08-03-2016

Vins Nus, Simplesmente Vinho, & the search for a tolerable Spanish wine fair

I have bitched mightily in the past about how patently horrible wine fairs are in Spain. This however is not a continuation of this series as I attended the Vins Nus fair last Sunday and something incredible happened: I quite enjoyed myself at a public wine fair in Spain.

I speak this with amazement as it’s usually the opposite, especially when compared to how it goes in France–and let me emphasize that this is stated by someone who is most certainly no Francophile. While there is often a concerted effort to get anyone who writes about wine to attend these tasting events, whether it be journalist or (hopefully) humble blogger, it’s often like mixing battery acid and vinegar and calling it a salad dressing. These tastings that are open for the public are pretty much just full of people going around and drinking, not tasting the wines.

groupDon’t get me wrong, I’m very, very much in the “pro-drinking” camp when it comes to wine but when you have some 40 or so producers with between 2-8 wines apiece, you get drunk pretty fast if you’re not spitting. And, when you come with friends, you get in the way of those who want to just taste. There was indeed some of this as shown to the right, but it was overall tolerable and getting to taste with everyone I wanted wasn’t a problem in the end.

The space (seen above) was largely the help in this as it’s an early 20th century warehouse in the industrial area of Poble Nou, Barcelona. Where it was held last year was too small for the size of the event. Everyone bumped in to everyone else. It was messy and whether it was some drunken idiot biting off the ear of a winemaker or some pedantic winemaker biting off the ear of a drunken idiot, it was incredibly difficult to taste. But that wasn’t the case this year. You could move freely and there were plenty of tables to the side to eat at and some damned tasty food to eat like a French burger maker and oysters directly from the Delta de l’Ebre.

pro-roomWhat also helped was the professional tasting area. That sounds a bit more exclusive than it was as anyone who could show they do something in wine, whether having a restaurant, being a writer or sommelier or what have you, were let in. As you can see in the photo, it was a selection of all the wines that the winemakers were pouring, but set out on a table to blaze through them. I don’t know when this came about but it’s one of the most fantastic things wine fairs are doing these days as it allows anyone who wants to quickly taste the wines to do so and then go out and talk to the winemakers of the wines they find interesting.

There were some interesting wines to be found which were for me, mostly from Roussillon, but also some truly curious old vine Airén from La Mancha. The only real shame is that I liked very few of the wines I tasted. Some might say that I have a bias against “natural” wines but this isn’t the case and I wouldn’t have gone to the fair in the first place if I thought that. I think it had more to do with this being a “root” day and it really affecting the wines in a negative way. Some people poo-poo the whole idea of root, leaf, flower, and fruit days in terms of tasting wines but whether it changes you or the wines, they do taste different and by comparison, most everything tasted great the last year which I believe was on a “flower” day. It also happens that “natural” wines are more susceptible to this than those more mass produced.

Probably the only criticism beyond the oddness of tasting on that specific day was that it wasn’t really clear how to buy the wines. At French events, this isn’t the case as the winemaker is more than ready to sell them and the French see this as the whole point to open up wines and pour them for free. With this event, some winemakers weren’t selling because they had a distributor and others were but you didn’t really know how to go about buying them. I felt like if I had really asked, we could have gone in to the back alley to do the exchange… maybe.

Regardless, it was an enjoyable way to spend a Sunday morning in Barcelona and if they replicate it as such next year, I’ll be there in a heartbeat as I also didn’t find 5€ for a glass and whatever you wanted to taste to be the slightest bit unreasonable. Also, a tip of the hat to the Catalan cheese plates on offer. Very solid. Very delicious.

Now, this is all in stark contrast to the event that happened on Saturday and Sunday very nearby called, Simplesmente Vinho. I am no end of insanely jealous of those who made it to the original event held in Porto, Portugal. From what I saw on social media and other sources, that looked fantastic. This incarnation of the event in Barcelona was what most in the wine trade usually call a, “clusterfuck”.

A large part of this was because they were using the space that Vins Nus used last year and again, it was too small for the event. It also didn’t help that they were roasting a piglet indoors and undoubtedly any and every tasting note from the event included, “medium plus smoked bacon notes”.

But the biggest issue I had with the event was that it was listed as continuing until midnight on Saturday on their Facebook page which happened to have the exact same info as their website. It turned out that this, like with most crappily organized tasting events in Spain, was an outright, bold AND italic lie. The tasting event ended at 19h and then there was to be some gap of an hour or so when everyone would stand around not really knowing what was happening with the music starting at 20h.

Then, at 21h, it was going to be the pig dinner but at a cost of an additional 25€. As to what everyone was supposed to be drinking in the meantime was completely unclear as sensible winemakers turned off the taps. But it needs to be added that at 19h, they stopped letting people in, which was a shock to a ton of people who arrived based upon the info they saw on Facebook, the website, and the piles of press announcements sent out about the event.

I arrived at 18:25h with the intention of tasting Portuguese wines as there are some fine wines coming out of this little strip of land along the Atlantic these days, especially from Dão. I paid 10€ to enter and was then greeted by the ubiquitous drunken crowds blocking the winemakers as well as winemakers who told me they were out of wine and had stopped pouring. I guess I should consider myself lucky for the 2-3 that I managed to taste but it was no end of frustrating. Needless to say I will not attend next year but find some way to get over to Porto and attend there as that event seems serious and this is some poor copy done by a local organizer who is undoubtedly the only person making any money off the thing.

With this we move in to the massive crush of wine fairs in Catalonia. The score is now 1/2 in terms of decent tasting events. I’m hoping it will go up from here? Oh right, I’m heading up to France in two weeks, so I’m thinking, yes, yes it will as south of the border people are still working on a format that truly works.