Whiskey from Tibet and organic Champagne among best new booze

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A Tibetan Buddhist monk walks in front of the Golden Temple inside the Nyingmapa Monastery in Bylakuppe, southwest of Bengaluru, previously known as Bangalore, December 4, 2014. REUTERS/Abhishek N. Chinnappa

Everyone loves Paris-even in February, when the City of Light is cold and gray, right?

That was the thinking behind holding this year’s VinExpo wine and spirits trade fair in Paris for the first time. Since 1981, the fair’s biannual home has been Bordeaux, but despite lavish chateau parties with fireworks, that version was losing market share to the no-nonsense annual German trade show, ProWein.

“Our goal in Paris,” says new Vinexpo chief executive Rodolphe Lameyse, “is to be the game changer – and the No. 1 wine and spirits marketplace in the world.”

This year’s three-day schmoozefest blended VinExpo with Wine Paris, another international exhibition, and last week drew some 30,000 international buyers to do deals, discover the latest trends, explore what’s new from 2,800 exhibitors from 20 countries, and delve into the topic of sustainability and climate change at Moët Hennessy’s three-day forum.

Hanging over all of this, though, were the specters of Brexit, the continuing U.S. tariffs, and China’s slowdown, which prompted French Minister of Agriculture Didier Guillaume to open the fair by stating that France has to find new markets in other countries.

I spent my days tracking down the newest of the new in three huge halls at the Paris-Versailles Exhibition Centre. Products ranged from the sublime to the silly, including such items as the world’s first wine vinified underwater.

What struck me most was the popularity of the huge spirits area, where dozens of buyers hung out at a 165-foot-long bar, sipping exotic drinks stirred up by Paris’s top mixologists. New gins were ubiquitous and unusual, with regional flavors predominating. One Peruvian example incorporated sacha inchi (Inca chestnuts) and tonka beans from the Amazon rainforest, another from the U.K. was flavored with local gooseberries, and an Italian one included fresh tomatoes. Talk about upgrading your summer gin and tonic!

And yes, there were parties, such as the dinner at Château de Versailles to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Bordeaux’s Commanderie du Bontemps. We walked through Louis XIV’s bedroom and under the sparkly chandeliers in the Hall of Mirrors to the 390-foot-long Gallery of Great Battles, where we ate truffled filet of beef and drank magnums of Château Lafite-Rothschild while contemplating huge canvases replete with charging horses and clashing soldiers swinging swords – and, of course, the spoils of the fair.

Here are my six most exciting VinExpo/WineParis discoveries:

Best New Champagne

2016 Champagne Drappier Clarevallis, 46 euros ($49.69)

Organic wines continue to be a hot trend, so I was excited to try this new certified organic bubbly cuvée being launched by family-owned Champagne house Drappier that will arrive in the U.S. in May. It’s fresh, bright, chalky, and very, very dry, with an enticing golden color, scents of violets, and a creamy texture. Think of a superb white Burgundy with bubbles.

The blend of pinot noir, pinot meunier, chardonnay, and a bit of blanc vrai (pinot blanc) is the first fizz made by Drappier’s eighth generation-Charline, Hugo, and Antoine- all millennials.

Best New Spirit

2006 Jiu Hai Bu Gan Sadhana, about 83 euros

The biggest surprise was the world debut of this – get ready for it – vintage single malt from Tibet. Made with local barley and yeast grown at an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet and aged for nine years in special porcelain amphora, it was finished for six years in used American Bourbon casks and French oak barrels from Sauternes and Layon in the Loire Valley. It’s not like any whiskey you’ve tried. Amber-colored, with delicate floral aromas, it tastes very dry, pure, and soft, almost velvety in character. The barley comes from a Tibetan monastery, and three women distill it.

Best New Cocktail Ingredient

Paragon Pepper Collection Cordials, 22 euros each

These exotic single botanical cordials from Nepal, Ethiopia, and Cameroon are based on different local peppers and reflect a current bartending obsession with unusual essences from remote places to liven up drinks.

My favorite was Timur Berry, which grows on small trees at elevations of 7,000 feet in Nepal. Fresh and citrusy, it smells and tastes of grapefruit. The powerful jasmine scents of Rue Berry, from Ethiopia, and the menthol-scented White Penja Pepper, from handpicked and fermented white peppers in Cameroon, wowed me, too.

Flavor syrup company Monin and award-winning London-based bartender Alex Kratena created them, using such new processes as “supercritical CO2 extraction,” which they claim reproduces a plant’s smell without altering it.

Best New Organic Wine

2017 Domaine Marcel Deiss Riquewihr, $40

Marcel Deiss, one of the top biodynamic domaines in Alsace, will launch this savory new white in the U.S. in the spring. The earthy, seductive blend of pinot gris and riesling is part of a series of new village wines with medieval manuscript-like labels designed to reflect the “emotion” of the wine inside. Alsace lacks the official category of village wines that Burgundy has, and the Deiss family is trying to create one to promote Alsace’s different terroirs.

Best New, Inexpensive Red

2016 Marie Blanque Edition 1, $19

This brand new red wine from Famille Lesgourgues, three brothers who own an estate in Madiran in southwest France, is made from tannat, a grape known for super tannic, powerful wines that are often tempered by the addition of grapes such as cabernet franc. This 100% tannat cuvée is different-soft and fresh, with dark, juicy, intense flavors. It was inspired by the artist-brother’s memory of one he drank during a mountain picnic 20 years ago.

Best New Luxury Wine Accessory

Baccarat Passion Champagne decanter, $960

On L’Avenue, a posh-looking area designed as a Parisian street of luxury shops, Jean-Charles Boisset, a flamboyant impresario of California and French wines, was launching a lot of new items, but my eye was on the pricy new Passion Collection Champagne decanter he created, produced by Baccarat. You may be asking yourself why you need to decant Champagne. The idea-according to Boisset-is to add smoothness, release the wine’s aromas, and leave you with only the most elegant, tiny bubbles. At the very least, it’s a beautifully designed object to display in your home.

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