Jon and I went to the London Wine Show yesterday. Despite the steep admission price (£17.50 per person), we couldn’t stay away. Even though we’re not wine experts by any stretch of the imagination, the event takes place at a convention center around the corner from our flat, the Business Design Centre (such a unique and inspiring name), so it seemed lame not to go.
Last year, Jon and I went to the first London Wine Show, ever, and we enjoyed having the chance to meet owners of small, family-run vineyards (from France, mostly). But other than talking to and tasting the wines of these small producers, the wine show last year was mostly a big corporate extravaganza – hundreds of square feet of space taken up by Odd Bins (the dominant wine store chain in the UK), Jacob’s Creek, Fetzer, etc.
This year, Odd Bins et al. were still out in full force, joined by something entertaining called the “French Wines Experience,” and the small family-run producers seemed fewer in number than last year. On the upside, there were a lot more wine tastings and presentations from food and wine personalities. Check out my photo with Oz Clarke! (Total sidenote – when I looked up Oz Clarke on wikipedia thinking the blurb would be a helpful link, I learned that he played “Hood No. 4″ in the original 1978 Superman movie. So apparently if Hollywood doesn’t work out, you can find a successful second career as a respected wine critic).
As for the “French Wines Experience,” you may wonder why the French feel they need to make the marketing effort, but there’s an increasing amount of press these days about the Brit and American preference for New World wines. The “Experience” was a series of rooms representing different situations when you might drink French wines (e.g., dinner parties, celebrations, quiet night in), and as you walked from room to room, sales reps would offer you tastings of French wines selling for £10 or less a bottle.
Jon and I tried a few of the recommended “dinner party” wines and they were watery and not tasty at all. I mean, I don’t think these wines would hold their own against any dish bolder than a mac’n’cheese. But the whole experience was a very slick set-up, so good luck to the Frenchies. I’ll bet France never thought they’d have to worry about competition from Australia or South America.
Highlights of our afternoon at the wine show included a tasting of Australian wines led by Matt Skinner, who’s the ubiquitous Naked Chef‘s sommelier at Fifteen. I’d never heard of him before the tastin, so I guess it’s good publicity for him to be at this wine show. The tasting was an hour long and featured four Australian wines. I enjoyed the hour because the wines showed off grapes other than shiraz, and one of the vineyard owners was there to be interviewed by Matt Skinner. Our favorite of the four was, surprisingly, a chardonnay – by Evans & Tate, branded X&Y. Not exactly a small family-run deal, but nice to break out of the Australia = shiraz rut.
The other highlight was being talked into buying a couple bottles of a tasty 2000 brunello di montalcino by Podere Brizio. It was probably not the smartest purchase of the day, but we had such a fun time tasting different wines from Montalcino and chatting with the British guy who was “helping” his neighbor in Montalcino break into the UK wine market. We were 100% sucked in when we tasted the Podere Brizio brunello with hunks of tangy, salty, creamy pecorino. Perfect together. Of course we wheedled the name of the pecorino producer from the wine guy – Caseificio Sassetti. I know where we’re going on our next visit to Italy . . . the Sassetti “cheese factory.”