The Buyer
All because the sommelier loves… Wine Discovery at Bibendum

All because the sommelier loves… Wine Discovery at Bibendum

Robert Mondavi is one of the new marquee signings by Bibendum, amongst a whole raft of producers from the Lebanon, Austria, Italy, Patagonia and France. What wines were they showing at Bibendum’s For The Love Of…. tasting? and which are the ones that deliver best value for the on-trade? Peter Dean braved the packs of sommeliers, was wowed by a number of wines on show and found that leaving the venue was a darned sight harder than arriving…

Peter Dean
6th February 2020by Peter Dean
posted in Tasting: Wine ,

Two of the best value-for-money wines on the Discovery tables were the Beqaa Valley Red from Domaine Wardy and the Casamatta Toscano Bianco from Bibi Graetz which were £14 and £10 each respectively.

There were times at Bibendum’s For The Love Of…. tasting that you could have been forgiven for thinking you were in a training session with one of the Six Nations teams. It was rammed – in a good way – but very busy.

The venue, a restored crypt in Clerkenwell, was a new one for a tasting but worked well and was very ‘on brand’ for a company that has truly got its Mojo back – if you have made it along to any of their excellent functions of late, you’ll know what I mean.

And it was neat to start the tasting after lunch service had finished and go into the early evening so somms can make it OK and those not wishing to use spittoons in the last hour or so don’t feel they need to; and talking of which where were those loosehead props when you needed them most? … to get those two Canadian women away the Fine Wine table?! For The Love Of… Christ!

St John’s Crypt, Clerkenwell. Really interesting venue…. before the pack arrived!

Seriously, the star attraction for me was the For The Love Of… Discovery section, one of eight clearly marked areas that were showing off the host of new producers that Bibendum has added to its on-trade portfolio.

On-trend with the on-trade

Austrian wine is currently on the crest of wave, the country’s climate, soils and winemaking styles giving rise to a whole host of exciting wines. Weingut Nittnaus (Hans and Anna not Gebrüder Nittnaus) from Gols, that is surrounded by lakes and enjoys long days of sun, is biodynamic, using local grapes with all wines vegan-friendly. Weingut Nittnaus Kalk und Schiefer Weiss 2018 (£12.28) was an interesting blend of Pinot Blanc, Welschriesling and Chardonnay vinified in a mix of steel, wood and clay amphora, it had a lovely grassy note, was textural and complex.

Kalk und Schiefer Blaufrankisch 2017 (£14.37) was fruit-forward in an elegant, pure way, playful acidity and gastronomic, Blaufrankisch Altenberg 2017 (£22.05) was a step up, with fruit sourced from a single, cooler limestone site, then allowed to ripen late and vinified in old 500l foudres. Gorgeously complex, fresh and balanced. If you’re looking to add an Austrian red to the list this is a good place to start.

Khalil Wardy (trying not to look embarrassed) in front of his exceptional wines

The Beqaa Valley in Lebanon was the next port of call with Domaine Wardy, whose owner Khalil Wardy explained that in 1997 when they set up shop there were nine winemakers in the valley and now there are 90. His red Beqaa Valley Red 2017 (£14.03) was superb value and reminded me, with its use of Cinsault, of Château Musar and Domaine des Tourelles. In addition he adds 15% of both Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon to the blend, giving a light, structured, spicy red that would work so well with spicy and vegetarian dishes.

The indigenous grape used in Domaine Wardy Obeidi 2016 (£21.68) was a new one on me, a grape that was used to make raisins, this had rich and slightly waxy fruit, wrapped round a dry, textural core. He also showed a cheaper blend Beqaa Valley White 2017 (£13.89) of Obeidi, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc that was very different and complex but lacked the intensity of the single Obeidi.

There was also a sense of exploration involved in Bodega Otronia, that is one of the most southerly wineries in Argentina if not the world. This is winemaking on a knife-edge with little rainfall and colossal winds. The result is wines of immense purity and finesse, the Otronia 45 Rugientes Pinot Noir 2017 (£21.27) – the 45 referring to the 45thparallel – was pretty in an almost Gamay way, its concrete-vinified ‘cousin’ Otronia Pinot Noir 2017 (£43.97) had enormous complexity with notes of truffle and oregano joining raspberry and cherry flavours – crisp as you like. Otronia Chardonnay 2017 (£43.97) was also pretty mind-bendingly good with precision, focus and great detail.

From Italy, Bibendum has managed the coup of importing Bibi Graetz which showed two from its Casamatta range – Bianco and Rosso and the mighty Testamatta Toscana Rosso 2015 (£69) which is 100% old vine Sangiovese, open-top fermentation, masses of manual punch downs and 24 months in barriques. Bloody good. For me, though, ‘the buy’ would be the Casamatta Toscano Bianco, 2018 (£9.92) which is 60% Vermentino 30% Trebbiano and 10% Moscato from 15 year old vines, this had a lifted, blossom nose, medium bodied and an appetising finish.

Caruso & Minini’s range of biodynamic wines from Sicily were also there – a Grillo, Catarratto and Nero d’Avola (all 2018, £10.94), I enjoyed the last two the most with the Naturalmente Bio Catarratto Sicilia, expressing its origins – mineral, sunny, fresh herbs, lemon peel, dry stone texture. Good price too.

Provence was taken care of with the addition of Ultimate Provence & St Roux Friponne, the latter showing two quaffable and interesting rosés but the star of the table was the Branjelina-esque Ultimate Provence 2018 (£17.11) which looked very fetching in its large format and is a mix of Grenache Noir, Cinsault, Syrah and Rolle grown on schist – although does anyone ask what grapes are in it when they’re stocking up their yacht up with this stuff? It’s what we call in the trade “serious rosé” ie it’s very dry, mineral and crisp.

Serious rosé looking seriously bling

Of course one of Bibendum’s marquee ‘signings’ has been Robert Mondavi, who had three of his premium on-trade wines on show: the Winery Reserve Carneros Chardonnay 2016 (£38.50), Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (£44.80) and my favourite the Winery Reserve To Kalon Fumé Blanc 2015 (£45.05) whose 5% Semillon was apparent in the nose as was, obviously, the oak ageing. Very much like the premium Kiwi oaked Savvy Bs and very well made, whether you like the style or not – delicious flavours of tangerine oil and lemon blossom and, all in all, a nicely polished product.

There was more, of course, on this set of tables as well as elsewhere in the room. Particularly pleased to see the Plaimont Producteurs‘ Moonseng Merlot Manseng Noir 2018 (£8.37), which used to come in via Les Caves, Manseng Noir being the grape that will ultimately replace Tannat in South West France if Trump and Boris continue burying their heads in the sand. Click here if you want the full story (which is really interesting) as this is South West France, bags of character and flavour, and the wine comes in at 12.5% abv.

Then there were the Fine Wine tables (Walter Hansel South Slope Pinot Noir 2016 Wow!) that were conveniently placed next to the cloakroom so that, with every good intention to leave, there were just many more reasons to stay.