Vinoble 2004: A surreal experience

Monday, 21 June, 2004
Sue van Wyk
A report from the International Noble Wines Exhibition in Catalonia in Spain - including a remarkable Chateau d’Yquem tasting - and South Africa represented by three wines from Signal Hill.
Arriving on the first morning at the fourth edition of Vinoble, the International Noble Wines Exhibition, which was held last week in the historic city of Jerez de la Frontera in Catalonia, Spain, was an enchanting experience. The setting for this wine exhibition was unique and even knowing that it would be held in the ancient 11th century Moorish fortress of Alcazar did not quite prepare me for the experience.

The old pink three-storey Villacencio Palace dominated the scene inside the walls of the fortress. In a beautiful lush garden in front of the palace palm trees, swaying gently in the breeze, provided shade to neatly cultivated beds of bright flowers while the water jets of the fountains cooled the hot atmosphere.

A canopy of white canvas roofs in the parade grounds around the palace and mosque, sheltering the exhibition stands located beneath. This was the venue where exhibitors from 20 countries and 120 wine producing regions (402 wineries) occupied the 82 stands and almost 1,000 different wines starred in tastings and samplings. Cast in the supporting roles were the one hundred and ninety five journalists from 30 countries and about 100 importers from prestigious international firms.

Undoubtedly the most memorable occasion of the four-day event was the opportunity of attending the Chateau d’Yquem tasting led by Count Alexandre de Lur Saluces who has been the custodian of this celebrated wine for the past 36 years. A mere fifty hand picked mortals were given access to this prestigious event. Never before has Yquem featured in a tasting at a wine exhibition and to add to the occasion, it is thought to have his last official appearance on behalf of this world famous estate - the fifteenth generation to look after the famous vineyards of estate located in the Sauterne area of France.

Tasting four vintages, namely 1998, 1995, 1988 and 1986, the Count discussed each vintage in great depth and the factors that made each the wine that it is. Having previously only tasted one of these great wines at a time, it was indeed a rare privilege to be faced with four samples. Would it be possible to prefer one vintage over another when faced with four such subliminal, mysterious wines? Yes! The 1988 stood out as the most audacious, complex wine of the four with huge intensity of apricot, dry raisin and quince flavours with a hint of spice and an aftertaste that lasted for several minutes. A euphoric, heavenly, experience!

Several tutored tastings of wines from designated regions (Alsace, Loire, new style Tokay’s) took place each day as well as food and wine pairings (such as goat’s cheese with sweet red wines, pastries with raisin wines, beef Carpaccio with young white botrytis wines). These were a welcome extension of the main theme of the event and offered interesting alternatives to merely visiting the various stands and tasting their wines on offer.

South Africa’s participation, courtesy of the three wines from Signal Hill, was viewed as a valuable contribution to the success of the event. Not only was it significant in that it allowed the organisers to acclaim the event as one that had brought five continents together but also, more importantly, it made so many people aware that South Africa also produces noble sweet wines and fortified wines - a fact which pleasantly surprised many of the participants and visitors alike.

The next Vinoble will be held in 2006.

Submitted by: Sue van Wyk

Contact: Signal Hill