In Part 1 of my review of the 2018 London Wine Fair I concentrated on the small importers in the Esoterica area, where you could find perhaps the real excitement of the event. If you haven’t already read Part 1, you can catch up here. Part 2 takes a look at what was happening on the large “trading floor” downstairs. One of the new additions this year was Drinks Britannia, devoted to a number of producers from the British Isles. This area proved a real success, I think, and is ripe for growth for the 2019 Fair. I will also briefly cover a few of the interesting wines I tasted from some of the larger importers down here. Then I’ll finish off with a few photos to give anyone who wasn’t there a flavour of the event…from the sublime to the (almost) ridiculous, as they say.
This large event, now in its fourth year at London Olympia, claims to present 14,000 wines from 40 countries. Despite a lot of concerns being expressed on the floor about how brexit will affect the drinks industry as a whole, the organisers reported 14,250 attendees over the three days, a massive 17% increase over 2017. Several new attractions certainly helped, including Wine Innovations (with some exciting new tech on show), some impressive Premium Masterclasses, and better communication via a dedicated Wine Fair App and a daily newspaper, plus the aforementioned Drinks Britannia (and the impressive Nyetimber drinks bus). On Tuesday 22nd there was also a Champagne Live event, which was open to consumers in the evening.
The introduction to the Drinks Britannia area’s booklet claims, quite rightly, that “the country is undergoing a liquid revolution, delivering world-class sparkling wines, internationally acclaimed craft beers [and] outstanding gins”, to which I would also forcefully add, a resurgence of exciting craft ciders.
Just under twenty exhibitors packed this corner of the main Hall, and I am hopeful that the clear success of this small but beautiful new addition to the Fair will be further expanded next year. Those who did show ranged from the big boys (like Nyetimber) to the tiny (Starvecrow Cider, a current favourite, was there for the first time, and just on the Monday). It’s Starvecrow that I’ll begin with.
I discovered Starvecrow last year, after I met Ben Walgate, who I discovered I knew briefly many years ago. Regular readers will know about Ben, who has made a wonderful English petnat, PN17, from Dornfelder and a little Pinot Noir (distributed by Les Caves de Pyrene), and has the exciting prospect of some Ortega waiting in qvevri buried in his Peasmarsh Oasthouse in East Sussex, waiting to be bottled. His Tillingham Vineyard by coincidence is about to undergo some serious new planting next weekend, a future English wine star in the making, we hope.
Ben is helping to make a range of ciders under the Starvecrow label. These are truly artisan products, with production being a few thousand bottles of the two mainstays, and just a matter of a few hundred for the exciting new cider I shall mention in due course.
Of the three ciders (labelled “Cyder” here) on taste, the first is the gently effervescent Starvecrow Natural Cyder. Hand picked apples are pressed and fermented with native wild yeasts in old whisky casks. Unusually for cider, the varieties used are Golden Delicious, Jonagold and Braeburn, with Bramley adding bite and acidity.
Much as I like the black label version, the red label Starvecrow Pét Nat Cyder is possibly even better. Its wild fermentation in bottle produces a cider with the real definition of a petnat wine, with great appley fruit. The bottles I’ve just finished all had a lovely crispness and acidity to them. Dry and brisk, and just 5.5% abv. The black Label comes in at 7%.
The new cider, so new that it doesn’t yet have a label (on the right, below), nor strictly a name, was made in one of Ben’s qvevri as a bit of an experiment. It has been bottled as a still cider (no bubbles) and has some of the texture and mouthfeel of an orange wine. It’s a truly innovative effort and I cannot wait to get some of it next month on release.
Nyetimber keeps itself at the forefront of the English sparkling wine industry through very slick marketing, exemplified by the Nyetimber double-decker bus, which I must say makes an impressive bar space at festivals. All of that would mean very little, were it not for the fact that the wines are more impressive than ever.
Nyetimber has been perhaps the biggest name in English Sparkling Wine for nigh on twenty years, and has been around a decade longer than that, but their wines have not always impressed me as much as they do now, nor did in the early days. They claim “pursuit of perfection”, and under the ownership of Eric Heerema, this is no idle boast. All the wines come from estate grown Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier, and every parcel of grapes gets treated individually from picking to bottle.
There are five cuvées, of which “Classic Cuvée” sets the standard, and the Blanc de Blancs offers a more gastronomic option. I tasted the Rosé for the first time in a while. It’s a lovely “sunset pink” with strong hints of red fruits on nose and palate (on the palate it’s predominantly raspberries). The style is elegant, with a good backbone and definition. Certainly aperitif material, but also likely to pleasantly surprise anyone who pairs it with white meats, salmon or seafood
Believe it or not, I also had my first taste of Tillington 2013. This is their now famous single vineyard wine, the 2013 Vintage being launched at the Fair, which I only realised when I got to the front of the queue. It’s less easy to get hold of the technical details than from some producers, partly because of the noise around the bus (“busy” does not fully describe the crush), and partly because Nyetimber’s marketing materials are short on detail like grape varieties.
