As the September tastings calendar goes into overdrive and drinks buyers go into meltdown – trying to cover all bases – so the Bibendum autumn portfolio tasting was a breath of fresh air. Just by its title alone ‘Not another bl**dy tasting!’ was always going to be a drinks event with a knowing wink and so it proved. Daring, different, unusual, our man at the scene David Kermode loved its change of pace and style, although he would have preferred a few more spittoons, that were clearly scarce on purpose. He did, however, manage to find plenty of exciting wines, spirits, stickies and fortifieds that you should be taking a note of.
‘By the glass’ is a big priority for Bibendum with the ‘A taste of paradise’ stand being, for me, the most impressive element of this blo**dy tasting, writes Kermode.
Not another bl**dy tasting… It’s September, the diary is insane, so it’s a good idea to take that head on, with a title that resonates. That said, the name also suggests something different, something unusual, something daring… So did it deliver?
The last full-scale Bibendum tasting I attended was at Phonica Records in March 2018. It went really well, but just days later all hell broke loose. In the collapse of Conviviality, Bibendum, and sibling Matthew Clark, came close to extinction. Magners-owner, C&C Group, rode to the rescue, bringing Michael Saunders back as boss at Bibendum. With him, came its mojo.
Saunders was on hand as the ‘Not another bl**dy tasting’ tasting got underway, looking seriously satisfied, whilst also probably feeling at least ten years too old to be there (I certainly did). The crowd was young, this was emphatically a night out – starting at 5pm, running until 10 – aimed at the post-work crowd.
“Why should all tastings be formal and cerebral?” he asked me. “This is a relaxed tasting where we want to see people really enjoying themselves. I’ve just seen a long-standing customer of ours who said to me ‘Michael, this is brilliant, this is fucking Bibendum again!’”
The venue – a nightclub by day – was a good choice: ever so slightly sleazy, a little bit sultry, with speakeasy lighting and funky tunes. The various themed bars also resembled… err… bars, complete with small crowds of revellers vying for attention. Spittoons were few and far between and spitting, as I have to, felt decidedly optional.
The themed tasting booklet – a series of cards attached to a keyring – set the tone, starting with ‘Did someone say aperitivo?’, then ‘A taste of paradise’ for the by-the-glass selection, ‘pop up bars’ for beer and rum, followed by ‘The vineyard’ for wines and a ‘Pudding bar’ to finish.
England was well represented in the aperitivo selection. Alongside the excellent Ridgeview Bloomsbury Brut NV RRP £25.83, there was also another of England’s new ‘Crown Jewels’ – Coates & Seely Britagne Brut Reserve RRP £27.47. Non-vintage, a base of 2014 with some ’11 and ’13, lees-aged for 3 years, this was recently listed by the glass at Alain Ducasse’s flagship restaurant in Paris.
There was also a noisy new arrival with a very different style – Fitz RRP £17.49, a non-vintage Charmat-method pink sparkling wine from Sussex, featuring a smorgasbord of Chardonnay, Seyval Blanc, Reichensteiner, Madeleine Angevine, Pinot Noir,and Rondo. Fresh, vibrant red fruit smacks you in the nose, with a palate that resembles a Raspberry Ripple. The mere 6 grammes of residual sugar is a surprise, as it feels more like 12.
‘By the glass’ is a big priority for Bibendum (as John Graves pointed out here) with ‘A taste of paradise’ being, for me, the most impressive element of this blo**dy tasting, including a high proportion of organic and biodynamic wines.
Highlights here included the wonderful Huia Chardonnay 2016 RRP £15.81 from Marlborough, a biodynamically-farmed feast of ripe stone fruits and toasty dialled-down oak. Also from New Zealand, Craggy Range Martinborough Pinot Noir 2016 RRP £18.98 makes a brilliant, bright, juicy-fruited option for a single serve. Bravely, there was an orange option too, with Domaine de la Pinte Sav’Or Orange Wine RRP £22.65, a Savagnin from Jura, offering orange zest, Christmas spice, ripe peaches and a hint of Kola Cubes. A tannic treat, this demands salty bar snacks.
Best of all, two exciting wines from Greece. Tsantali Agioritiko Abaton Mount Athos White 2018 RRP £13.86, an equal blend of Assyrtiko and Athiri, offers vibrant lemon and lime blossom, with a slightly herbal, botanical undertow. Its red opposite number Tsantali Agioritiko Abaton Mount Athos Red 2016 RRP £12.32, a blend of Xinomavro, Grenache and Limnio, offers concentrated, tangy, red berry fruit, with a twist of spice and good grip.
Cabernet Franc makes a fantastic ‘by the glass’ option, with Saumur Champigny Rouge Domaine Bruno Dubois 2017 RRP £16.80 offering a seductive, biodynamic blast of tight, bright red cherries and juicy tannins.
The producer stands included representatives from Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aine, Quinta do Vollado, Stellenrust, Journey’s End, Tomas Cusine, Bodegas Alvear, Masseria Li Velli, Castellere di Castellina and Tornatore. The stands were bunched together – and very popular – so it required a little patience, but this was rewarded with some excellent wines.
I adore the Etna wines, so Tornatore’s offerings were a real highlight. Tornatore Etna Rosso 2017 RRP £13.93, a mix of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappucio, offers an eruption of bright, focused redcurrant and morello cherry, with smooth tannins and a lingering finish. At the higher end, Tornatore Trimarchisa Etna Rosso 2014 RRP £27.19, from 60-year-old vines, offers rich, intense, blackberry garrigue flavours with a wonderful mineral streak and elegant, structured tannins.
Sweet wines are out of fashion, so Bibendum deserves credit for putting on the ‘Pudding bar’, with a six wine selection, complemented by some aged whiskies. Fondo Antico Baccadoro Passito (50cl) RRP £10.53, a blend of Sicily’s Grillo and Zibibbo, offers incredible value for the quality of the fruit, with intense, sweet, nutty, dried fig and fresh orange zest. Stratus Riesling Icewine 2015 (37.5cl) RRP £21.84, offers surprisingly delicate floral notes, followed by luscious, textured, honeyed fruit, all underpinned by firm acidity.
So was this ‘Another bl**dy tasting’? No, it wasn’t. It delivered something that dared to be different, something fun, something the wine world could do more of, frankly.