SOME REFLECTIONS ON SPAIN’S LARGEST WINE/FOOD FAIR
I’m not sure how many times I’ve attended Barcelona’s biennial Alimentaria since I was first invited well over a decade ago. If you want to be close to the cutting edge of Spanish wine-making, tradition and innovation, this huge gastro trade fair is really obligatory.
I could blind you with the statistics included in a weighty tome that was the Press Dossier handed out to me as I was given the necessary identification ‘Prensa Costa News Group’, but suffice to say that there were hundreds of exhibitors and thousands upon thousands of visitors.
With such a large venue and so many stands and visitors the newcomer can become rather bewildered, as I was on my fist visit. To have a successful Alimentaria as a member of the press you have to have a plan, otherwise the sheer size of the show can overwhelm.
In past years my plan has been to spend the first day tasting sparkling wines, the next day, whites and rosados, next day the reds and finally any wine styles that I’d noted whilst doing the rounds but hadn’t had the time to visit. It’s worked quite well and I’ve always tasted many, many wines. Nevertheless when leaving the show on the final day I always have a worrying feeling that I might not have done it justice. Whilst there are a large number of wines that I’ve tasted there are invariably hundreds more that I haven’t. So much wine, so little time!
This year I adopted a different plan. I was looking not for the famous, not for the very expensive wine and not for the large bodegas with holdings in several different Denominaciónes de Origen (although I broke that rule more than once, as you’ll see in forthcoming Cork Talks).
Instead, I was looking for small producers (relatively) who make quality and top quality wine. Plus I attended as many ‘organised’ tastings as I could – I’m always keen to learn more about Spanish wine and when there are renowned experts presenting tastings it’s an excellent opportunity to do so.
Well the plan worked quite well, but I also received via Twitter and e-mail various invitations to visit certain stands that weren’t necessarily on my list. Hence a very tiring four days. However, I still found time to observe and note any trends, any changes from previous years.
The first thing I noticed this year was the profusion of wonderful looking wine labels. I commented on the welcome move away from gothic writing and bottles wrapped in wire several Alimentarias ago. The movement has gathered momentum to the point now where the arty and sometimes quirky labels have become a real draw, even to a seasoned old-timer like me! There’s an inescapable feeling that with such a finely decorated label the wine inside must be fine too. So, the marketing departments have really done part of their job excellently.
Also, as anticipated in Cork Talk a couple of weeks ago, the shapes and weights of the bottles themselves have changed so that it’s not just the label that attracts you, but the chunky bottle too! And, incidentally, the wines I tried with such bottles and labels lived up to expectations, always!
My fellow visitors’ demographic is changing too. I reported a few years ago about how many Japanese and Chinese buyers were present at Alimentaria, and this has continued apace. However this year I noticed a large increase in Russian buyers too. Those of us who live by the coasts here in Spain will not be surprised by this. Recent years have brought a considerable influx of Russian visitors and house buyers, who no doubt would like to be able to drink their favourite Spanish wines when back in Russia, where, as I understand it, they have to dwell for at least two months a year.
Spanish wine producers are keen to seduce these new buyers and I was often asked if I’d mind waiting a moment while my contact welcomed Russians to their stands and then proceeded to do a dual tasting, keeping me informed (and in wine!) as well as the Russians!
Alimentaria 2014 wasn’t all positive though. I noted, for example, that this year saw an increase in the number of bodegas who, rather than have a stand to themselves, had joined the larger stands of the DOs under whose auspices they make their wines. It’s not safety in numbers, it’s simple economics – these fairs, whilst being excellent selling opportunities, are very expensive.
Sharing the cost is an economy that many feel necessary during this ongoing financial crisis. A crisis, I would add, that would be far worse if it weren’t for the considerable contribution that the wine industry makes to the Spanish coffers!
There was one other rather irritating part of Alimentaria that really needs addressing. There were some excellent wines, informative talks and innovative wine/food pairings presentations on the Catalunya stand – but why oh why do they insist on speaking exclusively in Catalan?
I’m all in favour of the different cultures within this one country, and that includes the different languages and dialects, but it is so blinkered at a truly international wine fair such as Alimentaria to use Catalan exclusively, presuming that everyone understands. The foreign visitors cannot be expected to learn all the languages/dialects of Spain – please, Catalunya, conduct the tastings in Castellano, out of consideration for the multi-national buyers who come to Alimentaria, you’ll note sales will increase, I’m sure!
When I asked presenters to change to Castellano I was always accommodated with a smile, but others there, less voluble than me, but just as foreign would have had to listen to a presentation that they wouldn’t understand, had someone not intervened.
I have some places left for the excellent Thai Cuisine/Spanish Wine pairing evening at Javea’s Monsoon Thai Restaurant on Tuesday 20th May! Please call (629 388 159) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve.