Thursday, 23 May 2013

The London International Wine Fair 2013 - A Disappointing Vintage?

On Tuesday morning, nearly every member of the Vinspire team rocked up at Excel to sample this year's LIWF. We say 'rocked up' like it was all casual, but have you ever tried to get to Excel during the rush hour? A train, a tube journey, and two DLR trains later and we arrived so exhausted we almost mauled the nice ladies in berets giving out free croissants in the name of French wine.

It's been widely reported that many exhibitors failed to pay the higher prices to exhibit this year, and many others refused to go because the venue is such a ballache to get to. Although it was noticeably less busy, there was still a huge number of stalls, but it was quality rather than quantity that disappointed us on the whole.

We must have sampled around 200 wines and spirits throughout the day, from at least a dozen countries, and in every possible colour and alcohol content that you could desire. But we left seven hours later slightly disheartened that we had only found a handful of exciting wines and spirits to tell you about.

Highlights of the day include trying a range of Brazilian sparkling wine that was different to most other sparkling wine we've ever tried, tasting some of Chris William's delicious The Foundry wines (available at The Wine Society), and also discovering potential in China, particularly Chateau Hansen.

The English Wine popup was timely, given English Wine Week is next week, but some of the brands mentioned were underrepresented and the area given to the popup very much lacking in size! After elbowing a few other tasters out the way a dozen times or so, we came away very pleased with Chapel Down's sparkling rose and delicious summer beer, and impressed by the quality of Gusbourne's Pinot Noir as well as their fizz.

One of the main highlights was our tasting with Etienne Hugel of the legendary Hugel wines in Alsace. Not only were the wines all utterly sublime, Etienne was an absolute gentleman and kept us highly entertained with his wit and impressed by his constant passion for his wines.

We also enjoyed The Liberator, Cono Sur's selection, and a range of Australian Shiraz by GATT wines (that won gold at this year's IWC) simply blew our minds in terms of complexity, finesse, and a fruity attack of flavour.

Some of the new flavoured liqueurs were interesting (we'll tell you more about them later), but on the whole the spirits section was hugely lacking in variety.

There were also some utterly bizarre exhibits, most notably Tresvin: a bizarrely overpriced 'wine' being sold in cans alongside a range of 'Tres Spritzy', which is basically sparkling water, peach juice and more 'wine'. The packaging was fancy but on tasting we found the contents were questionable. The whole concept was bizarre: in the age of screwcaps, why do we need portable cans of shoddy-quality wine for picnics? Although ten out of ten to whoever designed their little brochure with it's "so chic, so French" and "light, bright, and absolutely dynamite" slogans. They do not currently have a UK merchant (or a website) except for Amazon, where you can buy a case of twelve tiny cans for just under £25.

We were also disappointed by the layout: we're not sure why they insist on scattering different countries around the event, but at times it felt like being on Crystal Maze. When tasting wine, we generally tend to approach events of this magnitude by country to get some context, but in several instances (South Africa in particular) stalls seemed to be randomly dotted around the enormous venue. According to the map, there was also supposed to be a Dutch stall (which we were very interested in) but on arrival it turned out to be Argentinian, and we couldn't find the Dutch wine anywhere. It's already way too big to try everything, so at least help us save time by organising the layout a bit better, LIWF!

All in all, it was - as ever - worth attending LIWF, but we look forward to next year's fair at Olympia when we are sure they'll be back on top form.

Look out for more posts over the coming weeks featuring some of the best booze we found!

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