The 'Salon des Vins' is an annual event that takes place in different cities all over France. The fair is organised - as you can guess from its name - by the association of the French independent wineries. We've been going there for several years now, and I love it, in spite of the fact that it seems to attract more visitors every year and it's gradually getting a bit too crowded. Not so good for the visitors, but great for the wineries, of course.
The fair is absolutely huge. There were over 500 wineries present this year, and they all bring a number of their available wines for the visitors to taste and possibly buy.
You can meet wine makers from the different wine regions all over France, each with their own personal style and flair, in their wines as well as in how they present themselves to you. And to me that's one of the great advantages here: you get to see the people behind the wines and the pride they have in their products and their businesses that often go back several generations.
The fair obviously focuses on wines, but there are also a few booths that sell local French produce: cheeses, honey, meats, pies, chocolate and more.
A number of times we've visited the fair quite randomly: just seeing where our instincts, noses and taste buds would lead us, but this year we were on a mission. Several missions, even.
We only had a few hours on the Friday evening, which we'd reserved for sweet wines. We'd made our selection beforehand on the Salon's website and decided to limit ourselves to 4 types of sweet wines: Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, Muscat, Sauternes et Banyuls. This turned out to be a bit much. We'll have to limit ourselves even more next year.
After tasting several wines of each type, we picked our favourites. Mine was the 2003 Sauternes Grand Cru classé from Château Caillou, which was unfortunately sold out by the time we went back to buy it. I also discovered a few beautiful Banyuls, both white and red. Especially the reds go so well with chocolate!
Our loot before unwrapping
For the Saturday we'd planned the champagnes and Alsace Rieslings. A tough day indeed! We ended up buying 3 different champagnes (one of them the 'Quintessence' from Gaidoz-Forget, one of our favourite champagne houses) and 2 kinds of organic / biodynamic Riesling. We've tasted the François Baur wines before and still loved them just as much. The wines of the Bernhard & Reibel estate on the other hand were a great new discovery. Even their most basic Riesling, with the very appropriate name 'Coup de Foudre', was a really nice wine, ánd great value.
Finally, on Sunday we went back to taste a few reds from a number of wine makers we'd met the previous years. Once more, La Rose Brana's Saint-Estèphes and Château de Roquebrune's (organic) Lalande-de-Pomerol vintages were delightful, and the people at the booth are just so nice, which is a bonus.
Overall, my main takeaways from this fair are:
there are great organic wines out there
France is an amazing wine country, with tradition as well as innovation and with a large number of wine makers who are truly passionate about their art, profession and of course their products
it's a good idea to come prepared. Due to the sheer size of a fair like this, you're more likely to get something out of it when you do some research beforehand
big fairs are a brilliant opportunity to learn more about a particular grape, region or type of wine. You learn so much about their characteristics by sampling them one right after the other
making wine requires skill, passion, experience and a lot of professionalism
For anyone who wants to go: if you don't speak French, bring someone who does. Most of the wine makers, especially the older ones, don't speak English!