Jenny Mackenzie joins the hordes at Bibendum's annual tasting, February 6
Bibendum's annual tasting always has a party atmosphere, more like a fashion or art event than a conventional trade tasting. The vast, multi-room, ex-industrial building, The Brewery in Chiswell Street, London, suited the various themes, activities and zoning of individuaul wine countries. Bibendum's in-house design team fits out the spaces with the same on-trend flair as the décor of bars and clubs.
Willie Lebus, "gastronaut extraordinaire" whose remit is Bibendum's "sales to the capital's top dining rooms", says the on-trade is "light years ahead [of the conventional wine world] " and the way forward is to "involve people". Bibendum's enlightened approach won Agent of the Year 2012 and the Corporate Social Responsibility Award at the International Wine Challenge Merchant Awards 2012. Not to mention Best Overall Drinks Supplier award at the Harpers Awards 2012.
The Digital Tasting Book was one of this year's innovations. Bibendum is now well known for its Taste Test, grouping wines by styles: Sweet, Fresh, Smooth and Intense, developed after extensive research into people's food preferences. Launched in 2012, one of the main aims is to attract non wine drinkers into the category, by simplifying wine and giving them more confidence.
Highlights at the tasting included sparkling wine, Champagne and Sherry. Top picks included:
Hush Heath Estate, Balfour Brut Rosé, 2009. Selling for £8.95 / 125ml glass at the Fox and Anchor, EC1. Hush Heath's modern, steely style underlines the high quality UK fizz has now reached. Hush Heath makes excellent premium ciders too, from its apple orchards in Kent.
Bruno Paillard Champagne. This producer has a precise, defined and very stylish range of Champagnes including a Blanc de Blancs, NV rosé and Assemblage 2002, one of the best recent vintages. Crowd pleasers without being bland, they tick all the Champagne boxes.
Palmer & Co Champagne is a new to Bibendum producer with a very elegant, affordable range.
Michael Saunders, Bibendum's Managing Director and winner of the Harpers Awards 2012, Special Achievement Award confirmed that "20% of Bibendum's on-trade sales are now for Champagne".
Bibendum has got firmly behind the fortified wines of Jerez and Sanlucar this year. A packed seminar led by Willie Lebus with Emily O'Hare of the River Café and Jeremy Lee of Quo Vadis showed three styles: Manzanilla, Amontillado and PX. Lebus said he "wanted to make Sherry mainstream" because it is so compatible with the "food revolution" today.
O'Hare said that she felt Sherry is not just for Spanish restaurants and is extremely versatile. Lebus stated that Asian cuisine has excellent potential for Sherry, especially sushi and sashimi. One member of the audience offered an innovative food match as foie gras with PX. Lebus confirmed chocolate is also a superb pairing as well as the more usual ice cream.
* Bibendum's annual trade tasting - A Matter of Taste was held Wednesday February 6, 2013 at The Brewery, 52 Chiswell Street, London EC1Y 4SD
* Jenny Mackenzie has also produced a video from the Bibendum tasting which is available at the Harpers YouTube channel here
* You can read more from Jenny Mackenzie at www.earlybirdwinenews.com