Two new Barolos from Vietti are just some of the highlights of Bibendum’s re-vamped premium portfolio that includes the likes of Rioja pioneers Remirez de Ganuza, Rhône’s La Nerthe and an ‘all new’ Asian portfolio that features one of China’s priciest wines, Ao Yun. Geoffrey Dean discovers how premium on-trade is a key part of Bibendum’s expansion plans and picks out 10 wines that would fit well into any fine wine list.
“We can’t be certain it was a red port. It might have been white, for when a port is this old, the colour of red and white ports can be the same,” says Vallado’s export manager about his 1888 port.
When you put on a premium wines-only tasting, as Bibendum did on a glorious late spring day at Lincoln’s Inn, a massive turnout is near inevitable. More than 80 wines from all over the world were uncorked at ‘The Cellar Tasting: A World of Fine Wine’ but, although few venues are more elegant than the Old Hall, it was packed. Tasting all the wines was consequently not possible, unless you had all day, but the Primrose Hill-based importer laid on a treat even if you only got round half of them.
More on some of the wines tasted later, including a magnificently venerable 1888 Port, but first a word or two from Andy Craig, Bibendum’s fine wine buyer for Europe and Asia.
“We’re doing a lot with our Asian customers, many of which were pre-existing, but a lot of new Asian restaurants are coming into the market as well, mainly in London,” he told The Buyer.
There was no Bordeaux available at the tasting from Bibendum’s Bordeaux Collection as Bibendum wanted to showcase other classic wines, but Craig revealed the company is working closely with some pre-eminent Medoc classed growths.
“We’re trying to get personal wines from the likes of Château Lafite that they haven’t released for the rest of the UK,” he said. “It’ll be very small quantities. We’ve been trying to raid the cellars of some of these owners with the promise we can get their wines into a really high-end account. And Bibendum is moving more in that direction – towards the premium end of the market.”
Bibendum’s Asian portfolio is “all quite new” in Craig’s words. It includes one of China’s priciest wines, Ao Yun’s flagship red blend from 2019 (67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cab Franc, 10% Syrah, 6% Petit Verdot; £230). Made by French winemaker, Maxence Dulou, it has been marked highly by critics. With a low yield of 16hl/ha, it was aged in 35% new oak, 35% older oak and 30% Chinese stoneware jars. Herbal and cigar box aromas give way to intensely concentrated black truffle and chocolate notes. Soft, sinewy tannins, fresh acidity and a long finish help to make this an impressive wine. Also included from China are the Ningxia wine region producer, Chateau Changyu- Moser XV’s Purple Air Comes from the East Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (£142). “Both are selling really well,” Craig revealed.
Indeed, business at all levels has been good, he declared. “Year on year since Covid, we’ve grown our sales. Supermarkets demand has been growing consistently, and we’re having another record year with them. Some smaller higher-end pubs seem to be doing well, and maybe it was the ones that were struggling beforehand that closed. The premium pub chains we’re dealing with seem to be doing well – they’re the ones that have good wine lists.”
Flying in for the tasting was Joao Roquette Alvares Ribeiro the export manager of Quinta do Vallado, whose 19th century Port it was a privilege to taste. It was named ABF after his sixth great grandfather, Antonio Bernardo Ferreira.
“He lived around the time this Port was made in 1888,” Ribeiro said. “It had been in a 600-litre barrel until 2016 when we bottled it to celebrate our 200th anniversary. We produced 950 bottles and are now down to between 60 and 70. Bibendum has four or five in stock, and we have another 10-15 allocated to them. Hedonism has got some, as well as some restaurants who sell by the glass. Although you probably won’t convince people to pay the retail price [£2,576], it appeals to those who only drink at this price level. The places who sell Johnnie Walker Green label by the glass for £200 will take it. It has a good amount of volatile acidity, which normally you wouldn’t look for in a wine, but here it works perfectly as the residual sugar and alcohol are both at a very high level.” For the record, they came in at just over 200g/l and 22% ABV respectively.
Also present was Royal Tokaji CEO Charlie Mount, who showcased their Nyulaszo 1st growth Aszu 6 puttonyos 2017 as well as their dry Furmint from the Mézes Mály Great 1st growth 2018. The latter, retailing at £19, was arguably the best-value wine on display. “The dry Furmint and late harvest we are able to produce every year,” Mount said, “but our Aszu and Essencia require such precise conditions in the vineyards that only a few vintages are ever released.”
One young winery that stood out was Viña Vik in Chile, which has all the makings of reaching iconic status after multi-million dollar backing from the uber-wealthy Norwegian family of the same name “Maybe Chile was lacking figurehead producers in the past compared to Argentina, but Vik, which is a relatively new one for our portfolio, is doing really well,” Craig declared. “The Chilean wines really stand up, but you do get some high alcohols although they’ve changed the winemaking styles in the last three or four years to bring freshness back. For the on-trade, that’s so important. Wine is a refreshment at the end of the day.”
10 wines that caught the eye at the Bibendum tasting
Gérard Bertrand, Clos d’Ora 2018 (RRP £183): a seductive blend of Syrah (50%), Grenache, old-vine Carignan and Mourvèdre from eight biodynamically-farmed parcels in Languedoc. Glorious fruit, plenty of structure, high-quality tannins and fresh acidity balance high alcohol of 15.5% abv.
Vietti, Barolo ‘Ravera’ Piemonte 2018 (£181): a refined and elegant Barolo with notable finesse from what was a cool vintage. A princely Nebbiolo with delightfully silky, soft tannins. The sister Vietti Lazzarito vineyard produced a wine of comparably dazzling quality.
Remirez de Ganuza, Blanco Reserva Rioja DOC 2014 (£67): a blend of Viura and Malvasia from vines planted at 600m that is barrel-fermented in French oak, where it is aged for a further 8 months. Complexity and richness from batonnage. Honey and lemon notes with purity and freshness.
Quinta do Vallado, ABF Vintage Port 1888 (£2,576): unusually for a Port, this was aged inland in the Douro not Vila Nova de Gaia on the coast. “We can’t be certain it was a red port,” the winery’s export manager said. “It might have been white, for when a port is this old, the colour of red and white ports can be the same.” No matter the grapes used, this venerable relic has aged beautifully to become a great old fortified (22% abv).
Markus Huber, Gruner Veltliner ‘Berg’ Erste Lage, Traisental DAC Reserve 2021 (£32): from a biodynamically-farmed, steep, east-facing vineyard with a gradient of over 25%. Fermented and aged in acacia barrels with batonnage for 8 months. Fresh acidity counter-balanced by 4.8g/l residual sugar. Ripe pear notes with white pepper on the nose.
Royal Tokaji, Mezes Maly Great 1st growth Dry Furmint 2018 (£19): fermented and matured for six months in 300-litre old Hungarian oak casks, this is an elegant dry white with minerality and vibrant acidity. White peach and apricot notes with hints of spice and a long finish.
Catena Zapata, ‘White Bones’ Chardonnay 2020 (£32): one of not just Argentina’s but also the New World’s best Chardonnays. From very low-yielding rows in the Adrianna Vineyard at 1450m feet in the Gualtallary sub-district of the Tupungato region. The name comes from soil which contains calcareous deposits and fossilised animal bones. Earthy minerality is a feature of this concentrated wine with racy acidity (pH3.2). Battonage and partial malolactic fermentation softens TA of 8.1g/l, with spice from 14 months in second, third and fourth-fill French demi-muids.
Viña Vik, Millahue, Colchagua 2015 (£109): regal blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (67%), Cabernet Franc, Carménère and Merlot. The vines, planted in 2006-7 in the Cachapoal Valley to a density of 8,100 per hectare (60% higher than Chile’s average), get a cooling afternoon sea breeze blowing in from 40 miles away. This is crucial for the freshness of the Cabernet Sauvignon. Toned structure from 100% new French oak for 23 months. Cristian Vallejo, with Vik since the very start, is a passionate winemaker who crafts some eye-catching wines of poise, structure and balance.
Neudorf, Moutere Chardonnay, Nelson, New Zealand 2019 (£56). Another top New World Chardonnay – from the northern tip of the South Island. Complex and long and with terrific concentration and refreshing acidity. Lemon curd and yellow peach notes with a hint of spice from 20% new French oak.
Mount Langi Ghiran, Langi Shiraz 2017, Grampians, Victoria (£73): one of Australia’s greatest examples of Shiraz. From vines planted in 1969 at 1,000 metres that yield only 1.5 tons per acre, this is magnificently spicy, peppery and complex with tremendous length. Effortlessly absorbing 60% new oak, it has the structure to last well into the next decade.
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