I’ve been going to Barcelona’s biennial food and wine fair, Alimentaria, for the last 14 years – that’s a lot of wine (I don’t have time for the food!). However, this year it’s been a little different, and it may be my last!


The halcyon days before La Crisis (Spain’s long-lived recession out of which we still haven’t emerged, though I’m delighted to say the signs are encouraging) are long gone, I know. For example eight or ten years ago, this fair was so huge it filled two massive sights in Barcelona, with an invariably packed, complimentary bus shuttle pinging back and forth between to two, like a pre-programmed pinball machine.


When La Crisis hit, the two sights were merged into one, understandably, though this one arena had several different pavilions covering, I don’t know how many thousand square metres. Abbreviated, yes, but in no way diminished. Alimentaria was still the go-to fair for all wine producers in Spain, as well as a number from abroad too, with this applying the more so to the food side of the show – often countries who share the same language, such as those from Central and South America.


So, having chucked my luggage in my, shall we say, modest, hotel room on arrival in Barcelona, just a couple of hours after the inauguration of Alimentaria 2016, I caught the metro (the bus had disappeared two or more years ago) to the Gran Via site. It was quiet when I entered the press room, though perfectly professional, as always. This quiet, in terms of delegates, press people and visitors, continued, slightly eerily,  as I walked to the Intervin Pavillion, the location as the name suggests, where I would be based for the three days of my trip.


The normally packed, approximately 100 metres long aisles, were also quiet, with exhibitors all looking slightly pleadingly as I did my usual recce. I’ve always walked up and down along all the aisles, delineated helpfully, as always, by huge letters strung from the rafters many metres above. This year was no exception – however this year was an exception in itself. I was surprised to see, firstly several areas, with some bench seating set aside, nominally for rest and business discussions. Sounds like a good idea – except, that these areas have not existed in the past as there have never been any areas, capable of housing a stand, left free. A sort of cover-up by the organisers.


Next, I noticed that there were several (lots actually) DOs that this year were not represented. This was in rather ominous contrast to previous years when such DO stands had been lifesavers for bodegas who were suffering the effects of La Crisis and couldn’t afford a stand of their own, as they’d enjoyed in previous, more plentiful years. The DOs rented the stand area, no doubt charging the bodegas a sum to mostly cover their costs, but a sum more easier to find than their having to find the whole cost of an individual stand. The absence of several DO stands, thus meant an absence of lots of bodegas too.


Then, to my initial interest, but eventual slight despondency, I realised that the quite appropriate wine complementary industries – Olive Oil, Nibbles etc, were in fact taking up a rather disproportionate amount of space. For example, rather than a few olive oil producers, there were, what, maybe 50+ stands offering tastings of the wonderful golden and dark green liquid.


One end of the pavilion was populated by olive oil producers, whilst the other end displayed an impressive assortment of food stuffs, often, though not exclusively, wine-related. Wait a minute though, shouldn’t the majority of these exhibitors have been in the food halls? Is the food part of Alimentaria expanding at the expense of the wine part? Well, yes, I think it must be!


So, a slightly (very?) doom and gloom report on Alimentaria 2016 – but I haven’t finished yet. There were certainly several highlights for me, and if was definitely worth the expense of going.


Each year, and 2016 was no exception, there are two areas to which I’m drawn like moths to light, and neither disappointed, in fact, both exceeded expectations!


Vinorum Think (I believe, a re-vamped, re-named version of that which preceded it) had, as anticipated, organised some excellent tutored tastings presented by wine luminaries of national and international fame. Whilst I say, perhaps a little immodestly, that I believe I know a fair bit about the Spanish wine scene, I’m certainly neither conceited, nor daft enough to think I know it all! Nobody does!


So, my aim, when attending such presentations, is firstly to learn as well as, on occasion, to have my knowledge confirmed, often adapted and sometimes – dashed! Speakers like: Andrés Proensa of what for me is Spain’s best Wine Guide and Wine Magazine, respectively the Guía Proensa and PlanetAvino; his oppostite number, chief competitor, José Peñín, founder of the comprehensive Guía Peñín; Victor de la Serna and business partner (in their also excellent wine magazine, ElMundoVino,  Juancho Asenjo; Alberto Gil and Spain’s champion Sumiller of 2014, Guillermo Cruz; and the controversial, and to my mind slightly inappropriate in his comments, Tom Stevenson, dubbed the most important sparkling wine critic in the World, and founder of the Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships.


More soon on these particular tastings, the wines so enjoyed by all of us, the ones that perhaps, for me, didn’t live up to expectations, and indeed the controversy alluded to above, in future Cork Talks.


My other regular port of call at Alimentaria is to the area set aside for tastings organised by the Cataluña Communidad, which, of course, comprises several (I think 11) different DOs. These smaller tastings, for just 30 people maximum, are always a little less formal, though no less informative than the large scale ones above.


This year I was delighted to see (hear and understand!) that speakers were very willing to present in Castellano, rather than the go-to Catalan language, used automatically in previous years. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m wholly in favour of keeping Spain’s varied languages and dialects alive. However, at an international event such as Alimentaria it makes far more sense to talk in the language of the country as a whole, the one (if any) that visitors like myself understand and in which we can converse sufficiently well to ask questions and clarify points.


These more intimate tutored tastings also boast well respected presenters, for example one this year was the Sumiller Champion of 2014, a newer vintage of the above! Plus, another advantage is that it gives those lucky enough to secure places, an opportunity to taste wines of the area that aren’t always produced in sufficient numbers for them to be enjoyed outside of Cataluña. There is an amazing variety and lots of excellent quality too!


Contact Colin:  Facebook Colin Harkness Twitter @colinonwine


NB Colin’s next Fine Wine & Gourmet Dine Programme on Total FM 91·8 and online will be on Sunday 15th May from the new time of 18:30 – 20:00 hrs (Spanish Time); that’s 30 minutes extra of wine and food chat, wine maker/chef interviews, on-air tastings, competitions and lots of fun, due to popular demand!

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