The French savoir-faire? How to reinvigorate a wine fair – dinner at the Versailles and all…

In recent years, one of the most famous international wine fairs, Vinexpo Bordeaux has been losing significant numbers of exhibitors and visitors to competitors such as Prowein Düsseldorf. Hot summers with inadequate venue temperature control and dusty wine glasses were just some of the unfortunate glitches, yet unforgivable in the eyes of many visitors and vast numbers turned to German precision and detail oriented professionalism, despite Bordeaux’s almost irresistible hospitality from dreamy chateaux, which Düsseldorf can only stare in envy.

But this year, France is upping its game with the joining of Vinexpo and Wine Paris – two flagship French wine trade events sharing dates and venue in Paris, in a bid to combine resources and more than double their attractions for wine trade professionals worldwide.

 

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According to the official press release, “This unprecedented and collective initiative by the two organisers (COMEXPOSIUM and VINEXPO)… is a chance for producers, trading companies and brands to optimise their resources and benefit from an event with maximum impact…While both exhibitions will continue to encapsulate their own inherent characteristics, holding them simultaneously offers an additional asset that will strengthen France’s position as a major crossroads for engagement and the promotion of all French regions and vineyard sites, as well as international wine regions.”

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Official speeches aside, I did find the fair well organised and logically laid out, its size was also quite optimal to roam around on foot. But I particularly enjoyed some themed exhibits, talks and masterclasses. For example, WOW (World Organic Wines – an area dedicated to organic and biodynamic wines), the ‘Infinite Bar’ which boasts to be of Olympic swimming pool length, and showcased 100 spirit brands with mixologists conjuring up cocktails of infinite possibilities. The Moët Hennessy pavilion was especially impressive – equipped with two well-stocked open bars serving a large selection of their portfolio wines and spirits, from free-flowing Champagne, to their ultra-premium Chinese estate wine Ao Yun – hailing from the land of the Shangri-La, to Hennessy XO cognac, and many more in-between, all accompanied with a fully packed three-day programme on sustainability and technology for the future of viticulture. I was really fascinated by a new 100% paper bottle that will be released in the autumn for Ruinart Champagne, which is 9 times lighter than its current glass version and reduces 65% of the total carbon footprint in the production chain, using sustainable forest in Europe and processed in the Lake District. It will make a real difference if premium brands take a lead in innovating packaging material and reducing packaging waste. I do have a few photos of this bottle but have been told to wait for the official professional photograph – well, I suppose a premium brand does need to retain its PR halo, so I will respect this request and refrain from plastering my social media account with my poorly lit photo.

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And of course, food and wine matching was also a much explored theme, especially here at a French wine fair. Most notably there was a caviar and wine matching battle between some top sommeliers, and a headline event by Moët Hennessy hosted by no less than Alain Ducasse, entitled ‘2050: a reflection on fine wine and dining’. There were also topical forums such as ‘Will there be a Winexit in the UK?’ and international flavours such as WSET’s introduction to Japanese Sake.

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I am very glad to have seen this inaugural fair for myself. But the cherry on the cream cake for me had to be an invitation to…

The Commanderie du Bontemps gala dinner at Versailles Palace

 

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Below is the official press release from The Commanderie du Bontemps, interjected with some of my own photos.

The Commanderie’s Gala Dinner at the Versailles Palace Pays Tribute to Heritage and Craftsmanship

The Commanderie du Bontemps’ Gala Dinner was held in the Versailles Palace on Monday 11th February 2020. During this truly memorable evening, 650 international guests were able to follow in the footsteps of some of the most prestigious visitors to France and experience in their turn the French art of hospitality.

Having crossed the Royal courtyard, the guests were admitted to the magic of the premises, starting with a private tour of the King’s Apartments, the Hall of Mirrors and the Queen’s Apartments.

 

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After a stroll through history, while marvelling at French craftsmanship, the guests were met by a guard of honour of fifty Commandeurs in full uniform, who ushered them towards cocktails. Three wines representing the Bordeaux Left Bank terroirs were offered: Château Brown 2016, a Pessac Léognan white; Château Fourcas Dupré 2010, a Moulis and Château Rayne Vigneau 2014, a Sauternes.

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Dinner was served in the Gallery of Great Battles. This hall depicts the greatest French battles and victories from Tolbiac to Wagram, and symbolises how the Palace has been transformed into an historical museum.During his welcome speech, the Grand Master of the Commanderie, Emmanuel Cruse declared, “Since 1950, the Commanderie has pursued its mission of promoting its great terroirs with their rich history and building worldwide recognition of their wines, which contribute to the history of Bordeaux and are part of French culture. This dinner will create great memories for us all and gives us an incredible opportunity to highlight our wines, our heritage and the French art of hospitality. This gallery can also be seen as a reminder of the battles we have been fighting for seventy years to underline the value of our wines in ever-changing business contexts”, he added.

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All the bottles served at the dinner were previously tasted by the Commanderie’s cellar masters, supported by Olivier Poussier, Best Sommelier in the World, 2000, who was responsible for ensuring the quality of the wine service on behalf of the caterers Lenôtre, who concocted the meal.

The proceedings began with a white wine, Château Fieuzal 2015, followed by Château Léoville Barton 2009 and Château Lascombes 2005, enabling guests to reconnect with two great Medoc vintages.

Lafite Rothschild 2004, served from magnums was a perfect match for the Saint Nectaire cheese. As Olivier Poussier put it while seeking out the best wine-food pairings, when the dinner was being planned: “Being matured in cellars, this cheese develops tertiary flavours, which marry perfectly with this very great wine that bears the polish of time.”

To finish, the smooth velvet of the Sauternes, Château Suduiraut 2003, was served with an orange dessert.

This dinner at the Versailles Palace clearly constitutes a landmark in the history of the Commanderie du Bontemps. It opens in very great style a 70th anniversary year, which will feature a host of other events throughout 2020.

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Chinese visitors down, but Chinese brands exhibited continue to attract international interest

It is worth noting that despite the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic, several major Chinese brands were still in attendance as planned, including Great Wall Wine Company, Helan Hong represented by Xige Estate from Ningxia, as well as spirits companies Moutai, Red Star Nuwa. JD.com also showcased their selection of Chinese and international brands under representation, and of course Moët Hennessy presented their premium Chinese wine Ao Yun vintage 2015 from Yunnan province.

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