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Prowein, which is the European wine industry's most important trade fair
When I was at school, I harboured a desire to join the diplomatic service. I am sure that it is a good job for world order that my lofty ambitions never materialised as I can be subject to wild generalisations and form strong opinions before even arriving at passport control.
That said, I am not some pith-helmeted bigot who thinks English in a shouty voice is a foreign language, but after recently visiting two wine trade fairs, in Italy and Germany, I could not help but make comparisons. Prowein in Germany was organised, easy and friendly. Vinitaly, by contrast, was more like a combination of a Millwall football match and spending three days lost in the London Underground network.
I haven’t been to Germany since the unification in 1989. As soon as the first cracks appeared in the wall, my father piled us all into the back of the car and we headed East. My memories are few but distinct. I remember my mother admiring how clean everyone’s shoes were and suggesting that communism did have its merits, and the altitude of my father’s eyebrows in response; the face of a waitress after Dad tipped her a month’s wages; unsuccessfully trying to buy a Trabant motor car; and filling the boot of our car with large chunks of historically important but deadly asbestos… or to give it its familiar name, the Berlin Wall.
It amazes me that I have managed to avoid the country ever since. So, it was with singular excitement that I viewed the prospect of spending two days inside an exhibition centre in Dusseldorf. However, when I was welcomed by two of Germany’s greatest exports – bratwurst and efficiency – I wondered why I had been away so long. Prowein is the European wine industry’s most important trade fair.
With more than 6,000 producers from all over the world and 52,000 trade visitors, it is a thrilling yet daunting spectacle. As many producers cynically deploy their most attractive staff as bait – a tactic that I admittedly fell for more than once – it is paramount to have a clear strategy of finding the best wines at the right price, without being swayed by a pretty fräulein in national dress.
The German section was rightly the most comprehensive. Even just tasting a tip of this iceberg gave one a clear idea of the overall quality and variety. Many words have been written about why these wines continue to be ignored by the UK market – and there are strong and valid reasons – but excellence is not one of them. Thankfully, steps are being taken to make them more commercial. Many of the labels, for instance, are being redesigned to make them simpler and more aesthetically appealing, while many drier wines are now on offer to suit a broader palate.
Still, there remain many that could only be understood by locals or Victorian nobility. In contrast, I have visited Italy many times and it amazes and exasperates in equal measure. But I know I will always go back. This trip was sent to test my resolve. On arrival at the Vinitaly fair in Verona, one is met by long chaotic queues, aggressive ticket touts and the overpowering smell of fried food.
It was only the thought of my children going hungry in tatty rags at home, that persuaded me to stay, rather than spending three days by Lake Garda with a good book. Vinitaly is very much an Italian wine fair for Italians, and it displays the world’s most complete display of Italian wines, from the heel to the Alps, under one roof. The breadth of style, choice and quality is breathtaking.
To get the most out of it, one must really understand the diversity of the Italian wine culture, something that was impossible to achieve in such a short period. However, it was a fascinating introduction to this giant of the international wine industry. I tasted many great wines. Notable mentions are Il Castelvecchio from Chianti, Perusini from Friuli, Palazzone, Orvieto and a sublime Carmignano from Piaggia, all of which I will be looking to ship in the coming months.
Mark Robertson is the owner of Lupton Wines in Chilton Foliat, Hungerford. For more details, telephone (01488) 682593, mobile 07917 412328, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.luptonwines.com