The London International Wine & Spirits Fair took place between May16 – 18, and was a very slickly-organised event. Equally impressive was the width and depth of participation by wine companies from all over the world. Now in its 26th year, the LISFW is firmly established as the leading annual international wine fair in the world, where everybody who is anybody in wine takes part. The UK is the world’s largest import market for wines (some 140 million cases), so competition is fierce. Read Alok Chandra’s report below.
Now in its 26th year, the LISFW is firmly established as the leading annual international wine fair in the world, where everybody who is anybody in wine takes part. The UK is the world’s largest import market for wines (some 140 million cases), so competition is fierce. French wines were overtaken by Australian wines in 2004, partly due to price-cutting, which has lead to much breast-beating by French wine companies and renewed efforts by them to regain market share and volumes. Not a chance, given the great value offered by the ‘new world’ wines I tasted.
The fair itself was held in the ExCel Exhibition & Conference Centre in the London docklands – a humungous complex on the Thames adjacent to the old Customs House, seamlessly integrated with the London Underground mass rapid transport system. There were some 1,200 exhibitors taking part, and over 20,000 visitors came to the fair during the three days it was held. When one considers that each stall had at least 20 different wines on show, we are talking about a total of more than 24,000 wines.
As wine fairs go, the LISFW is not the world’s largest – that distinction must go to Vinitaly, held in Verona every April, where over 3,000 exhibitors present their wares to over 25,000 visitors over five days. What is remarkable about LISWF is the sheer width of participation, with substantial representation from practically every wine-making country and all the heavyweights of the wine world present: Constellation, Gallo, Moet Hennessey, Fosters Wines, Freixenet, Codorniu, Concha y Toro, Diageo Wines – you name it, they were there.
Also present in force were the top UK agents: Bibendum, Bottle Green Ltd., Buckingham Vintners, Halewood International, Freixenet, Great Western Wine Company, and Hatch Mansfield – to name but a few. Some of the stall designs were ‘out of this world’, as were many of the wines being showcased – one particularly remembers the opportunity to do a horizontal sampling of ten Penfolds’ wines, ending with a (tiny) sip of the fabulous Penfold’s Grange.
The fair is open only to business visitors, although I have no doubt that many consumers and wine lovers make it their business to be there. Visitors are encouraged to walk up to a stall and taste any or all of the wines displayed; the innumerable spittoons meant that much of the wine is spat out – I never did see anyone behaving badly, which was amazing, considering the huge crowds and the amount of wine being quaffed.
Apart from the stalls, there were a series of LIWSF Industry Briefings, the Normacorc Top 100 Tastings, the LIWSF Seminars & On-trade Tastings, and Featured Tastings – enough to keep anyone busy. The International Wine Challenge 2006 involved the evaluation of over 9,000 wines over six days by a dedicated tasting panel: France won the most medals (612), followed by Australia (490). What was really fantastic was the opportunity to visit the participant’s stall and taste the award-winning wines. The gold medal winners were of course in a class of their own and included the wine of well-known brands such as Gallo, Concha y Toro, Etchart, Wolf Blass, Torres, and Peter Lehmann. Incredibly, some supermarket wines also won gold medals – including three wines from Sainsbury priced at between GBP 7and 9 (Rs 600 – 765).
Among the celebrity visitors was Sir Cliff Richard who came to promote his own wine, Vida Nova, made in his Adega do Cantor (The Cellar of the Singer) winery in Portugal, while Mike Rann, South Australia’s Prime Minister paid a flying visit.
All in all, It’s a ‘must-do’ event for wine professionals and strongly recommended next year for those who missed it.