The annual human crush known as the Ottawa Wine and Food Show was held last weekend at Lansdowne Park in the nation’s capital. At peak hours Friday and Saturday night, it was a mass of throbbing bodies, young men and women turned out in their best mating wear, having one helluva good time at the cocktail party of the year. At some points it was so crowded there was no room for anyone to fall over drunk – they’d never have hit the floor. Which might have been why so many people were draped over each other.
Anyway, it was all good fun and very warm and fuzzy – unless you were an exhibitor who had spent a lot of money and an entire weekend in the hope of creating some brand recognition, just to end up slinging juice. More than one person lamented this to me. But there was also the balancing viewpoint from seasoned veterans that the afternoon periods on Friday, Saturday and Sunday were much more controlled and the audience more mature and interested than in years past. So it is really two shows in one – it’s just too bad that both have to be in the same spot.
New show owner, Joan Culliton, has taken some steps to address the issue and keep exhibitors happy, like creating the separate Tasting Gallery that ran Friday and Saturday from 5pm to 7pm. This offered better wines and substantial food to those willing to pay an additional one-time, up-front charge. It too got very crowded by 7pm, and several agents ran out of wine, but it was nothing like the seething mass downstairs.
To avoid the main floor Saturday night, I ducked into a seminar on Chilean wines hosted by friend and WineAlign colleague John Szabo. This was nicely done and caught the fun spirit of the evening, especially since it brought food into the mix. The wines were paired with the Spanish cuisine of Ottawa chef Rene Rodriguez, from a Byward Market restaurant called Navarra.
It was a stated aim this year to make food a larger part of the event, and this was best executed by Wines of California: they brought in chef Charlie Ayers, who oversees the kitchen at Calafia restaurant in Palo Alto and was the executive chef for Google until 2005. He presided at a bar-restaurant that was set up on the show floor where, for $30, show-goers could be seated and enjoy a three-course meal and matched wines, with running commentary on the dishes and pairings. Organizer Rick Slomka of the California Wine Institute admitted that the costs were high given the relatively few people who could be accommodated over the weekend, but he was adamant that it sent all the right messages about food and wine and that thousands who didn’t participate saw it going on. It laid out a vision for what these public shows could and should be.
I was there to do a couple of seminars in the Tutored Tasting area, on behalf of Wine Access magazine. I wonder if we shouldn’t banish that phrase from Ontario’s wine lexicon? Does anyone really want to be tutored these days? Not many it seems, because attendance was lacklustre – not just at my events, but for most of the tastings. At least one was cancelled. I’m not sure of the reason, but I expect lack of adequate promotion played a role. This one needs a re-think.
Finally, what were my wine picks of the show? I was asked several times but always had the same answer: I was simply not paying that much attention and certainly was not making notes. The atmosphere is just not conducive.
Having said that, I did taste three great buys in my Wine Access Value Wines Seminars: Marqués de Riscal 2008 Rueda from Spain, Concha Y Toro 2008 Casillero del Diablo Carmenère from Chile, and Boekenhoutskloof The Wolftrap 2007 from South Africa.