“One hundred thousand welcomes,” Lochlann Quinn said in Gaelic as several hundred wine VIPs slipped into candle-lit tents at his Chateau de Fieuzal in the Graves region of Bordeaux. With old vintages served in polished crystal, mounds of foie gras, string quartets serenading guests at lavish dinners, and fireworks (red and white), Bordeaux’s Vinexpo wine and spirits trade fair is just as much about late-night schmoozing as early-morning selling.
This Crus Classes de Graves dinner, hosted by Quinn, chairman of Ireland’s Electricity Supply Board who bought the chateau in 2001, was just the opening shot.
Nearly 50,000 buyers from 148 countries and 2,400 exhibitors descended on the five-day biennial event held two weeks ago.
They included the 16 top-ranked chateaux in Graves, which established its own permanent classification system 60 years ago. (Only Chateau Haut-Brion was named in the famous 1855 Medoc classification.) Most Graves chateaux, like Fieuzal, make both red and white wine and many are undervalued relative to their quality.
“Not many people know much about the Graves appellation,” said Eric Perrin, the president of the group, which staged a tasting of the stellar 2010s before the dinner.
By day, I roam the three vast exhibition halls at the Parc des Expositions de Bordeaux Lac just north of the city to sniff out the latest wine and spirit trends.
Bottles of pink wine seem ubiquitous, as the rose renaissance continues to boom worldwide. Who knew Uruguay was mad for the stuff? Pink wine now has a 9.2 percent share of the global market, according to the latest Vinexpo/IWSR study.
At a tasting of organic and biodynamic roses, my top picks are pale, elegant 2012 Domaine Vacheron Sancerre rose ($28) from the Loire Valley, tangy, fresh 2012 Les Chemins de Bassac Isa rosé ($16) from the Pays d’Oc, and a new cherry-colored, spicy, 100 percent merlot 2011 Rubis de Meyre Clairet from Bordeaux.
Dozens of stands display rosés in large format bottles. Savory, salty 2012 Maison Mont d’Azur Cloud Chaser Cotes de Provence ($25, 750ml) will debut a 15-liter size bottle, known as a nebuchadnezzar in July. “There is huge demand for really big bottles of rosé at beach clubs in St. Tropez,” says brand ambassador Richard Prodos.
The fair’s ultimate bling wine is a $13,000 “Bollinger Experience,” a black lacquer cabinet that hides a jeroboam (three-liter bottle) of Bollinger R.D. Champagne, a James Bond favorite. Press a button to pop the lid and the 2000 vintage is revealed in a shiny silver ice bucket.
There are only 50 of these over-the-top luxury “experiences” worldwide, but I’m assured they’ll be available in London, New York and Hong Kong.
The Chinese are out in force, both as sellers and buyers.
According to Vinexpo data, China is now the sixth largest wine-producing nation in the world, its production forecast to grow 40 percent between 2012 and 2016.
The large Yunnan Red Wine Company near Kunming, in southwest China, hopes to tempt European buyers with wines made from unusual local grapes.
The 2006 Crystal Dry ($45), made from the crystal grape, has perfumed aromas of mango and passion fruit and vaguely resembled a powerful sauvignon blanc. The 2008 Old Tree red ($65), from rose-honey grape variety, has a rich fruit and tobacco taste.
My vote for the red most likely to appeal to Westerners is the stylish 2008 French Wild, from the eponymous grape. Its soft cassis and plum flavors have an earthy edge. Prices better come down, though.
Chinese visitors flocked to a party at Chateau Loudenne, north of Saint-Estephe, which was sold in April to Kweichow Moutai Co. Ltd., famous for making the Chinese liquor bai jiu. Distilled from sorghum, wheat and water, Moutai has a strange intense aroma and firewater finish and is an acquired taste.
Of course, I didn’t try the 80-year-old Moutai that sells for $14,000.
Sipping Loudenne’s white wine, chateau president Zhong Huaili says 40 percent of his production will go to 100 shops it plans to open in China.
Vinexpo closed with yet another party. La Fete de la Fleur, held this year at Chateau Lagrange in Saint-Julien, was the week’s hottest ticket with a 500-euro-a-seat price tag.
Lagrange, whose powerful, structured wines are as underrated as some in the Graves, was also celebrating its 30 years of ownership by Japan’s Suntory Beverage & Food Ltd., which spent about $56 million renovating and replanting since 1983.
That didn’t include the cost of the lavish party.
More than 4,000 barrels of wine were moved to a neighboring chateau so 1,500 people, including actress Carol Bouquet and Ichiro Komatsu, the Japanese ambassador to France, could dine in the cellar on Michelin-starred chef Frederic Simonin’s fare.
The menu included a haiku with each course. What could pair better with Bordeaux than a poem by Basho?