfectly balanced between the musky spice undertones, honeyed sweetness and tart fruits, with a very long finish. Delicious. From there we moved onto their reds with a 2008 La Piedra Negra Malbec, so named for the black soil of the Andean foothills where the vineyards are located. It's a lovely smooth glassful of dark berries with a vanilla nose which perfectly offsets the rich spicy flavours and integrated tannins. We followed this with a 2006 Chacayes Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon blend by the same producer. The grapes for this wine are grown at altitudes of over 1,000m and once picked the grapes are sorted and selected by hand. The result is a handsome and balanced wine, full of plum pudding flavours with good length. Everything we tasted here confirmed my affection for Argentine wines.
From there we had to get a move on to make our way to the Emiglia Romagna food and wine matching workshop for which we had signed up, sponsored by the Italian Trade Commission and hosted by the urbane and amusing Charles Metcalfe. Together with our wines, we were served plates of excellent Parmiggiano and Prosciutto which provided the perfect culinary foil for the wines. Here's what we tasted:
- Malvasia Secco Colli di Parma DOC 2009 – lovely "cream soda" (a South African soft drink!) nose; fresh and light muscat flavours. Perfect with charcuterie
- Pignoletto Colli Bolognesi DOC 2009 – tasted like a grassy Sauvignon Blanc but with the toasty flavour of pine nuts – very unusual.
- Albana di Romagna Secco DOCG 2009 – a little more residual sugar and fuller-bodied than the Pignoletto. Delicious.
- Medici Ermete Lambrusco Reggiano DOC 2009 – smells like ripe cherries; slightly petillant on the palate with the flavour of sour cherries. Soft tannins, lovely and fresh
- Bolla Rossa – Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOC 2009 – darker, plummy fruit with balanced tannins and a subtle fizz. Very long finish. For me, this was by far the best match with the Prosciutto.
- Gutturnio Vignamorello Colli Piacentini DOC 2007 – an elegant and serious red wine, very dark in colour, with intriguing aniseed notes. An excellent match for the Parmiggiano.
- Sangiovese di Romagna DOC 2009 - nose is that of a hot country wine – sun-baked! Spicy cloves and cinnamon on the nose and palate combine with ripe berry flavours to create a lasting impression of spicy mulled wine. Outstanding wine.
- Albana di Romagna Passito DOCG 2007 – lovely amber-coloured dessert wine with candied citrus peel on the nose and palate. One of the two best matches for the Parmiggiano.
And after a brief sojourn in the Top 100 Wines tastng area, we made our way to the Wines of South Africa Stand to visit some old friends and make some new ones. First up was probably my favourite estate in the country – Springfield. The estate is in the lovely Robertson valley and is owned by brother and sister team, winemaker Abrie and marketer Jeanette Bruwer (who was one of the people manning the Springfield stand when we visited). Abrie is known for being obsessed with terroir (the influence of the land where the grapes are grown on the wine) and his philophy is that "terroir is a gift from God inherited by our ancestors". This means that the winemaking process is kept as direct and uncomplicated as possible so that the natural elements in the wine can speak for themselves, with the least possible human interference (they even have a team of snail-eating ducks!). Whatever he is doing, let me tell you it works. As I know their range pretty well by now, I only tried two wines this time: the 2007 Springfield Pinot Noir (the first Pinot from this estate, I believe), a satisfying pale brick red colour with soft tannins but not much supple fruit. Interestingly, after release, Bruwer had a change of heart and withdrew this wine from sale – so if you have a bottle you may want to hang onto it! The other wine of theirs that I can seldom resist is the delightful Whole Berry Cabernet Sauvignon and it did not disappoint with its deep, inky colour; its smoky cigar box nose, and its opulent Christmas pudding palate. It's available in the UK via Bibendum.
Next door to the Springfield stand we got chatting to the charming Tertius Boshoff of Stellenrust Wines. Stellenrust was established in 1928 and is today one of the oldest family-owned wineries in South Africa. I got chatting to Tertius who told me that his father sent all his children to university and told them not to come back without a degree before he would let them join the family wine business. I would have come back with the easiest degree I could find; Tertius, however, came back a qualified dentist. Clearly an overachiever (!), his commitment to making wonderful wines is evident from what we tasted. The 2009 Stellenrust Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc was a revelation – a lush nose with lots of fresh pear and a definite whiff of vanilla, followed by a mouthful of tropical fruit salad, beautifully balanced acids and an extremely long and caramelly finish. If I did not know any better I would have said I was drinking a French Vouvray – quite sublime. (Incidentally, the number on the bottle indicates the age of the vines in the year that the wine was made.) We also tried the 2009 Stellenrust Pinotage, not always an easy cultivar to love. This example, however, was full of ripe black cherries without some of the chalkiness that I sometimes get in apinotage - very appealing. Another red we tried was that 2007 Stellenrust Timeless, a classic Bordeaux blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, which blew my socks off – just a glass of Christmas pudding! And last but not least, we finished with the 2008 Stellenrust Chenin d'Muscat dessert wine with its pale straw colour, a Riesling-like kerosene nose, and a mouthful of dried apricots and peaches on the tongue, but with enough acidity for a lovely clean finish.
And that, as they say, is that (a few extra pics are available on my Flickr page) – and I cannot wait to see what this year's London International Wine Fair brings when I visit tomorrow. In other wine-related news… last night I attended the launch of a new initative from Naked Wines, the wine sellers that pride themselves on supporting up and coming winemakers. Called Naked Marketplace, it operates very much along the same lines as Wowcher and Groupon (where a special discounted price on a particular item can only be given if a minimum number of buyers agree to buy it). Simply put, any winemaker around the world can register on the site, list their wine and set a price and a minimum sales volume. Customers can then bid for as many cases as they like, either at the winemaker's starting price or lower. Let's say the minimum number bids are achieved for the sale to go ahead – at the end of the bidding period the winemaker then chooses to accept a higher bid but (probably) sell fewer cases; or to go for a lower bid and sell a higher volume of wine, depending on the bids that came in. Naked only charge 10% for this service, saving the customer money and putting more money in the hands of the winemaker, so everybody wins. Have a look on their site for details.