The Most Exciting New Wines and Spirits From VinExpo 2015
Fireworks spread like giant golden fans across the night sky above Château Smith Haut Lafitte at the party kickoff for last week’s VinExpo 2015, the world’s largest wine and spirits trade fair.
The biannual gathering is a big deal. French President François Hollande gave a speech the next day at one of the vast exhibition spaces on a man-made lake just north of the city. VinExpo is the drink industry’s biannual five-day schmoozefest, a place to do deals, trade gossip, party hard, and, of course, launch new products.
I spent my days hiking from one end of the half-mile-long hall to the other, hunting the highlights among the 2,350 exhibitors from 42 countries. One fast fact: It takes 50 people to keep the 120,000 glasses clean for sniffing and swirling by 48,000 buyers, who flew in from 151 countries. After France, China topped the list for number of visitors.
Trendy rosés were ubiquitous, but “taste the unexpected” was this year’s theme, and I found plenty of that, from Latvian bitters to Riedel glasses that show off espresso’s different flavors, to wines from war-torn Syria.
Here are my picks for some of the most exciting launches:
2012 Delaille Cheverny Le Vieux Clos ($46)
Aging wine under water? It’s a thing now, at least in the case of a zingy, lemony, and salty Loire valley sauvignon blanc and chardonnay blend. The winemakers attribute its surprising flavor intensity to their practice of bottle-aging it 15 meters below the surface of the Atlantic. In a taste test against the same wine aged in a cellar, the ocean-aged example had deeper texture and more saltiness. Or was that the power of suggestion? The bottle, encrusted with barnacles, comes in a wooden box. Only 1,000 cases were made. You won’t find it in the U.S., as government killjoys worry that the aging process may pose a health hazard.
Wenneker 24 Carrot Liqueur
At a popup cocktail bar called Spiritual (get it?), a rotating group of American bartenders were mixing drinks to show off various new spirits, such as this new carrot liqueur from family-owned Wenneker distillery in the Netherlands. (Wenneker is one of the oldest Dutch distilleries and makes a wide range of flavored liqueurs—think blueberry and butterscotch—and premium spirits such as Elderflower Gin.)
I was highly dubious at the idea of a vegetable liqueur, but its vibrant orange color, earthy aroma of fresh-picked carrots, and tangy, spicy taste won me over. Ditto the insouciant packaging in a jar. Mixed in a cocktail with curaçao orange liqueur, lime and lemon juice, and 7-up, it brought me “back to mother earth,” just as the brochure promised.
2013 Kaiken Obertura cabernet franc
“Argentina is more than malbec,” insisted Kaiken winemaker Aurelio Montes Junior as he splashed his brand-new soft, fragrant, herbaceous cabernet franc from Argentina’s Uco Valley into my glass. A photo showed his high-altitude vineyard filled with enormous rocks. He had to remove 2,500 truckfuls of them to plant vines. The other big problems he has are wild donkeys and huge ants.
I guess they’re lucky to have made four hundred cases. This is a real find.
2012 Santa Carolina Luis Pereira cabernet sauvignon (about $130)
Chilean winery Santa Carolina was celebrating its 140th anniversary by launching several wines, including this earthy, complex, silky-textured red made from grapes from the company’s oldest vineyards.
It’s especially exciting because it’s an attempt to recreate wines such as Santa Carolina's still-fabulous 1959 cabernet by reviving 50-year-old winemaking techniques. The result is a Chilean red with the elegance and balance that has sadly been missing from the country’s flood of high-alcohol, overextracted “icon” wines.
JCCB from the Boisset Collection ($500)
Burgundy purists dote on subtle taste differences among the region’s vineyards, and they’ll be aghast at this tradition-busting experiment from playful Jean-Charles Boisset, whose wine businesses span California and France. The heavy, square, clear bottle looks as if it should hold some ancient cognac. The red wine inside is a rich, lush blend from three famous grand cru Burgundy vineyards—Clos de Vougeot, Clos de la Roche, and Échezeaux—from three different vintages. It’s all highly refined cherry fruit and smooth, rich texture. There’s no terroir taste with this mélange, but it’s gorgeous in the glass and ready to drink now.
Ao Yun, China (pricing TBD)
You don’t find every hot new wine launch in the VinExpo aisles, so nightly gossip at lavish chateau dinners cooked by Michelin-starred chefs is essential. At the international press dinner at Château Margaux (Guy Savoy was the chef), Jean-Guillaume Prats, president of Moet-Hennessy Estates & Wines, spilled details on the Chinese red the company expects to introduce this fall.
The Bordeaux style blend is made at Shangri-La winery in the Himalayan foothills in the far west of Yunnan province. Grapes come from 320 tiny vineyards at altitudes of 2,300 to 2,600 meters, some of the highest in the world. The wine will be labeled Ao Yun, meaning Sacred Cloud.
LVMH aims to make it the best red wine in China. Expect high-altitude prices.