There are two essential items to pack in the suitcase of any wine fair visitor: comfortable shoes to get through the prolonged standing hours and milk thistle to protect the liver. In this 2018 Alimentaria, mobile phone batteries also needed to be fully charged to get both agenda and Google maps to remind and guide guests around the seemingly endless events featured in Alimentaria’s On and Off programmes.
Quim Vila, a shrewd merchant who knows better than most the ins and outs of Spain’s wine business, was the first to tap into the potential of these side activities on the shadow of Alimentaria. Undoubtedly, he is still leading the way. As well as Vila Viniteca’s hugely popular Tasting in Pairs Competition, already on its 11th edition, Vila hosts La Música del Vi since 2000.
This sought-after event (tickets cost €220) brings together over 180 well-known national and international producers, who pour their wines at the Llotja del Mar, a splendid 14th century building located next to Vila’s headquarters in Barcelona’s Born district. Heavyweights like Peter Sisseck, the Eguren brothers, Telmo Rodríguez or Álvaro Palacios mix with indies like Abel Mendoza, Salvador Battle (Cosmic Vinyaters), Pilar Higuero (Lagar de Sabariz) or Emilio Rojo and his proverbial cap.
The general impression among public and producers was that the tasting experience at La Música del Vi was more pleasant this year as less invitations had been handed out. Moving around tables or finding a spittoon was far easier than in previous editions. Rumour even has it that anyone who wanted to taste the legendary Champagne Salon was able to do so —a number of bottles were uncorked at set hours— without the usual throngs of wine trophy hunters from past years.
It seems that the crowds also stayed away from La Nit dels Tanins, the late-night party hosted by Vila for producers and participants of La Música del Vi. SWL is unable to confirm this as we chose to attend the more sedated Gastronomy Night, an informal dinner organized by Alimentaria with the presence of selected chefs, wine producers and buyers plus some of the star guests of this year such as Eric Asimov, chief wine critic of The New York Times and Jancis Robinson and her husband Nick Lander, both from the Financial Times.
The three of them, alongside Pedro Ballesteros and champagne expert Richard Juhlin, presented tastings at Vinorum Think, a space devoted to wine knowledge and promotion. Alimentaria seems to be paying more attention to wine as it launched Spain’s Top Pairings, with dishes presented by acclaimed restaurants like El Celler de Can Roca, Aponiente or Sofía Be So and matched with Spanish wines by sommeliers such as Pitu Roca, Juan Ruiz Henestrosa or François Chartier. Under the supervision of Ferran Centelles, sommelier and writer at Jancisrobinson.com, it was a pleasant break to enjoy a different type of lunch from the usual quick bite of fairs. Just one thing, though: it is impossible to drink six glasses of wine if one needs to carry on working afterwards!
Jancis Robinson, who has been writing for the FT since 1990, sent a very upbeat message to the 100-strong audience that included Spanish producers like Miguel Torres (father and son), Arturo de Miguel (Artuke, Rioja) or Josep Maria Pujol-Busquets (Alta Alella), among others. “Spain is at a very exciting place right now. There’s a quiet revolution going on, particularly in terms of geography, with new areas, grapes and styles which is set to appeal to the international wine trade —not to the supermarkets but to buyers looking for a story.
Robinson, whose 14 wines came from all over the country (check the list at the end of this piece), talked about the need to establish a moratorium to protect old vines in Spain, praised the work of the Torres family to recover ancient varieties and extolled the virtues of Garnacha (“I have never understood why it’s always been overshadowed by Tempranillo”) and Sherry. “It deserves to be among the world’s finest wines and be served in proper glasses, not in silly little glasses”.
According to the British journalist, current trends include village wines, more terroir and less oak, geography specific wines and organic/biodynamic styles but Robinson warned producers “not to lose flavour, as it’s been the case in Australia, where many wines are now made with no colour, no oak, more acidity but too light”.
Tuesday was Eric Asimov’s day. He stood with no notes to present “ten wines that appeal the US” stressing the fact that there are many consumers in this country who fail to conform to the stereotype view of big, alcoholic wines. “We are almost instinctively open to wines from the rest of the world because of our lack of tradition,” Asimov remarked. “Many people prefer restraint, delicate wines”.
The New York Times critic admitted that he couldn’t offer any advice in terms of sales or marketing (“my job is to offer my thoughts to people who love wine”) but recommended producers to be loyal to their ideas. “If you like the wine you make, carry on making it. If you follow fashions, you’ll have to change your wine with the next fashion and it will be much harder to defend,” said Asimov. To illustrate this thought he mentioned Priorat, an area “that has greatly improved over the past ten years, when they wanted to make blockbuster wines with foreign varieties. The return to native grapes has been very positive because who needs another Merlot?”
Asimov also criticized the industrialization of Albariño. “Its quality and novelty made it very popular in the US but massive production meant it lost its soul along the way,” lamented Asimov. “These wines had tropical notes that were very popular but they were not true to their origins.” There are still good Albariños being made, he said. “Do Ferreiro Cepas Vellas [the third wine he chose for his tasting] is one of them. Its linear, mineral style will not appeal to drinkers of Californian Chardonnay but when fashion moves on, sommeliers and connoisseurs will return to Albariños like this.”
Tastings abound outside of Alimentaria but as nobody dares to programme anything on Monday — when Vila’s La Música del Vi is held—, most of the off-site events pile up on Tuesday.
It was a bit like choosing between mum or dad, but faced with the challenge of fitting in tastings spread across the city, we had to choose only two: Off the Record and Renaissance des Appellations.
Hosted by winemakers Fredi Torres and Marc Lecha, Off the Record is arguably the most dynamic and original both in terms of its location (a flower store and conservatory) and the diversity of producers under one roof: Javi García (4 Monos, Gredos), Xurxo Alba (Albamar, Rías Baixas), Paola Medina (Williams & Humbert, Jerez), Sergi Colet (Penedès), Roberto Oliván (Tentenublo, Rioja), Beatriz Herranz (Barco del Corneta, Rueda), Verónica Ortega (Bierzo) or Fredi and Marc (Lectores Vini) were just some of them alongside bodegas like Sota els Àngels (Empordà) or Sílice Viticultores (Ribeira Sacra), with whom Fredi Torres works.
There we met Albert López (Esteve i Gibert) who works the family vineyards planted with Xarel.lo, Sumoll and Merlot (plus some experiments with Albariño!) in Penedès and Óscar Navas (La Furtiva), a young winemaker (formerly at 4 Kilos in Mallorca) who makes an interesting blend of Garnacha Blanca and Parellada in Terra Alta as he recovers an old vineyard in the region.
Traveling from Alimentaria in the city’s outskirts to the Maritime Museum for Renaissance des Appellations takes its time in the afternoon rush hour (45 minutes using public transport) so, after Asimov’s presentation, we had just half an hour to taste a few biodynamic wines before the tasting closed its doors at 20:00. Barely half a dozen of the 45 growers from nine countries remained at their tables —most of them locals like Ton Mata (Recaredo), Enric Soler, Joan Rubió (Cal Tiques) or Carles Ortiz (Nin Ortiz) who praised the uncrowded and relaxed atmosphere of the tasting. “It was great to be able to talk to people”, Ortiz said.
Earlier that day, Nicolas Joly (La Coulée de Serrant), the man behind this biodynamic club with strict working criteria for its members, presented a masterclass. Incidentally, one of the last tasters in Renaissance was none other than Quim Vila, who was accompanied by part of his team.
Other events that we regrettably had to leave out were Magnificat, the most glamorous of all the parallel activities in Barcelona that week, with almost 50 producers and tastings with legendary producers like López de Heredia or Chatêau d’Yquem verticals; Terra de Garnatxes, with growers mostly from Catalonia and Languedoc who converged in a central hotel in the city and hosted a tasting led by Pedro Ballesteros as well as the Garnacha Night party, and Las Mujeres del Vino, with 146 wines made by female winemakers from all over the country.
As producers and visitors take stock of the On and Off of this 2018 edition, the organizers of Alimentaria —aware of the tough competition that represent these parallel events— are gearing up to find ways to attract small but popular growers back to the fair. “We are open to anything,” said Marta Macías, project manager at Alimentaria, who revealed that some meetings have already been held. If both parties reach an agreement, many future visitors would surely welcome the move.