A day at the London Wine Fair
Back at the London Wine Fair for the first time since 2019. I decided not to take the day too seriously, but to wander and see where serendipity took me. So, my first encounter was with an old wine trade friend, Carl Koenen who works for the importers, Myliko. As we were standing by their Armenian stand, that is where I tasted first, with Kristine Vardanyan, the commercial director of Armenia Wine, and their consultant from Bordeaux Jean-Baptiste Soula, who enthused about this wonderful country. He has been consulting for them for ten years.
Yerevan is their basic brand, with a white made from Rkatsiteli and Kangun. The first I have encountered before, but not the second. The wines are at 1000 metres and more, with hot days and cool nights, and minimal rain. It had good acidity with some fresh fruit and a little weight
Takar came from Areni Blanc, with a touch of Muscat Ottonel, which dominated the nose, with a hint of oak. Tariri is named after a king’s daughter who, legend has it, was the first lady to make wine in Armenia in about 3000BC. The wine is a blend of Kangun, Colombard and Muscat, with some perfumed fruit. The winemaking traditions of Armenia rival those of Georgia. Archaeologists have discovered the remains a 6000-year-old winery.
Red Yerevan was blend of red Areni, with Karmarahyut, another new grape for me, and a Teinturier, so a deep red colour, with supple tannins and a fresh finish. Red Takar came from red Areni, aged in local oak. Sadly, I thought the oak had overwhelmed the fruit. Tarkiri was a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon with 50% Areni, and consequently more international in style. 2021 Armenia was blend of Areni, with 20% Hagtanak – yet another unknown grape variety. Armenia can boast about 800 indigenous grape varieties, with research taking place on about 200 of them. This was a nice balance of fruit and tannin. Takar reserve was the final wine, a blend of Areni with 40% Saperavi, with fresh youthful peppery fruit. So, a very good start to a day at the fair.
Next, I went to India, tasting Grover Estate with Carl. The vineyards are in Bangalore. There was some peachy Viognier with good varietal character and a reserve oaked version. Chenin blanc was lightly honeyed. Red wines followed, blends of Cabernet and Shiraz with some consultancy from Michel Rolland, with some cassis fruit and quite international flavours. A Tempranillo Shiraz blend, given 18 months in oak, was quite fleshy with an oak impact and the final wine was a Shiraz aged partly in foudres, partly in barriques and partly in amphora. It was ripe with supple tannins, and I was enjoying it until Carl told me the recommended retail price, £80.00! I think not.
Going even further off the beaten track, I found a stand of Bolivian wine, Yokicj, from the Valle de Cinti. First a Muscat d’Alexandrie, with lightly honeyed slightly sweet fruit. And then Tinto Misionera, or the Mission grape, from 100-year-old vines. The vintage was 2021 and I was told that the fermentation had taken 45 days, but the wine looked and tasted quite evolved, which was curious.
Lithuania had a stand, but the one wine there was a Charmat fizz, Dimmito, made from Trebbiano, with the base wine imported from Italy. Otherwise they made cider. The wine was soft and rounded and quite unmemorable.
Next, I found the Ukrainian stand, and tasted my very first Ukrainian wines. There was quite a variety, a fresh Pinot Noir rose from Château Chizay, as well as Furmint; a PetNat from Biologist, as well as an Orange Chardonnay. A couple of wines from Shabo stood out, a white with two unknown grape varieties, Telti and Karuk, with firm mineral acidity and some herbal notes, and a Cabernet Merlot Saperavi blend with some round fruit.
There was a Tempranillo Saperavi from Beyrush, an award winery in Decanter’s World Wine Awards, with some rounded fruit, spice and a good tannic grip. How sad to learn that the winery had been bombed the previous day.
ACE by Stakhovsky also stood out, with a 2019 Merlot with rounded fleshy fruit and a 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon with ripe fruit oak and youthful tannin Schakowsky is apparently an ace tennis player, as the label depicts. His Saperavi was even better with firm peppery fruit and balanced oak.
Next I travelled to Poland, for my first Polish wines, and met Marek Dymkowksi who is a hotelier turned wine grower, with the Hotel Niemcza in lower Silesia, not too far from the border with the Czech Republic. Apparently they are on the same latitude as champagne; the main problem is that the prevailing weather comes from the east, and quite simply they do not have as much sunshine as they would like. Marek has planted a mixture of grape varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Palava, which is a cross between Muller Thurgau and Traminer, developed in Moravia. And then he has hybrids which have better frost resistance, Solaris, Muscaris, Cabernet Blanc, Cabernet Cortis. Marek’s Chardonnay was lightly fruity with balancing acidity. Palava was lightly floral and perfumed, a blanc de noirs from Pinot Noir was semi dry, with Marek observing that Poles like sugar, whereas the English like acidity. It was honeyed with underlying acidity and a sparkling, traditional method Riesling was rounded with a note of honey. It was all very intriguing. Like England, Poland no doubt will be the beneficiary of climate change.
And talking of England, that is where I went next to check out the wines of Lyme Bay near Axminster in East Devon. They have no vineyards of their own, but buy all the grapes they need from round the country. Shoreline is a blend of Reichensteiner, Bacchus, Ortega, Solaris and Chardonnay, with fresh herbal fruit and fresh acidity. A very English blend.
2021 Bacchus, from grapes from Herefordshire, Essex, Hampshire and Devon. A blend of under ripe, ripe and over ripe grapes, vinified in stainless steel, with pithy fruit and notes of grapefruit. Very distinctive.
A Chardonnay from Essex, with some oak ageing, for four months, with 30% in new oak and the rest in old French barrels. Fermented in stainless steel. Nicely round, fresh acidity, nice weight and an elegant finish. I liked this a lot. There was a savoury Pinot, from Essex fruit, and two sparkling wines, a NV Brut Reserve from predominantly Seyval Blanc and Pinot Blanc, with 15 months on the lees, with ripe rounded fruit and a NV Rose from Pinot Noir with fresh raspberry fruit. However, they focus on still wine.
And my final taste of the afternoon came from the island of Samos, an intriguing dry Muscat that had spent a year in an egg, with two components, 50% of juice from a first pressing, a 50% with skin contact for a month. You will notice that the Languedoc is conspicuous by its absence. There were just two wine growers at the fair from the south, Jeff Carrel and Domaine Ricardelle de Lautrec, which I will cover in my next post.