Less is more this year at the world's most prestigious wine and spirits fair.
Vinexpo, the world's most prestigious wine and spirits fair held every two years in Bordeaux, is usually associated with lavish displays of wealth and luxury. The phrase that stuck this year, though, was "less is more."
At the 2009 event, which took place June 25-29, the stands were less garish, Russians arriving by helicopter, draped in bling, were absent, and the hangers-on who often accompany contingents from around the wine world weren't jamming the aisles.
Even the great evening chateaux events that surround the solstice were more restrained, a sign of how grand cru pairs with crisis.
But, let there be no mistake, wines of great vintages were poured and deals were made.
The dramatic trade fair sets the scene for what we will see on the retail shelves in the autumn. This means new wines that fit into the category we all now love to say we love: the under-$10 bottle. This doesn't mean that classed growths will start selling for the same price as two lattes from Starbucks but you will, though, start seeing new wine brands from some of the best chateaux in France, Spain, Italy and other major wine regions.
Opportunity, Not Crisis
Trade fair attendance was down by six percent and some major players, including Gallo of California, Torres of Spain and Boisset of Burgundy, were absent. Throughout the fair, there was the murmur of crisis with some wondering whether producers had seen the bottom of the bottle. Many said consumers stopped buying in November but when they came back from the shock, they were buying in fits and starts at price points that stunned the wine world.
Unlike previous shows where the principals were gone before the sun set on the second day, many stayed for the entire show. For Bordeaux kingpin Bernard Magrez, the owner of Château Pape-Clement and dozens of others, the trading didn't stop until Thursday's final bell.
"The decision-makers are here," said Jack Schlatter, Swiss proprietor of Merryvale in Napa Valley.
Nicolas Gailly, managing director of Barton and Guestier, came up with a phrase that seemed to capture the spirit of the show. "Don't look to the Western languages, we all say 'crisis'. Rather look to the Greek where crisis is 'choice' and Chinese where crisis is 'opportunity,'" he said.
Wines to Watch
So, what can you expect on shelves as 2009 turns to 2010? At $10 and under, check the label and who is making the wine. And, remember, under $10 is not going to be a $30 wine at a third of the price.
In the price/quality bracket, the $10 to $20 range is a good place to look, regardless of where it comes from. New organic wines continue to make inroads, including Barton and Gustier's (Diageo) Originel and a range of organic wines from Natural Merchants.
Also of note, this was Zinfandel Advocates and Producers' (ZAP) first appearance at the show. "We had no idea how the French world would take to our wine", said ZAP's treasurer, Richard Flores. "But sommeliers liked our 'in your face' flavor profile, our terroir and that Zinfandel is unique"
What's New in the World of Wine and Spirits
Jean-Michel Cazes and the Cazes family launched Echo de Lynch Bages during an intimate "baptism" of the new wine at the family's great Chapon Fin restaurant in the center of Bordeaux. The historic Port house Ramos Pinto introduced a range of Portuguese still wines featuring art from the incredible Art Deco period that made the Port house famous (definitely collectors' bottles). Also from the Douro, Taylor's Adrian Bridge created a buzz with plans to open, later this year, Yeatman House, a luxury resort and wine school amidst the Port houses that face Oporto.
Christopher Beck, the rapper and actor otherwise known as Ludacris, launched a Cognac called Conjure and So-Yang of China introduced the world to Cognac tea.
Vinexpo and the Bordeaux Chambre de Commerce launched a wine-in-bond program that gives buyers of premium Bordeaux wines the option of cellaring in bond (without tax) in Bordeaux instead of shipping to the United States or London. The benefit is that when investment wine then goes for sale, the pedigree leash will be much shorter and traceable. And Wine Enthusiast announced a new consumer product as well, a digital version of the print magazine, available at zinio.com.
But it wasn't all about the deals and new products. Henry Preiss, whose San Diego-based Preiss Imports, is responsible for some of the most interesting French spirits that arrive on American shores, was honored by the French government for more than 20 years of bringing premium and single batch spirits to American consumers. In a Wednesday ceremony, Jean-Pierre Cointreau, president of Groupe Renaud-Cointreau, presented the historic Chevalier de l'Ordre du Mérite Agricole medal to Preiss. The Mérite Agricole is France's oldest civil award, second only to the famous Legion d'Honneur.
As the fair came to a close, Robert Beynat, head of Vinexpo, put the show on the 100-point scale. "Considering the economy, this was 90 points. A good show."