The numerous salons at this time of year bring into play various tactics when attending. Faced with dozens, even hundreds, of producers at the wine fairs where do you start? I look though the list in advance and highlight some I must visit, but things never work out so smoothly in situ.
Take Le Vin De Mes Amis an event featuring dozens of very good producers with organic, biodynamic and natural backgrounds from France but also Italy and Spain. Here is the website with the list of producers. Now, there are dozens of great winemakers listed there and I have only a few hours to get around. So, strategy time.
- Random chance – just go where the fancy takes me on the day, often because there is nobody else at the stand / table of that particular person. Some of my best discoveries have been like that, Corvezzo at Vinisud last year, Casa Pardet at La Remise. Sure enough the day before this event I tasted Chateau Meylet from Saint Ėmilion at Les Affranchis purely because he was next to a producer I had been tasting at and happened to have nobody there, and I really liked the wines even though Bordeaux, especially Merlot based Bordeaux, would never have been my usual choice.
2. By region. Faced with so many wines how can I get a really fair comparison of the quality of the wines when I am comparing a tough Cahors with a light Loire Gamay? One method is to try to select a region and try wines from different producers so that house styles emerge, eg Alsace wines taste different from Bott Geyl, Albert Mann and Hausherr. The problem here is that most salons have winemakers scattered all over the room(s) and it becomes difficult to track them all. The Real Wine Fair in London was a notable and welcome exception where regions were grouped together, I found that useful.
3. By style of wine. When I first attended wine fairs I used to try to taste whites in the morning, reds in the afternoon. Reds do become more difficult as tannins begin to coat the mouth. These days I find that that mixing things up and tasting a range from one producer at a time, through the different styles, helps to keep me fresher.
4. By selection. As I said I look through the list of producers and pick out ones that interest me most. That might be because I have tried them before and really like them and I want to taste the new vintage. It may be a name I have had recommended to me and wish to try for myself. The problem here is moving from one stand to another and finding that everybody wants to try Barral, Foillard and other big names, time is lost and patience required. Often these producers are so pressed that they simply pour and move on to the next person without any real opportunity to describe the wine and its provenance, something which is part of the pleasure of a salon.
In the end my strategy is … not to be too bound by a strategy. Go early, try to get in first to the producers you really want to meet and then play things by ear as you see gaps, empty stands. By all means work your way through the list you made but accept that it may not be possible to taste all of the wines and that there will be another day.
Etiquette at the fair (based on real incidents in Montpellier)
- Please don’t wear heavy perfume or aftershave and then stand next to me at a wine tasting, your smell is much less interesting to me than the aromas of the wines I am tasting.
- Just because you are a representative for a big buyer does not mean that you should barge though and demand to be served and never mind the poor sucker (ie me) who is waiting his/her turn
- If you are spitting into the provided vessel please bear in mind that as I stand behind it I would rather not have your saliva / wine sample splashing all over me
- Please, don’t have a conversation with someone else about your night out last evening whilst standing at the front of the stand and there’s a queue of people behind waiting to taste the wines. As a mild mannered Englishman I will smile and say “Je vous en prie” when you finally move over but inside I am fuming at you.
5. Wearing light coloured clothes and then spitting red wine is a mistake, I often make it.
6. Getting into your car to drive when you have been drinking the wines, not spitting them, is just wrong.
Salons are great, they are fun, educational, social. But they can be frustrating, even stressful. I need a glass to chill out before La Dive Bouteille this weekend.