Sarah Abbott MW picks her London Wine Fair 2024 highlights


Do you remember your first time? Mine – pre-dating that brief sojourn to Excel – was in 1996, in very different times. Many stands, no masterclasses, and clouds of cigarette smoke pushing on Olympia’s vaulted glass.

Trade Fairs are like people, and following a small mid-life crisis, and having met a fabulous woman (event director Hannah Tovey), London is having a come-back, reinvented as a rich and unique space for wine learning, business inspiration, and cultural innovation.

Masterclasses are one of the most exciting aspects of the fair, as leading experts and producers come to Olympia to present the latest wines and trends from classic and emerging regions.

If informed tasting is your focus, you could do worse than camp under a table in The Mentzendorff Theatre on stand E38 for the duration of the fair. A showcase for their incredible portfolio, the Mentzendorff sessions comprise guided masterclasses from world-class producers such as Australia’s Turkey Flat and Tapanappa, Champagne Ayala, and the Loire’s Langlois. Mentzendorff have worked with their producers to make each masterclass an enquiry and exemplar of issues pressing our industry now. Such as, for example, “Terroir and Biodiversity in Cornas”, with winemaker Jean-Luc Colombo, and “The Influence of Climate Change on Tempranillo”, with Javier Gil-Albarellos of Bodegas Roda and La Rolla in Rioja and Ribera del Duero. These 11 sessions run across all three days, for 45 minutes each and are hosted by producers and senior representatives from these leading estates. Just get to the stand in good time for your chosen session, as it’s first-come, first seated.

The main Masterclass theatre hosts slightly longer (one-hour) sessions, including one by yours-truly. I’ll be hosting a focus tasting on the lesser-known side of prosecco, namely the bottle-fermented Sui Lieviti and single-site Rive and Cartizze wines of Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG. Join me at Monday 20th at 4:30pm where I’ll be joined by Professor Diego Tomasi, author of an award-winning zoning study of these original Unesco-designated heritage vineyards of wine category ripe for premiumisation.

I’m delighted that I’ll be sharing the theatre with two fabulous fellow women of wine, Anne McHale MW and Amanda Barnes. I would recommend any session given by these two gifted educators. Anne’s session on “The Méditerranée Way of Life” (Monday 20th, 12:30pm) sounds as inspiring and vibrant as she. Amanda is a leading expert on the thrilling Wines of Uruguay and has selected a perfect capsule collection for Monday at 2:30pm, as well as a deeper dive for Tuesday at 12:30pm. Arrive in good time, as half the seats are being reserved on a first-come, first seated basis while MW’s, MS’s and VIP’s can pre-book the other half.

Still on tasting, and in the smaller Walk-Up Theatre is the venue for many intriguing sessions and blind-tasting challenges. Japan Pavilion’s Sake Sessions here include one for the geeks, namely “Get to grips with Koji and Umami” on Tuesday 21st at 2:30pm. I thought yeast autolysis was interesting until I was initiated into the wondrous complexity of Koji, the magical mould of sake.

For insights into two significant commercial categories you could start at the Walk-Up Theatre on Monday: the rise of Argentine Malbec is the focus at 10:30pm with a session lead by Hervé and Diane Joyaux Fabre of Bodegas Fabre. Then pop back again to taste with Patrick Schmitt MW through Pinot Grigio delle Venezie on at 12:30pm.

In another shameless self-plug (but in a good cause), I’ll be hosting a masterclass with 8 incredible fine wines from extremely old vines and heritage vineyards, made by producers shortlisted for this year’s Old-Vine Hero Awards. Join me on Wednesday 22nd at 10:30am.

In the more intimate theatre of The Education Zone, inspiring panels lead a range of tastings and discussions on topical issues. It’s hard to pick a favourite from these eleven sessions, but I’m certain that WSET’s numerous blind-tasting sessions (led by talents such as Lydia Harrison MW, Anjali Douglas and Lauren Denyer) will be educational and stimulating. Our industry is nothing without our talent, and the importance of Diversity and Inclusion will be explored by an impressive panel comprising Emma Hodges, Alya Lilani, and Micaela Martins Ferreira on Tuesday at 4:30pm. Try not to miss, Richard “Bam Bam” Bampfield MW hosting a fascinating tasting of Wines from Ukraine, on Wednesday 22nd at 3pm.

The Centre Stage is the venue for valuable briefings from industry bodies, research institutes, and business leaders through the fair. IWSC’s Claire Warner leads on the evolution on the no-and-lo category on Monday 20th at 10:15am, and for key insights on policy, political context and coming storms, don’t miss industry champion and WSTA Director Miles Beale and colleagues for “State of the Nation” on Tuesday 21st at 10:15am.

The Centre Stage is also where London Wine Fair will be celebrating our industry’s talent. Join us on to congratulate the winners of the Harpers 30 Under 30 award, announced live on Monday 20th at 12:45pm. Meet and congratulate those shortlisted and the category winners of The Wine Buyers Award, on Tuesday 21st at 2pm, with canapés and wine sponsored by the Consorzio of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG.

London has been a nexus for expanding wine culture for centuries, so it’s fitting that the Fair is holding in 2024 a Judgement of London blind tasting, an homage to Steven Spurrier’s iconoclastic challenge of the 1970s. Come to Centre Stage on Tuesday 21st at 4:45pm for the big reveal. How have the top wines of the world been judged by our crack team of tasters?

And did we mention that there are over 300 fantastic exhibitors from over 30 countries to meet?

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