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Bibendum expands Burgundy portfolio at Spring Cellar Tasting

Bibendum expands Burgundy portfolio at Spring Cellar Tasting

Vintage variation and discovering how wines age are two of the many ‘take-outs’ of a Bibendum Cellar Tasting event. The latest in its series of Fine Wine list tastings gave buyers the opportunity to sample the seven Burgundy estates that are part of Bibendum’s expanded Burgundy collection, some outstanding bubbles from Britain and Champagne, plus many more discoveries from New and Old World winemakers. Geoffrey Dean reports

Geoffrey Dean
14th May 2024by Geoffrey Dean
posted in Tasting: Wine ,

The expansion of Bibendum’s Burgundy range was a notable feature of the Primrose Hill wholesaler and importer’s spring Cellar Tasting in central London. Bibendum’s head of fine wine, Valeria Rodriguez, declared that it is a region they are focussing on, with the aim to build a Burgundy Collection to match their Bordeaux counterpart. None of the latter was on show - as that is scheduled for October- but the seven Burgundy producers that were exhibiting unfurled vintages between 2016 and 2022.

Caroline Lestime - new to Bibendum's fine wine list

“Freshening up the Burgundy range” has been the mantra according to Louise Wood, one of Bibendum's agency marketing team. That has certainly been effected by three new ‘signings’: Maison Champy, reputedly the oldest negociant house in Burgundy (having been founded in 1720 in Beaune); Edouard Delaunay, another highly regarded negociant established in 1893; and Caroline Lestime who has been with Bibendum for some time, although is new to the fine wine list.

“Caroline is an absolute legend in Burgundy despite the male-oriented world there,” Rodriguez said.

Laurent Delaunay

Laurent Delaunay, great grandson of the House’s founder and now its owner, expressed his delight at the switch to Bibendum.

“We were with Matthew Clark before, but for our sophisticated style of wines, Bibendum seems to be more accurate. We don't think so much about market share but more the introduction to the top restaurants and department stores. That’s really what we are looking for in terms of exposure.”

Edouard Delaunay makes around 300,000 bottles per annum, about a third of which are Grand or Premier Cru. They don't own vineyards but buy in fruit that they pick themselves at their time of choosing. They produce small quantities (‘one to five barrels’) of Echézeaux, Corton, Corton-Charlemagne, Charmes Chambertin, Clos de Vougeot and Chambertin. Premier Cru labels from Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Poulettes 2020 (trade price: £54.25) and from Pommard Les Frémiers 2016 (£54.45) showed beautifully, as did their Village Vieilles Vignes 2019 (£51.05).

“We export about 15% of our production to the UK, an important market for us,” Delaunay continued. “Despite Brexit, Covid and inflation, UK is going very steady, although everyone was saying it was going to drop a lot but that is not the case at all. The British still love and consume Burgundy wines.”

After a succession of low-yielding years, notably 2021, Burgundy lovers will be heartened by a much better yield in the superb 2022 vintage and a bumper crop in 2023, the biggest vintage ever in the region according to Domaine Roux. Its yields came in at between 50-55 hl/ha, compared to a norm of 45.

“There is a conversation about reducing Burgundy prices at the top end, which would represent a nice breather for the on-trade,” Rodriguez said. “We would love to offer to sommeliers the drinking vintages that are ready such as 2020 and 2018. It is a fantastic time to be looking in the market with the dip in China’s demand.”

Best of British and Champagne

Champagne and English sparkling wines featured strongly at the tasting, with Weyborne Estate a promising new acquisition for Bibendum. Its excellent Family Reserve 2018 (61% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, 4% Pinot Meunier, trade price: £43.30) is a product of 25 acres of south-facing vines planted 20 years ago at the highest point of the South Downs in West Sussex.

“Weyborne is quite a reductive style with very low dosage, mineral notes and an emphasis on mouthfeel,” said Andy Craig, Bibendum’s buyer for Champagne and England. “We have a very good UK portfolio so we wanted to bring in something different. They have a great organisation around them - a vineyard manager from the Rhône and a commercial manager in Will Sharpley, who's ex Moet Hennessy and very well-known in the industry. So they're building something exciting.”

