Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Bibendum versus Fuller's - The Rematch

If it's late May, sure as the sun's not shining, it must be time for the Annual Cricket Match against Fuller's. All those not interested in cricket, look away now...

Yesterday evening saw the 2006 Bibendum v Fullers cricket game. There was a slightly different feel to this year's fixture as Bibendum suddenly found ourselves as favourites. After last year's run fest the Bibendum XI were feeling pretty punchy, and just in case we weren’t cocksure enough we made Sam Thackeray captain. And just in case he wasn’t cocksure enough, he won the toss. We were batting.

Not a problem I thought, considering the sun was out and batting is supposedly what we’re best at. We opened with Julian Adcock and David Cox; the latter got a magnificent 40 last year, this year he was out for 2. No-one was more disappointed than David. Still, Rupes was in next and he’s pretty good… unfortunately you have to be in it to win it and running yourself out after a pretty encouraging boundary is not the way forward. Then Sam came in and added a few runs with some nice boundaries and dogged assistance from Jules. Ants Rixon also showed signs of a decent innings before getting caught. Next in were Ed Clarke and myself and to be honest, the less said about our respective innings the better, and why bother when you can talk about the arrival of Tony Cloke. We were on about 90 odd at the time and what followed was a series of ‘power boundaries’ from the Cloke, backed up by some efficient running from James Martin and the ever athletic Marcus Rann. Tony tells me the 2 pints he had before he ran out were to sooth his aching back, personally I think he was building some ‘lager aggression’. We finished on 138, not bad.

After a quick pint and some token catching practice Rupert and Marcus opened the bowling. To great effect I might add, within 4 overs Fullers were 3 wickets down with about 10 runs on the board. The wickets continued to fall at a steady rate and apart from a brief spell of desperate slogging (ended by a superb catch from Julian at fly slip) they never really looked like getting the runs. After Rupes and Rann we had bowling from Tony, David, Ed and some great stuff at the end from James. Some praise has to go to our fielding which was awesome, great stops and catches held by all, especially James who stopped one that I reckon the rest of the team would have left well alone, it nearly took his hand off.

In the end Fullers didn’t get close and Bibendum won by a stretch. Well done all, I’m looking forward to next year when I’m betting they’ll bring in some Aussie bar staff.

My man of the match? Tony Cloke. Not only did he get those important and entertaining runs, he took a couple of wickets as well.(and he can barely walk today - Ed.)

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

You can take a horse to water...

Bibendum was privileged to recently host a tasting led by Javier Hidalgo, one of the Kings of the Hill when it comes to Sherry. Or Jerez. Or Fino and Amontillado. And herein lies just one of the problems. What’s in a name? Will Sherry ever be cool or does it need yet another makeover? It is one of those curious products in the wine world which has recently been the darling of the press; drink of choice of those in the critical know (Tim Atkin sang heavy praise a few weeks ago in the Observer). But this seems to be as far as it ever gets. You can write about it and write about it, but you just cannot get young folk to drink it.

In Spain it is immensely popular, virtually always dry, and one of the first things the locals reach for whenever there are salty snacks or seafood on the table. The Juice enjoyed a glass of the beautiful single-vineyard Manzanilla Pasada Pastrana from Hidalgo last night with some very un-Spanish nachos and it was absolutely delicious. Interesting, rich, complex and with a long, evolving finish. A little more bitter and salty than some of the others we tried at the tasting, it perfectly reflects its coastal Sanlucar de Barrameda heritage. What was most surprising was just how refreshing it was and how well it suited a warm(ish) evening in the garden – a world away from the sweet syrup in the dinky little glass that granny loves.

Javier wants us to move away from the word Sherry and focus on calling it ‘Jerez’; others suggested trying to build the individual styles into brands i.e. Fino, Amontillado, Manzanilla etc. Yet we are expecting a lot of our consumers – to embrace more unfamiliar titles in a crowded marketplace. To slip a Fino into a white wine list without explanation or a supportive sommelier could lead to confusion and worse, full glasses being returned by unsuspecting customers. Restaurants are one important battleground where these wines (and they are undoubtedly wines) will seek to increase understanding and consumption. The home is quite another matter. For most, it will continue to be drunk in very small, sweet amounts over long periods of time. The clichéd bottle will come out again each Christmas, stale and dead (dryer styles need to be treated like a wine and drunk in a similar time period once opened). Try adding a little to create the perfect Bloody Mary; try as an aperitif with snacks; try as an accompaniment to seafood. Try, according to Javier, a Fino or Manzanilla if you feel like drinking plenty throughout the course of the day, or an Oloroso or Amontillado if you feel like just a glass with some cheese. Try Pedro Ximenez over vanilla ice cream (possibly the sweetest wine in the world? – discuss…400g/l of residual sugar). But whatever you do…try and then try again. For the care and attention, never mind the skill and expertise, that go into these wines, you can get an awful lot of quality for your money. Serve chilled in a nice big glass and enjoy…

La Gitana, Manzanilla – sea breeze aromas with great freshness on palate. Drink with seafood.
Fino Hidalgo – More nutty, subtle and elegant. Easy drinking indeed and great with nuts and olives.
Amontillado Seco Napoleon – A Manzanilla allowed to oxidize. Richness and depth on nose – caramel. Great with smoked foods.
Oloroso Seco Napoleon – Intense nuttiness, dark and smooth. Drink with beef casserole or cheese.
Pedro Ximenex Viejo Napoleon – Like liquefied prunes and very dark, viscous and sweet. Over vanilla ice cream a dream.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

They came, they saw, they tasted...and then they had a sit-down

You may have felt a little shift in your personal equilibrium last week. Don't worry, it was only temporary and won't be happening again for another year. Because for 3 exhausting days London Excel was packed to the rafters with wine and thousands of wine trade folk from all over the world. As they collectively swirled their glasses and dipped their noses, the earth shifted ever so slightly on its axis and someone in China caught a cold.

For the uninitiated, it is brutal in size and confusing in layout. Not confusing by design, but in the ease with which you can get lost. The major players were there, all competing to have the highest stand so that people could pick them out from several aisles away. And it goes so much further than wine...

The Brazilian Wine Board had a very talented young girl with a football and prodigious keep-uppy skills entertaining people as they browsed through brochures. Nicolas Feuillate brought opera to their Champagne party. In the vodka section...scantily clad great surprises there then. And the most incredible selection of wines from everywhere you can imagine. Whispers in the Costa Coffee queue suggested that VinItaly is seven times the size. Too frightening to imagine. And from micro...

Life on the Bibendum stand was much like that of the duck on the pond. Cool, calm and collected on the outside, while below the surface, the collective organisational legs paddled like mad to make sure wine was chilled, producers were happy, queries were collected and customers were greeted. The stand was held together with extra sellotape and a prayer as we raced towards the breathless conclusion. The claxon went for full-time and winemakers throughout the vast arena did what they do best....cracked open a beer.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Great Debate

Bibendum hosted a fascinating debate in London this week. Five Australasian wine producers (Aaron Brasher of Petaluma, Brent Marris of Wither Hills, Wayne Stehbens of Katnook, Chester Osborn of d'Arenberg and Matt Gant of St Hallett) were each given 8 minutes to introduce their wineries and wines, and explain what they felt was their unique or defining characteristic. Each was armed with two vintages of one of their wines, one old, one new. At the end of each monologue (and a gong was used to ensure they kept to time) the chair, Willie Lebus, asked the winemakers some questions on burning issues such as closures, ageability of their wines and so on. The audience then voted on whether they agreed or disagreed with the winemaker's views. After all five had spoken, and spilled drinks over Willie, the debate was laid open to the floor. Space does not allow a complete transcript (do we hear a sigh of relief from the reader?) but here are some highlights of what was a really stimulating tasting and discussion.
Brent Marris kicked off with his unique vision for Wither Hills; that the wines should reflect the 'green grass, blue sky, clear water' essence of Marlborough where they are grown. Brent feels that there is no point in New World producers trying to copy Old World styles, they must forge their own identities.
Brent was swiftly followed by Aaron Brasher from Petaluma (whose name Willie felt was best pronounced 'Aron Braisher'). Aaron was presenting the Hanlin Hill Riesling, which co-incidentally has just picked up a gold medal at this year's IWC. The whole point of this wine, he said, was that it received no stirring, no oak, no malo, no messing...'it's just straight Riesling'. Very fine Riesling too. Aaron pointed out that Aussie winemakers love nothing more than a good bottle of Riesling (indeed the rocket-sized magnum on the table before him looked like the perfect antidote to a hard day in the winery). It was a matter of communicating this love of the grape to the consumer at large, and then Riesling would enjoy the popularity of our ubiquitous friend Ms Chardonnay.
Wayne Stehbens began by saying 'there is way too much nonsense talked about wine - most of it at this table.' Having put his fellow winemakers in their place, he began his eulogy to 'the king of grapes - Cabernet Savignon'. Anyone who has met Wayne before would not be entirely surprised to hear him big up the mighty Cabernet, and suggest that Coonawarra was the best spot on earth to grow it. It must be said that the 1998 Katnook Cabernet on show here was pretty strong evidence in Wayne's favour. Wayne bemoaned the grape varieties he called 'one year wonders - look great for 10 minutes after bottling and then fall apart within months.' You would never catch Katnook Cab doing that.
Next the wildly beshirted Chester Osborn explained that, as a fourth generation winemaker from the Osborn family, he had felt the need to continue the traditions of his forefathers. Indeed it was something of a shock to father d'Arry when, having paid for Chester to attend the highly regarded Roseworthy College at Adelaide so that he could 'learn how to make wine properly', Chester announced his intention of carrying on exactly as before - foot treadings, basket pressings, whole berries where possible, shocking shirts at all times. Chester was presenting his Coppermine Road 2001 and 2003 - both good vintages but 'probably not his best', because as he explained he kept the best years to drink himself.
Matt Gant was last on the stage, and cunningly used a selection of props including wine glasses, bottles, chairs and spittoons spread over the floor to illustrate the different vineyard blocks which go into his legendary Old Block Shiraz. Matt's high-energy impersonation of a geography teacher was brought to an abrupt end by the inevitable gong, but not before he had given us a very entertaining round up of the vineyard characters ('from this one you get classic armpit smells - smells just like me in fact'; 'this one is bloody mary in a glass').
The panel were asked their views on the appellation system, and all agreed their was no sense in constricting the inventiveness and innovation of Australasian winemakers with draconian laws about what they could and couldn't plant. The overall sentiment was that these are still very young wine producing countries, and have yet to fully discover where all their strengths and weaknesses lie. Organic wines were discussed, and Chester Osborn said that most of his wines were made in an organic way, but the 'bearded weirdy' reputation of the organic movement (in Oz presumably) was one he didn't feel the need to be associated with; 'Most people think I'm crazy already anyway'.
The debate finished with a discussion on what Fine Wine represented - there were many differing but equally valid views expressed. What was incontestible was the quality of the wines on show, and the passion of the people behind them.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Trio of Tasty Tuesday Treats

Is that the sound of the Bordeaux campaign ramping up or is it another little teaser? With the London International Wine Trade Fair dominating the vinous landscape this week we thought that all might be quiet on the Medocaine front. However, today sees the release of 3 very different and interesting wines, from Pessac, Pomerol and St. Emilion.

Chateau de Fonbel, effectively the 3rd wine of the magnificent Chateau Ausone, has decided to release 'en primeur' for the very first time, a sure indication of the confidence and anticipated demand this vintage. We were frankly blown away by all the wines when we visited Ausone and this one really stands up well as it debuts at a reasonable £110 per dozen in bond.

The development of Gazin's Pomerol vineyard in the 12th century up to the French Revolution of 1789 around the commandary of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta is confirmed by very old documents from the Great Priory of Malta in Toulouse. The present day Chateau Gazin, which was once a village in the 18th century, is located on the site of the hospital built by the Knights to host the pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostella. These days the pilgrims you'll find around St. Emilion are usually there for the wine, and this one, made in tiny quantities, is always popular.

And there's a wonderful bit of history behind Les Carmes Haut Brion (see picture above), also released today. Shortly before he kicked the bucket, at the age of 101, Jean de Pontac, Lord of the Manor of Haut-Brion, decided he really must do more to earn his spot in heaven. In 1584, he therefore donated a water-mill, surrounded by meadows and wines, to the Carmelites of Haut-Brion. The Friars kept the name "Haut-Brion" for 200 years, before common usage gradually changed it into "Carmes Haut-Brion". A beautiful spot to visit if you can ever find it...the crack Bibendum orienteering en primeur team did not distinguish themselves on this one!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Rhone Rangers vs. Rhone Royalty

Last night the Bibendum Offices played host to a night of the best of the Barossa against the best of the Rhone. In a quite titanic struggle led by Matt Gant of St. Hallett on one side and some serious Rhonoephiles on the other, there was no clear winner, just a lot of happy facial expressions and some sore heads this morning. TJ was across town at another do so the notes below are supplied by the inimitable 'Boy 90'. Now where are those pictures...?

1990 Rayas CNDP Blanc: Mighty morphing power ranger of a wine, light gold coloured and started a little soft and tired. After 10 mins in the glass it totally changed. White flowers, creamy coffee, stones and smokey green tea flavours. Incredible brightness and persistence, just kept getting better and better. Doesn’t taste of any fruit I can think of but so what? I’d love to try this again.

1991 Chapoutier Ermitage Blanc de l’Orée (mag): Monolithic. Nose of orange rind, earth and wet dog, tastes both clapped out and youthful at the same time. Very mineral and again very long, grows in the glass and white fruits become a bit more apparent. Not as dramatic as the Rayas.

1995 Chapoutier Ermitage Blanc de l’Orée: Lots of sweet toffee on the nose, less rich and glycerous than the 91 and seemingly more advanced. Lost out to the other 2 but maybe I should have given it more time.

1982 Guigal La Landonne: Smoking. No other words for it . Amazing nose of leather, sweet spices, mulberry fruit. Texture on the palate is fab, like running your fingers the wrong way up a velvet dress.. Waves of cocoa, tobacco and warm earthy fruit. Unbelievable definition. One of the best wines I’ve had for a long time.

1986 Penfolds Kalimna Shiraz: Much sweeter nose, much more focused on fruits. Very thick and glycerous, red fruits, buttery, and a dash of allspice. Very good but seems so simple after the guigal.

1985 Jaboulet Hermitage la Chapelle: Cutting dark fruits, iron, earth and gravelly pepper. A good wine that is definitely drinking well now. Consistent from 2bts. Not a paragon of richness but a finesse wine that remains perhaps a tiny bit austere.

1985 Chave Hermitage: CORKED! Shit – potentially was a really great wine hiding underneath it. Shame.

1988 St Hallett Old Block Shiraz: Sweet caramel and red fruits, good acidity and in all quite a reserved wine. Soft and gentle but still a little one dimensional.

1999 E&E Black Pepper Shiraz: Sweet, ribena style fruit. Toffee. Didn’t like this.

1996 Saltram No 1: Fantastic wine. My Auz wine of the night by a mile. Coffee Chocolate and brooding black fruit. Really powerful long wine but multilayered and shows considerable breeding. Real character to it. Very good.

1989 P.Lehman Stonewell Shiraz: Soft sweet fruit, nice but a bit generic. A real disappointment for me as I like these wines young.

