Bibendum’s first tasting in 18 months was called ‘This one’s on us’ and featured an embarrassment of riches, wines and spirits from both well-known estates and new acquisitions. David Kermode, aka Mr Vinosaurus was our man at the tasting, and highlights a fascinating Top 10 which includes controversial new English sparkler Harlot, a rare 100% Merseguera from Valencia producer Bodega Mustiguillo, a non-alcoholic range from Wild Life Botanicals and a terrific £11 Grüner from new-to-the-portfolio Weingut Huber.
“I would be thrilled to find this on a ‘by the glass’ list, though stopping at the one glass might be a challenge…” writes Kermode.
“Like a dream” was how Bibendum’s senior buyer Jamie Avenell captured the feeling of being back before his customers and friends, after the nightmare of the pandemic, as Bibendum bounced back with its first tasting in 18 months, ‘this one’s on us’.
There was something in the air – if I dare utter such words in the age of Covid – with the venue, St Mary’s in Marylebone, packed and pulsating to the kind of energetic, party feel that Bibendum always seems to bring to such occasions. Perhaps there was an added frisson from the fact that this felt long overdue.
Portfolio tastings are tricky to pull off but this was artfully done, with high-end Champagne rubbing shoulders with some impressive English interlopers, wines for fine dining adjacent to those designed for good-time glugging, a surprising array of sweet wines, an enticing selection of spirits, proper innovation without alcohol and a thoughtful ‘by the glass’ offering that went beyond what can sometimes seem like an afterthought elsewhere.
“I prefer people in the flesh to seeing them on a screen,” Avenall says, “so it’s just great to have a sense of normality, to see people again, to taste and talk about wine. We have brought in quite a few new products over the last 18 months so it’s fantastic to finally have the opportunity to show them off.”
Though lockdown is hopefully consigned to the history books, current trading conditions continue to be a potential source of sleep deprivation, courtesy of a combination of Brexit, the shipping crisis and worsening labour shortages.
“It’s just bonkers. Sales are buoyant, but the logistics are challenging, so if we had the capacity to deliver, we would definitely be selling more. We’re seeing incredible demand, but everyone is struggling for staff,” he told me.
Top 10 wines from the tasting
‘Tasting trails’ were suggested at the tasting, encompassing ‘all that sparkles’, ‘the classics and the curious’, ‘new and rising stars’ and, of course, those ‘by the glass’ choices, so, from a long list, this was my Mr Vinosaurus top 10 (prices are trade).
Harlot, English Sparkling, MDCV, 2020, Kent (£15)
A newcomer, made using the Charmat method, a blend of Bacchus, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier. Vibrant and zingy, the Bacchus leads the charge, with its distinctive, sometimes divisive, nettle and green apple character. It wouldn’t be for everyone, but it is well made, fresh, fruity and impossible to ignore, thanks in part to its confident branding. I confess, I’m a bit of a snob, so I wasn’t really expecting to like it, but I did. “I thought long and hard about bringing in a Charmat (English sparkler), but the style and price point are different, so this is for a different customer and it’s about growing the category overall,” Avenall told me.
Bruno Paillard, Premiere Cuvée NV (£39)
Exclusively using the first pressing of the grapes, a blend of 25 vintages going back as far as 1985, with reserve wines making up around a third of the blend, this is class in a glass. There’s 45% Pinot Noir and its presence is felt, with raspberry and redcurrant prominent in the nose. On the palate, the mousse is elegant, there’s poise and precision, flaky pastry, all rounded off with a lingering mineral finish. Delicious.
Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore 2008 (£62)
An exceptional classic method sparkling wine from the Trentino-based sponsor of Formula One. Racy, with citrus, orchard fruit, apricot, wild honey, puff pastry and mountain herbs, it goes several laps on one glass.
Wild Life Botanicals, Sparkling Nude NV (£9)
An innovative sparkler from Cornwall, made with juice from Spanish Airen grapes, de-alcoholised using a centrifugal system then carbonated, it is packed with vitamins and antioxidants. A delight for designated drivers and those who just fancy a night off.
Huber, Terrassen, Grüner Veltliner 2020 (£11)
An entry level wine from Markus Huber of Traisental that punches above its price point. Bright and refreshing, with Grüner’s signature smattering of white pepper, it’s a great new addition to the portfolio from an accomplished producer.
Bodega Mustiguillo, Finca Calvestra 2019 (£17)
From Valencia winemaker Toni Sarrion who is on a mission to bring back Merseguera, an indigenous Mediterranean red variety that came close to extinction. Certified organic, it’s aromatic, bountiful and exciting, with rose petal, plum and cherry fruit and a twist of peppery spice.
Charles Smith, Kung Fu Girl Riesling, Washington, 2020 (£13)
From the ‘by the glass’ selection, this Washington State off-dry Riesling is good value, looks smart and always impresses. Lime-driven, zingy and fresh, it’s a great choice for Asian-inspired cuisine and immediately made me think of dumplings (as I often do…)
Chateau Changyu Moser XV Helen Mountain Blanc de Noir White Cabernet Sauvignon, Ningxia, 2018 (£14)
A really striking choice for ‘by the glass’, from the free-run white juice of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown on the fringes of the Gobi desert, it offers an intriguing nose of red apple and pink grapefruit and lychees, with an attractive textured mouthfeel. It’s unusual, and rather special.
Alois Lageder Pinot Noir 2019 (£17)
From a sustainable, biodynamic pioneer in Alto-Adige, a crunchy, raspberry-fruited masterpiece, with a peppery undertow, this outperforms its price point and would suit a funky, urban bar list.
Craggy Range Te Muna Pinot Noir 2017 (£26)
A beguiling nose of ripe cherry, berry fruit, with floral hints and a delicious herbal streak. There’s a lovely savoury complexity, it’s juicy-fruited and perfectly balanced. I would be thrilled to find this on a ‘by the glass’ list, though stopping at the one glass might be a challenge…
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