Fenavin 2015 – the Blog!

Fenavin is the biennial National Wine Fair attracting thousands of wine buyers from around the World. As such it is a major player in the world of wine commerce and happily plays a crucial part, not only in improving the finances of those bodegas that exhibit (which is almost every bodega in Spain!), but it also helps make a significant contribution to the nation’s coffers.  

A tiny part of Fenavin 09:30 hrs, 1st day - the quiet before the storm!
A tiny part of Fenavin 09:30 hrs, 1st day – the quiet before the storm!

Not Birthday Blues, but whites, rosados, reds, sparklers and, hopefully, just desserts on my birthday!

Well I’ve arrived early and without difficulty from the tranquil setting of the very modern centre of Ciudad Real to the soon-to-be-frenetic Fenavin Pavillions. (I’d expected the centre of this ‘Royal City’ to be ancient, steeped in history with dramatic Gothic Architecture etc, however it seems that the only building remaining that is testament to its medi-eval roots, is the, let’s be honest, rather undistinguished Cathedral.

No matter, though – there is a good feel to the city, and there’s certainly a buzz here in the Press Room of Fenavin, Spain’s biennial National Wine Fair. Whilst I’m a veteran of many years at Aliemtaria in Barcelona, this is my first time here, and so far, I’m impressed.

There are lots of staff available and willing to assist a virgin-visitor like myself (in the sense of this being my first visit, you understand. I mean, not in the sense that, well you know!) and on entry to the Press Room I was given a memory stick to record this and any other comments I make during my three days here. Noce touch – a free data-traveller, gracias a Fenavin!

So, it’s off to work now – starting with the Sparklers, and why not, it is my Birthday after all!

Call that work! I know I’ve heard it before and I have to agree that digging the roads, laying bricks, teaching, in fact pretty much everything else is harder work than being a wine taster/writer! Although, well, I’m not complaining – but tasting and judging wines professionally still requires effort, dedication and determination and this means that it also takes its toll.

I needed a rest last night, something diverting so I went to a bar, drank agua con gas only and watched the Champions League!

So, now it’s the second day of Fenavin, the huge National Wine Fair held in Ciudad Real and I have some reflections on yesterday, my first day at this event.

Firstly, it’s a very well run affair. Very professional but always with a smile and all the staff I met yesterday were happy to help and, considering that there was considerable pressure – of numbers and indeed languages – this is praise indeed!

Official figures, before the event, which probably means, as usual, that they are a little short of the actual numbers, tell us that there are visitors here from 65 differesnt countries world-wide. There are also, we hear, 1361 Spanish bodegas exhibiting their wares – and if they all bring with them, say a conservative 6 different wines (though in lots of cases with me yesterday it was more than six) that means – well you do the maths! Suffice to say there is a veritable wealth of wines to taste here and a physical impossibility to try even a quarter of the total! Told you it was hard work!

The fair is huge, containing several different large pavillions and I certainly didn’t have th chance to visit all, but the with the three I did visit, I started with sparkling wines – a birhday treat! Of these sparkling wines, 90% were Cavas. Not surprising, you might think – Spain is of course home to Cava. However there are also excellent sparkling wines here that are not cavas, made in areas well away from those designated as official cava making zones.

Cava has suffered some criticism over the last few years – criticism based on quality, or rather, its dirth at the huge-volume base of the sales pyramid. In a sense the criticism has been justified – the horribly (in every sense of the word) cheap cavas that make up this base level are in no way representative of the quality that is available in DO Cava.

However, as Señor Bonet, President of the Consejo Regulador DO Cava, said to me when I interviewed him last year, this criticism can be directed at other famous DOs too. The fact is that there will always be those who obey the rules and can therefore call their wine ‘DO Whatever’ whilst paying litle (no?) attention to quality. For example – there has been some dreadful DOCa Rioja made and sold, to a largely unsuspecting consumer base which sees Rioja on the label and buys regardless.

However, my experience yesterday leads me to conclude that in reality this criticism that DO Cava has suffered, in fact has been beneficial, once the wounds were licked. Criticising Cava meant that other sparkling wine producers all over Spain were suddenly, by association (the link being bubbles), in the spotlight. In many cases (though definitely not all, according to my tasting yesterday) these producers’ acts was already together.

Free of the constraints (if that’s what we can call them) of having to use cava-approved grape varieties, their sparkling wines have, of course, the same autolysis notes (patisserie, brioche, bready etc) but with the added dimension of aromas and flavours specific to varieties of their own. Cue Verdejo, Albariño and Godello for example (watch this space for some info on Godello based fizz, along with a prediction!).

You can imagine it – these sparklers have lots to offer! And the cava producers are aware of this, of course. Well, Xarel-lo, Macabeo, Parellada, the traditional varieties of Cava (as well as the now permitted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), also have a lot to offer. And the cava producers got to work on making sure that their sparklers stood the test of comparison.

The result, it would seem to me, following my tasting, what 25 cavas yesterday, is that their act has been cleaned up and is well and truly together, to say the least. I did not taste one poor cava, all were of a high standard and most enjoyable – with equally pleasing prices too! In fact the only below-par fizz I tasted (endured would be a better word!) was a sparkler that wasn’t Cava! Tables turning?

Two Cavas and One Non-Cava - what a presentation!
Two Cavas and One Non-Cava – what a presentation, these ‘labels’ are ceramic!

Well I doubt that, as I did taste several really good non-cava sparkling wines, but at least it means that lovers of bubbles like myself are in for a pretty good time as the one sector competes with the other! Bravo!

And what about another comment of mine over the past couple of years – that it has seemed that the sweetness levels of Brut Cava have been pushed towards the limit? Brut means that the maximum level of residual sugar in the finished product cannot exceed 12 grams poer litre. It has been my view that producers have been scaling upwards from the mean, 8-9 grams.

Well, think again Colin! I asked every Sparkling wine producer, including non-cava, about their residual sugar levels. There was one at 10 grams, one between 8 and 9 grams, but all the rest were 7 grams and below!

It's a Cava bottle, Jim, but not as we know them! Wish I was as slim and slender! Plus - it's organic!
It’s a Cava bottle, Jim, but not as we know them! Wish I was as slim and slender! Plus – it’s organic!

Has my moaning been taken on-board? I don’t know, but I do know that the Brut cavas I tasted, mostly young ones, were naturally ripe fruit rather than adder sugar at the dosage stage! Good on ’em, is what I say!

So, as usual a rather long intro to a blog – the next, concerning my second day at Fenavin, will be shorter. Promise!