One of the highlights of the London Wine Fair is the Esoterica section that has 46 smaller distributors showing anything from English Chardonnay to Swiss Chasselas to Armenian Voskehat. Chris Wilson picks out five of his favourite wines as well as argues that this section could very easily become a show in its own right.
In the London Wine Fair’s Esoterica section it is the wines that are the main focus, not the flashy stands, with a real ‘anything goes’ atmosphere.
The huge stands taken by the large importers and generic bodies can be hard to permeate, especially at busy times, and quite often there’s a sense that unless you’re a supermarket buyer or industry face the guys on the big stands are really not that interested.
Most of them are interested, of course, and there are some amazing wines to be found on the grand multiple-sided pitches on the ground floor of Olympia, but head upstairs to discover the real deal.
It’s here on the mezzanine that Esoterica can be found – a show within a show of sorts where small importers (and they must be small, thems the rules) showcase their wines.
In spirit Esoterica reminds me a lot of the Lost Vagueness area at Glastonbury, a part of the festival far removed from the main stages where those in search of something truly interesting and different would head. It was described by the Guardian as “a vaudeville home of late night excess, at which muddy festival-goers would don ballgowns, play poker or watch burlesque dancers swing from chandeliers while removing more than their wellies.”
Esoterica is a little tamer than that (most exhibitors kept their wellies on), but is has an anything-goes feel that comes across both in the wines and the people pouring the wines. At this year’s fair there were 46 exhibitors, some well-known like Red Squirrel and The Wine Treasury, others less so and there to be discovered.
Whether you had a reputation or not, the set-up was the same for everyone; uniform tables and a very equal way of showing your wines, and up here it’s all about the wines so stand design, budget and bells and whistles play no part at all.
And who needs bells and whistles when you’ve got wines of this calibre. I can honestly say that every table I visited had something of interest and someone interesting to chat to.
From English Chardonnay to Swiss Chasselas to Armenian Voskehat you were never far away from a decent drop and moreover a good bit of chat, vinous or otherwise.
There’s been much talk about the future of the London Wine Fair – format, location, date – but given what Esoterica has showcased over the past four years and the reputation and respect it’s built up, there’s a good shout for it becoming a wine tasting in its own right. That’s an event I would definitely attend.
My top five Esoterica picks:
Antigua Bodega Stagnate, ‘Del Pedregal’ Tannat-Merlot-Cabernet 2013
Good with cow’, said the man behind the table, and he was spot on. This Tannat-Merlot-Cabernet blend from Canelones in southern Uruguay is juicy with a velvet-like finish. The famous Tannat tannins are mellowed by the plummy Merlot, and there’s a hint of green spice too. Mine’s a steak.
The Garajeest, Bruce Cabernet Franc 2015
Red Squirrel Wine
This Elgin Cabernet Franc from hot-shot Zimbabwean winemaker Callan Williams is as smooth on the palate as the label is on the eye. Given its hefty ABV of 15.5% it’s not overblown or spirity – there’s real focus here and a delicious minty green finish to complement both red and black fruit.
Domaine of the Bee, The Bee-Side 2015
Another brilliant label, reminiscent of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. Elegant and juicy it’s one of those southern French wines that’s packed with hedgerow fruit and just a whiff of spice. Winemaker Justin Howard-Sneyd said that the trick to reigning in the any jammy fruit notes was cold maceration in a refrigerated container prior to fermentation.
David Franz, Long Gully Road Ancient Vine Semillon 2014
As ever there were a few old duffers doing the rounds at this year’s London Wine Fair, but none were as old as the 129-year-old vines used to produce this wine. A delicious Semillon that’s waxy and medicinal but clean too with a whack of tropical fruit and a salty tang at the finish.
Weingut Gunter & Regina Triebaumer, Blaufränkisch Rosé 2013
Although off-dry in style with a fair dollop of sweetness both in the wine and from the raspberry and strawberry fruit, a fistful of acidity makes this fresh, balanced and incredibly moreish. There’s a touch of garden herbs and flint too. A super summer quaffer.