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By John Salvi
July 2006

Vinoble has done it again! This was the 5th edition, from 28th-31st May. In my personal opinion this is the best, the most enjoyable and the most charismatic wine show in the world today. Have I gone overboard? I do not think so. Why therefore should it be so?
Firstly the location is absolutely unbeatable – the magnificent, ancient, Arab Alcatraz with its Mezquita, its El Molino, the Arab Gardens and the Renaissance Villavicencio Palace. Sheer heaven just to be there, wine show or no wine show. Then there is the fact that it is of manageable size, both for the organisers and for the visitors. Nothing is too far away from anywhere else and there are comfortable chairs in the gardens to sit and relax en route to the next stand. Next, and supremely importantly, there is the undisputed fact that everybody here shows their very rarest and finest wines, rather than their everyday commercial products. It is an absolute joy for wines lovers to go from one splendiferous wine to another, be they sweet wines, sherry, port, madeira, malaga or rare and exotic sweet and stickies from far flung countries. Having increased its coverage steadily with each show, this one, the 5th, has lured in practically every sweet wine producing country in the world. It is a diabetic’s nightmare and a gourmet’s paradise and nirvana. Finally, the organisers are generous. There are vouchers for lunches each day at excellent restaurants and functions at sherry bodegas every evening.

Nothing is perfect! One thing is rather a pity, although it is not in any way the fault of the Vinoble committee. It is the sad fact that the sherry boys have pulled back hard on their hospitality. The originally wonderful and generous dinners offered by the bodegas in the evenings have been watered (sherried!!) down to finger food of a rather unattractive and totally UN-Andalucian cocktail party style. Not a trace of ham, almonds or even olives, let alone more substantial fare! In view of the crisis that Sherry is facing, and has been facing for the last few years, I would have thought that the Sherry Bodegas would have welcomed the chance to show off their fine sherry with fine Andalucian fear. Surely this is a golden opportunity for them to do so, with the cream of the wine trade and the international wine press literally delivered to their doors. Regretfully many attendees this year did not even bother to go to these Bodega evenings, which is a sad shame. Perhaps the Sherry Companies could rethink their hospitality policy for Vinoble 2008!

The tastings continue to be the highlights of the show. Superlative tastings by the leading personalities of their respective wines. Everything from Sherry Anadas (of course), to Montilla-Moriles, to Malvasia, to Porto Colheitas, to Tokay, to Chateau d’Yquem and more. As for Chateau d’Yquem, who came in 2004, and whose presence is a tall feather in Vinoble’s cap, Sandrine Garbay, the oenologist, gave a fascinating presentation of several great vintages. She imparted a huge amount of knowledge in a very short time and with clarity, precision and charm. It was just a pity that Carlos Delgado did not think to bring her for a couple of minutes to introduce her to those of us who were put in a second room – El Molino. Although having the glasses in front of us, we had to participate in the tasting on a relay television screen. It would have been so easy to bring in for a moment to say hello. The result was that for those of us in that second room it was more like watching the TV with a glass of wine than taking part in a great tasting.

The timetable of opening at the civilised hour of 10.00AM and then closing from 14.00 – 17.00 and reopening again from 17.00 – 21.00 is brilliant. Not only does one not have to get up too early but one can then have a civilised lunch, a swim and a siesta without feeling guilty about missing important lectures, tastings and visits. Bus transportation to and from the hotels is good, but could be better. Times and locations could be much more clearly indicated and marked up for all to see.

Lola Venegas and Isabel Pancheco always have been, and continued to be, fabulous. They are everywhere, all the time, smiling and friendly, efficient and untiring. Let us hope that Vinoble never has to do without them!

Just a few statistics, boring though they may be at such a feast of bounty! 20 countries took part, with 85 stands and more than 400 wineries. No less than 1209 wines were there to be tasted. Over 100 journalists from 30 countries attended, my wife and I representing Great Britain and South Africa. 150 buyers from no less than 40 countries attended. This is truly fantastic! 11,000 visitors in 4 days (Vinexpo Hong Kong only had less than 7,000 in three days). Newcomers to show their wines were Georgia, Lebanon and Romania.

I finish this short article, which has ended up being something of a hymn of praise, by repeating what I said at the beginning. “This is the ultimate wine show and a paradise that lovers of sweet and fortified wines, or traders in the same, should be sure not to miss”. It represents four days of work with pleasure!

There are also side events, which visitors can organise for themselves. For example I spent a half-day visiting the new Bodega of Valdivia. It is so good to see fresh blood in the sherry trade and their premises and their Bodega are remarkable. Their hospitality is warm and generous. They followed up by sending me samples of all their sherries and their brandies, together with a fragrant and fruity dry white wine. Their quality is excellent and they are very quickly making their mark. Thank you Valdivia!

Another sensational day out was with the Gil Luque Bodega. Here my wife and I, together with my friend Sun from Hong Kong, had a visit, a splendiferous seafood lunch and one of the most interesting and instructive tastings imaginable. We were looked after by the wonderful, charismatic and delightful Ana Maria Palmieri. We were shown exactly how Manzanilla starts, develops and finishes. I learned more in 45 minutes than in many previous visits to San Lucar and Manzanilla sherry bodegas. The fact that this was followed by a feast of all the most wonderful seafood dishes of Andalucia was, for a hugely greedy person like me, a royal treat. We were sent away with one of the very great Sherries in a handsome wooden casket – Gil Luque Palo Cortado. A tremendous than you Ana!
Three wines still linger on my palate. The 1989 Chateau d’Yquem, with its voluptuous botrytis and rich, lingering caramel sweetness. The Gil Luque Palo Cortado, dry, salty and yet intense and pungent with pervading aromas and flavours. Finally a sublime 100-year old Palo Cortado, the final wine of a tasting of six exceptional Palo Cortados, shown to me at Palacio Domecq by Beltran Domecq in person. This had an ethereal beauty and intensity that defies description. Nutty, concentrated and penetrating. As my friend Julian Jeffs, who tasted these Palo Cortados with me, so elegantly said “it was a Bach Quartet!”.
Vivat Vinoble!

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