The North West Spring Wine Fest is fast becoming a regular fixture in the Manchester events calendar. As the name suggests, it’s basically a chance for north-west wine merchants to get together and show off their latest vintages to the public.
Now the annual spring wine festival is actually the little brother of the Big Indie Wine Fest, which takes place every autumn during the Manchester Food & Drink Festival (the next one is in October 2012). So it features a lot of the same merchants – hangingditch, Harvey Nichols, Pacta Connect, Cork’s Out, Origin Wine & Spirits – and the same relaxed format.
What is the Manchester wine festival?
When you buy a ticket (about £10), you get access to the main event – rows of merchants all keen to offer you free wine tastings from the dozen or so different bottles they’ve brought along (yes, that’s a lot of free wine). There’s no hard sell, though you’re welcome to buy if you want. But the best part is just trying the samples and talking to the merchants.
Wine people have a reputation for being elitist and pretentious but, no matter how dumb my questions, I’ve always found the Manchester wine festival exhibitors incredibly friendly and helpful.
There are also wine-tasting masterclasses that give you a better appreciation of one aspect of the wine world. These can focus on anything from examining how to match wines with food to exploring lesser-known nations like Japan and Croatia. Basically, an expert gives an hour-long talk on the subject and illustrates his points with a selection of samples. Wine-tasting masterclasses cost about £4 each and they’re (usually) well worth the money.
North West Spring Wine Fest 2012
The North West Spring Wine Fest 2012 is my fourth wine festival in Manchester (I know, I know). It was pretty much business as usual this time, although I was relieved to see a greater emphasis on food than previous years. The delicious Manchester Egg sold out in record time, while there were also generous free samples given out by The Cheshire Cheese Company and The Bakerie. Exactly what was needed to soak up the alcohol (don’t get me wrong, I still got very drunk).
St Peter’s Church, Ancoats
However, the biggest revelation was the venue. For the first time, the Manchester wine festival was held at St Peter’s Church, Ancoats. I’ve never walked round that part of Ancoats before. It’s only five minutes’ walk from the Northern Quarter, but to my sheltered mind the other side of Great Ancoats Street feels like the end of the world.
I was wrong.
In fact, that part of Ancoats is filled with history. I’ve learnt it used to be known as Little Italy, and we’ve got those Italian immigrants to thank for bringing ice cream to Manchester! You can still see traces of this past in buildings like the Ice Plant, which was home to a great pop-up exhibition on Factory Records when I went.
The Little Italy area of Manchester has just been regenerated, with the centrepiece being St Peter’s Church – the authorities have done a spectacular job renovating this once-derelict church and the spacious square outside. St Peter’s Church proved to be an outstanding venue for the wine festival and I hope to return again soon.