By Jim Budd
This year's London Wine Trade Fair spilled over into two halls at Olympia. The days when it could be fitted into a couple of floors of the Kensington Roof Garden building are long gone. It continues to grow, attracting visitors from many parts of Europe and the USA as well as the UK.
Exhibitor Western Wines (01746 789411) is one of the new-style companies that works closely with its suppliers in the vineyard and winery. Worth looking at is the Highfield Estate in Marlborough, New Zealand. The straight Highfield Chardonnay 1997 (£53.70 for six) is attractively buttery with intriguing yeast flavours in the background. Much more expensive is the rich and complex Optima Chardonnay 1996 (£75 for six). Ian Naudé is the new name to try from the Western Wines stable. The Capel Court Cabernet Sauvignon (unwooded) 1998 (£40) has delicious blackberry fruit. Watch out for the Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 and Shiraz 1998 under Naudé's Linton Park label.
We have become blasé about Australian wines, but Vasse Felix from Margaret River in Western Australia (Negotiants Europe, 01582 462859) has a good range of wines. Prices go from £65.50 for six for the soft and supple Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, through £77 for the crisp, lemony Sémillon, to £85 for the 1996 Heytesbury, a concentrated but supple Bordeaux blend. This is cheap compared with the prices the Bordelais want for their unexceptional 1997 en primeur clarets.
You may have dismissed Israeli wine, but this is a mistake, as the wines from Golan Heights Winery (Hallgarten Group, 01582 722538) show. They are well made and the top Yarden reds have the potential to age. The 1995 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon is £113.88 and the lighter Gamla Cabernet Sauvignon, the second label, is £77.88.
Several interesting new companies were launched at the fair. Croxson & Cousin Vintners (0181-337 9411) majors in Portugal, Spain and Slovenia where the reds from the Vipava Co-op offer good value. From Spain, I particularly liked the Crianza de Mazuelo (about £55).
Robin Crameri MW and Fraser Williamson have formed Fraser Crameri Associates (01580 200304). It is concentrating on French wines, especially those from the Midi. From the Minervois, it has Domaine de Fontbertière 1995 (£41.90), a mouth-filling red in a more soberly clad bottle than is normal from the US owner, "Big Frank" Chludinski. The Vin de Pays des Collines de la Moure 1997 in litre bottles (£40 per six) has soft cherry- and plum-flavoured fruit and is a strong candidate for a wine by the glass.
Nick Dymoke-Marr, formerly buyer for Asda, has formed Orbital Wines (01455 556161), which is offering some sharply modern ranges including Porcupine Ridge (South Africa) and Pyramid (California) that would suit a bistro/ brasserie operation.
Finally, the soft, fresh and lemony Chardonnay-dominated Signature (£69) was launched by Nicolas Feuillatte (Thierry's Wine Services, 01794 507100). This is a joint-venture Champagne blended by the Champagne house and Australian wine-maker Andrew Garrett.
Next week: part two of Caterer's preview of the fair