It’s coming on Christmas. Honestly, it is. Check your diaries. And thus the nation’s retailers are hunkering down and preparing for our annual frenzy of overindulgence and willful spendthrifterosity. From book shops to bars they’re oiling their tills, hiring themselves some fine seasonal staff and bracing for action. Let’s face facts here: your wallet/purse is about to take a serious battering. The only question is where you are going to choose to batter it, which is why, at this time of year more than any other, people who want to sell you stuff start figuratively jumping up and down and shouting “Me! Me! Look at me!”.
Wine retailers are no different. They know you’re going to buy yourself some seasonal wine, and they want it to be with them. One of the ways they go about doing this – and I must admit I find the idea a pretty poor one, but clearly it’s got something going for it – is by putting on massive wine fairs and making customers not only buy tickets but haul themselves across London and beyond in order to jostle strangers for tasters. Frankly it doesn’t sound much like fun to me, but some of them must be good and I’m slowly working my way through them in search of a surefire winner. For research purposes, you understand. I suffer, so you don’t have to. Anyway, here’s a list of the wine fairs that are a-coming to this fair city. Drop me a line if I’ve left one out.
The Wine Gang
The Wine Gang is a five-headed monster of wine journalism, comprised of the Independent’s Anthony Rose, David Williams of the Observer, Tom Cannavan of wine-pages.com, Joanna Simon, who wrote in the Sunday Times for many a year, and Jane Parkinson of Stylist, and I’ll be at their fair this year. A combination of decent prices, good exhibitors and intriguing bonus masterclasses did it for me. The benefit of me buying a ticket was that I managed to get into the Pichon Baron masterclass for a low price before it sold out. The downside was that a couple of weeks later they offered me a ticket for nothing. It’s too late for me to benefit from their generosity but not so for you: use the code BLOG40 and not only will entry be reduced from £20 to £12, but you’ll get 10% off masterclass tickets too. Which is nice.
Date: 9 November
Venue: Vinopolis, near Borough Market
Tickets: £20 (before discount)
Other venues: Bath (2 November) and Edinburgh (30 November)
Three Wine Men
The festively-titled Three Wine Men are Olly Smith, Oz Clarke and Tim Atkin, all of whom may be familiar off the telly. “The Three Wine Men want to get everyone in the country tasting, experiencing and enjoying new wines and discovering different foods,” they say. “Their events bring together wine and food retailers and producers to show you just how much fun your taste buds can have in a day.” There you go. Majestic, Berry Bros, The Wine Society and, um, Lidl are among their exhibitors, the oft-televised trio will be in attendance and there are bonus masterclasses from as little as a fiver.
Date: 7 & 8 December
Venue: Church House, Westminster
Tickets: £25 (before discount)
Other venue: Manchester (23 & 24 November)
Wine Cellar at the BBC Good Food Show
Food may be the focus of this Olympia-based behemoth, but there’s room for a bit of wine too. So much so that they claim this is “the ultimate destination for wine lovers”. Crikey. “Whether you’re a connoisseur or a novice, The Wine Cellar is the perfect place to stock up for the festive season and explore wines from across the globe,” they promise. There will also be tasting events and tours, for which you’ll need to book separately, as well as samples and sales from “24 boutique, artisan vineyards and importers” as well as an “English Wine Pavilion”. I went to this a couple of years back – that’s the picture above – and after giving up on ever reaching the front of the massive scrum that surrounded anyone offering free wine (except, bizarrely, the one with open bottles of d’Arenberg’s £28-a-b0ttle Aussie barnstormer the Dead Arm Shiraz) I departed, not entirely impressed. I did see Rick Stein, though.
Date: 15-17 November
Tickets: £25.75 (Friday) or £26.75 (Saturday) or £96.75 (VIP) or £199 (VIP Luxe – which allows you to meet Michel Roux Jr and eat his food and drink his wine)
Decanter Fine Wine Encounter
This is the opposite of the BBC Good Food Show. It’s more intimate, the exhibitors are mainly top-end producers from various winemaking outposts – from Catena Zapata in Argentina to Muga in Spain, Chateau Montrose in Bordeaux and Penfolds in Australia – there’s relatively little scrumming and it’s full of people wearing ties who spit rather than swallow. I’ve been to this, too, and found it extremely worthwhile, though for the price of a single entry here you could take the wife, the neighbours and the postman to some of the other events. Anyway, thanks to a happy diary double you’re theoretically able to go to Olympia in the morning and here in the afternoon, which will allow you to experience the full range of human-wine interaction in a single day. You could get away with calling it anthropology, although some would probably use the term debauchery instead
Date: 16-17 November
Venue: Landmark Hotel
Tickets: £55 per day, or £90 for both, plus masterclasses (£95) or more informal bonus tastings (£10)
Virgin Wines National London Wine Tasting
I can’t tell you a great deal about this event, which I’m told will be “in line with their philosophy, ‘Life’s too Short for Boring Wine'”. But I have managed to copy-and-paste this from their press release: “Visitors can choose from around 250 wines to sample from the Virgin Wines range” which will be grouped according to style. There will also be cheese. “During the tasting Virgin Wines’ team of Wine Advisors and Buyers will be on hand to offer hints, tips and recommendations,” they add, “while talented winemakers from wineries in France, Italy, England, New Zealand, Chile, Spain and South Africa will also be on hand and keen to show off their range of wines.” If that sounds good I’ve got bad news for you: it’s sold out. Yes, it could be said that I’ve told you about this one a little bit too late, but let it not be said that I don’t learn from my mistakes: next year’s is on 17 & 18 October.
Date: 11 October (6pm-9pm) & 12 October (12pm-5pm)
Venue: Waldorf Hilton, Aldwich
Tickets: £25 (but you get £25 off any wine ordered while you’re there)
Other venues: Cambridge (17 October), Sheffield (24 October), Milton Keynes (14 November), Nottingham (21 November), Norwich (28 November)
Tesco Wine Fairs
Whoops, this was last weekend. Sorry London. They’re in Bristol this weekend and then Edinburgh on the 26 & 27 October. Both events are sold out on the Saturday but have tickets available at £12 each on the Sunday.