Vinoble, the biennial wine fair devoted to fortified, sweet, dessert and other special wines that takes place in Jerez de la Frontera, the capital of Sherry, was successfully reborn in 2014 after a four-year hiatus.
Table wines—white, red and rosé—grab most of the attention of good aficionados and dominate the wine market. Other wine styles, although much more diverse, interesting and intriguing, do not have the same appeal, and oftentimes they even have to counter negative reputations—high alcohol, complicated, expensive—that sometimes bare little resemblance with reality. Vinoble was born in 1998 to offer a platform to those wines and contribute to their understanding and exposure. Its location, the Alcázar (an old medieval castle with newer additions, whose different spaces carry names evocative of their past, like the mill, the mosque, etc.) in the heart of the town of Jerez, provides the ideal setting. The time of the year, late May, when the gorgeous jacaranda trees are in full bloom and Jerez has lovely spring balmy weather before the summer heat arrives, offers the most perfect time.
From 1998 to 2008 Vinoble went from strength to strength. But in 2010 the management decided to change gears and hoping to expand even more, offered the organization to Pancho Campo, the former Master of Wine and at that time the most glamorous star in Spain’s wine firmament. It didn’t work in the way it was expected. Campo was soon involved in shady dealings that even tainted Robert Parker’s reviewer and his name became toxic in the wine world. Two years later the crisis that still affects Spain and is felt more intensely in southern Andalusia, coupled with the high deficit of the town of the Jerez itself, one of the biggest sponsors of Vinoble, resulted in its cancellation in 2012.
Vinoble seemed gone forever, but then a brave young company hailing from the region of Asturias called Gustatio, led by wine and food journalist David Fernández-Prada, took on the task of reviving and organizing it in 2014. In just five months they managed to put together an ambitious program of tastings and events that resuscitated Vinoble and steered it in a promising direction. Simply the feat of putting this together in such a short time deserves accolades, but even more for doing so in such a professional and accomplished way.
Vinoble 2014 took place from May 25th to 27th. In those short three days the beautiful spaces of the Alcázar housed a spectacular number of tastings and activities that at the same time never looked overwhelming. There were seminars on the sweet wines of Bordeaux, Rousillon, Tokaj, Veneto and Marsala; on distinctive wine styles such as Vintage port, Passito di Pantelleria, Malvasía from the Canary Islands, South African fortified wines, and even one on Georgian wines by Lisa Granik. Special attention was obviously given to Sherry and Montilla-Moriles. There were tastings of great amontillados presented by Jesús Barquín and Tim Atkin, of vintage palo cortados conducted by González Byass head winemaker Antonio Flores, another one devoted to the centuries-old soleras from Osborne that also included the historical ones bought from Domecq, and a seminar on the wines from Montilla-Moriles.
One of the highlights of Vinoble 2014 was a tasting of four decades of the wines produced by Martin Kerpen from the Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard, the most reputed site in the Mosel. There were also round tables on the current state of fortified wines and on the interaction between yeast, soil and aging system in Sherry. A very positive addition this year, and one that I hope will definitely be incorporated in future editions, was opening Vinoble to sparkling wines, including a seminar on the effects of age and oxidation in Champagne delivered by Peter Liem. All in all, the organization deserves special credit for being able to assemble a very important group of distinguished wine professionals. More than fifty international experts descended on Jerez to speak and conduct tastings at Vinoble, including a dozen Masters of Wine.
Along with all the seminars and tastings, wineries, regions, and professional organizations set up seventy stands in the Alcázar and its surrounding courtyards and gardens to offer their products to the public. Some revealed unexpected surprises: the Canary Islands stand included an amazingly youthful 1881 Malvasía from Bodegas El Grifo, and the one of Toro Albalá offered a broad and unique selection of vintage-dated Montilla wines going back to the 1940s. Along with wines there were also olive oils and a small amount of food products. There were even a couple of stands serving ice cider from Canada, the pioneers, and from Asturias, the main cider-producing region in Spain. It deserves note that Vinoble has the most beautiful and at the same time discreet spittoons I have ever seen in any wine tastings event.
Vinoble also housed a few parallel activities. Especially noteworthy was Gastrovinoble, an outstanding novelty introduced this year that included brilliant cooking shows by reputed chefs: Marcos Morán of Casa Gerardo fame, Dani García, Erica Barni, and Ricardo Costa, the chef of the famous Porto restaurant The Yeatman. Special mention should be given to the one delivered by Angel León, the innovative chef of Aponiente, who displayed his research on plankton. (Incidentally Aponiente, located in the nearby town El Puerto de Santa María, is a groundbreaking restaurant that should be a mandatory stop for anyone interested in the high gastronomy that emanates from Spain as it is one the most creative restaurants in the world. It already has a well-deserved one Michelin star, but a second one should be soon on the way.) Along with the chefs’ demonstrations, there were also presentations of Ibérico hams and on cheeses found along the Camino de Santiago. Speakers, international press and guests were also treated to luncheons and dinners in wineries such as Barbadillo, González Byass, Bodegas Tradición and Valdespino, showcasing some of the top local ham, fish and seafood delicacies paired with sherry wines.
A few things did not run quite as smoothly, some of the wines did not arrive on time for a couple of tastings, some seminars had unnecessarily pompous titles (e. g. The Tasting of the Thousand Years, 1790-1903), but those were small and easy to overcome mishaps that can be overlooked when compared with the feat of reviving this extraordinary wine fair. Gustatio’s hard work paid off and professionals and general public understood it that way. The newly reborn Vinoble resulted in a success and we can only hope that David Fernández-Prada and his team will organize Vinoble again in 2016. If this year’s fair serves as any indication, we can be confidant that Vinoble will regain and surpass its former glory. We wish to see this progression materialize in the next edition because the wine styles Vinoble showcases deserve a wine fair of a caliber that matches their quality.