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 (more on that in a future column).

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 ($49.69)

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