The 2013 is certainly dominated by Chardonnay, but whatever smaller proportion of Pinot Noir there is certainly makes its presence felt through beautiful, intense, summer fruits. You also get treated to soft brioche notes on the palate. It has genuine depth, more than the other cuvées, and real class. Lees ageing is around 37 months, followed by six months post-disgorgement ageing in bottle before release. At around £100 it isn’t cheap, and the price certainly acts as a marker for the industry. But it is a classy, very impressive wine. I’d be inclined to buy some, though it is a shame that unlike Comtes, and DP, I’m unlikely to find it in a supermarket “25% off six” offer.
Drinks Britannia had plenty more to offer, and I should mention a few other less impressively decked-out tables, which nevertheless had lots to offer in the taste department. Sparklers from Bolney, Exton Park, and Black Chalk Wines (the latter reviewed in Part 1) were all on the Wine GB tables (the new Association for the English and Welsh Wine Industry). There were more ciders, including those of Little Pomona Orchard & Cidery from Thornbury in Hertfordshire, and on a table of their own, Ambriel Sparkling Wines. Also at the event was the inimitable Julian Temperley and his Somerset Cider Brandy Company, whose range has now grown well beyond the cider I occasionally bought as a young man (with friends nearby), and his very fine Calvados replacement Cider Brandy.
There were also a few gin distillers (Manchester Gin and Pinkster, the latter made pink with raspberries from Cambridgeshire). There must be a real opportunity for the multitude of craft gins to market themselves at this event next year.
All of these are worth seeking out. I actually think Bolney Estate makes a range of still and sparkling wines which are very good value, and although not on show, their slightly crazy red fizz Cuvée Noir, based on Dornfelder, is something I always grab a couple of bottles of if I visit (also currently available in magnum, making a perfect barbecue option).
The vast “Trading Floor” at Olympia had stalls pushing everything under the sun, from countries like Uzbekistan to small wine merchants like Oakham’s Bat & Bottle. A lot of this wine might appeal more to those purchasing from the On-trade, or the supermarket, more than most readers of my blog (I saw some “Most Wanted” wines, see in photos below, in Sainsbury’s this week). But there were also some impressive wines to be found at some of the larger importers exhibiting here, nowhere more so than at Astrum Wines.
Here, I tasted a range of nice new wines from an estate called Tavignano, which specialises in Verdicchio, along with varietal white Pecorino, and reds from Rosso Piceno (Montepulciano/Sangiovese blend) and Lacrima di Morro D’Alba in the Marches. Particularly impressive was their Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Superiore DOC “Villa Torre” 2017 with two months on lees, and the older Misco Riserva 2015 (Classico DOCG), aged in clay with twelve months on fine lees. Nicely textured and stony.
Next door, so to speak, Astrum was showing the wines of the Abbazia di Novacella (that’s Neustift if you are a local speaking the Austrian dialect). The wines in this part of the South Tyrol (close to Bolzano) claim a two-thousand year history, and the monks at Novacella/Neustift began their own viticulture in 1142. The two main ranges are the Classic Line (good wines for early drinking) and the Praepositus range. These latter wines are quite exceptional, especially the wines from less well regarded varieties such as Kerner and Sylvaner.
So Classic Kerner 2017 is fruity and clean, whilst Praepositus Kerner 2017 is much more stony/mineral, showing much more depth. Even Kerner here, grown at altitude (up to 900m) on poor soils with very small yields will age for ten years or more. Indeed the Praepositus wines rarely get the ageing they deserve. I would suggest that they merit the effort.
Praepositus Sylvaner 2017 is also very mineral, but with a touch more body than the Kerner. It still has the balancing acidity which will enable it to develop over time. Pinot Nero 2015 is a fruity, cherry-driven, wine with a touch of tannin. It comes from a late harvest in an already warm vintage, with low yields. It’s a little different.
Last, but not least, Moscato Rosa 2016 is a delight. Most wines in this style are generally bottled very sweet with low alcohol. This delightfully scented alternative has 12.5% abv and between 80-100g of residual sugar. It is deliciously sweet, but it is also textured, and much more substantial than the norm on the palate, without relinquishing the amazing floral bouquet which Pink Muscat grapes uniquely provide.
Astrum also imports the Austrian wines of, inter alia, Johanneshof Reinisch and Markus Huber, both of these estates being present to pour their own wines, which is always a treat. I drank the former’s Thermenregion Gumpoldskirchner Tradition a few weeks ago, a delicious blend including Rotgipfler and Zierfandler.
Also a “must try” from here are the rare Piemontese varieties from Montalbera, especially Grignolino and Ruché, if you’ve not already tried them. More perfect reds for summer drinking.
Seckfords is another stand which merited investigation, with one of Australia’s neglected Riesling producers on pour. Pikes (also with the Pike & Joyce label) were showing some of the best value Rieslings from South Australia. To be fair, Pikes is not only about Riesling, but with vines and a winery at Clare’s Polish Hill, that is obviously the first thing we come to think about.
A final mention goes to New Generation Wines, based in South London. They were showing the marvellous wines of one of my favourite South African producers, Boekenhoutskloof (Franschhoek). Their Syrah is world class, but the Semillon is also a classic not to be overlooked. Semillon 2015 was on show.
I hope that the photos below give a flavour of the wider event, as much as the text gives you some ideas of things to head out and discover. The event is both far more interesting, and also far more relevant, than the previous time I visited the London Wine Fair. I look forward to it being even better next year, and I’m positive that it will be, despite market concerns and uncertainty.