Henry Boyes, MDCV UK sales director with the KYNG '18.jpg

One of England’s more expensive sparkling wines was also on show: the Silverhand Estate KYNG 2018 (100% Pinot Noir, 5 years on lees, 9g/l dosage, trade price: £93.07; RRP £249). Part of the MDCV UK group, Silverhand is situated near Rochester in what will soon be the biggest certified organic winery in England (boasting 1.5 million vines).

“The wines are brilliant,” Craig enthused. “They have an Irish-French winemaker Theo Cullen, who’s able to call on the group’s chief winemaker in Provence, Alexis Cornu, who flies in and consults.”

Two Champagnes also caught the eye: Palmer & Co from Reims, and Lacourte-Godbillon from Ecueil. Bibendum receives tiny allocations of older vintages from the former that Craig says no one else offers. Those on show included the Palmer & Co Collection 1996 (100% Pinot Noir, £124.65).

“We are trying to bring in small parcels of wines you won’t find elsewhere,” Craig added. “Lacourte-Godbillon use local oak - I can’t think of any other Champagne producers who do. People tend to use second or third fill Burgundian or Loire oak.” Lacourte-Godbillon, which was certified organic in 2020, are in the second year of converting to biodynamic farming.

Spain and the Americas

Laura Catena masterclass

A compelling new acquisition in Spain for Bibendum is Remírez de Ganuza. The revered Rioja Alavesa producer was one of the first to employ French oak ahead of American, and likes to hold back its wines for release only when considered ready. Accordingly, their Reserva 2014 (£41.27) and Gran Reserva 2014 (£65.32) were on show (both 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano), as was their white Gran Reserva 2014 (£51.05).

Fruit comes from as many as 240 different plots between 500 to 650 metres. Jesus Mendoza, son-in-law of the winery’s late founder Fernando Remírez de Ganuza, who died of cancer in March aged 73, continues to craft superb wines thirty years after becoming winemaker. Sales have boomed since Covid with owner José Ramón Urtasun reporting 32% growth in 2023. In 2022 the winery sold 50,000 bottles for over €50, a feat only previously managed in Spain by Vega Sicilia.

As far as Bibendum’s Americas portfolio is concerned, it is hard to argue with Rodriguez’s contention that it is ‘the strongest’ of any importer. The Ste. Michelle Estates range from Washington State has been added to a USA stable that also features celebrated Californian producers, Robert Mondavi and Patz & Hall. Catena heads a formidable South American list, with its Adrianna Vineyard White Stones 2021 (£49.59) the best Chardonnay I’ve tasted from Argentina.

Caroline Park, marketing manager for Santa Rita with their Pewen & Triple C labels

Santa Rita, Valdavieso and VIK represent a top-notch Chilean triumvirate. The former’s Pewen, Apalta 2021 (£37.45), a 100% Carménère, showed particularly well as did its Triple C, Maipo 2015 (£30.78), a blend of 65% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Carménère. VIK’s Millahue 2015 (100% Cab Sauvignon, £80.61) was one of the best New World reds tasted, while another southern hemisphere wine of the same variety, Larry Cherubino’s Margaret River 2019 (£27.88) represented good value. The Western Australia producer is a new addition for Bibendum, which will sell its labels to the on-trade (with Hatch Mansfield selling them to the off-trade).

That’s not all…

The breadth, age and quality of wines from every mainstream wine-producing country in the world in Bibendum’s Cellar Tasting is a credit to the company. Any number deserve commendation but mentions in despatches should go to Graham Beck’s Cuvee Clive 2017 (£47.55) from Robertson, South Africa, and Giulio Ferrari’s Riserva del Fondatore 2009 (£83.66) from Trentino-Alto Adige (both top-class sparkling wines); Caroline Lestime’s Chassagne-Montrachet Clos Saint Jean 2017 (£43.15); Giovanni Rosso’s Barolo Serra 2014 (POA); Robert Weil’s Kiedrich Turmberg Riesling Trocken 2020 (£33.14) from Rheingau; Neudorf Vineyards’ Moutere Home Block Organic Chardonnay 2019 (£40.80) from Nelson, New Zealand; and Quinta de la Rosa’s 20-year old Tawny Port (£28.93).

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