1990 Jasmin Cote Rotie (mag): Sweaty saddle leather, flowers and dark, juicy fruits. Tannins have completely ameliorated and this is a lusicious pleasure to drink now. Really nice wine, old fashioned and a touch rustic but none the worse for it.

1990 Fonsalette Cdr Cuvée Syrah: Mahoosive! Looks like a 2yr old wine. Tastes like a 2 yr old wine. Am I drinking from the right bt? Apparently I am….enormous tannins and waves of super ripe blackcurrant fruit and chocolate. Peppery and uncompromising. It really felt like this wine was laughing at us. Potentially immortal.

1989 Penfolds Grange: Most structured so far of all the old aussies. Rich mulberry fruits and leather. Thick but definitely grown up and has some positive secondary development. On it’s own this would have been superb. Actually very good all round but the Jasmin managed to have more interest to it whilst being lighter on it’s feet.

1990 Allemand Cornas Chaillots: A disappointment for me, this was just very soft red fruits and altogether lacking any stuffing. Maybe badly stored as I was expecting good things from it.

1996 Allemand Cornas Chaillots: This is more like it. Really sweaty/sweet animal nose. Something distinctly horsey about is but it is uncompromisingly peppery, earthy and fab. Second time this year for this and I love the wine.

1991 Jamet Cote Rotie (mag): Another fab drinker, soft and sweet but with great complexity. I love the way these mix white flowers and dark cassis fruit on the nose. And all the leathery, gamey, dirt going on underneath. Not as great as the Allemand though…..

1991 St Hallett Old Block: Oily and sweet texture but complex. Chocolate, herbs and a dash of white pepper back up the very soft ripe fruits. My number 2 Auz wine of the night.

1992 Elderton Command: Enormous wine, lots of coffee and almost vicious acidity. Very dark brooding fruits but all over the place in terms of integration – leave it many more years if you’ve got it, maybe something magic might happen.

1994 Henschke Hill of Grace: Much more structure and togetherness, tannins like melting milk chocolate. Delicious wine but doesn’t floor me. Needs something extra, some lift or lightness, or a fault even? Bit too polished.

1983 Lafite: For the second night in a row. Dark blueberry fruits and earthy minerals, definitely more advanced than yesterday’s magnum and maybe the better for it. Not sure this is going anywhere special but it maybe still a little early to write it off. Nice, not great though.

1995 Chapoutier Cote Rotie la Mordorée: Gamey, lean, peppery and a bit hard. Could say it needs more time but frankly I think this lacks the stuffing to ever do anything special. A disappointment after the great 95 Pavillon yesterday.

2002 St Hallett Old Block: No note? I remember this being good though. Massive but very tasty.

1972 Seppelt Shiraz Port: Wow. Totally opaque, dizzyingly sweet and decadent. Burnt coffee and extremely powerful fruits, tastes young almost. Very good indeed but couldn’t drink too much of it.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Clarence is top dog

Scott Collins is celebrating this week after his newest London pub won the very coveted 'Pub of the Year' award in the Evening Standard. The Clarence is a large, welcoming, friendly place named after Collins's dog. The decor is stylish, there is a large range of interesting beers and wines (all supplied by Bibendum) and the food is top notch.

One of the judges, Gregg Wallace, was particularly impressed: "The Clarence makes no attempt to be a restaurant. Someone has given a great deal of thought to producing great pub food."

Al Murray (the famed 'pub landlord') agreed, "The pub food really impressed. This may be something of a bar in pub's clothing but, even so, it is remarkably successful."

The Clarence is a busy place and manages to combine all the virtues of a really good local pub with a modern and unstuffy feel - this may well be an early example of a new breed of pubs.

The Juice suggests you get down there sharpish...

Monday, May 08, 2006

Stop Press: Wine can improve sporting ability!

Following on the theme of Bibendum staff aspiring to sporting greatness, the North London Lionesses, featuring the Aussie marketing duo of Jenni Lockett and Kelly Taplin took to the netball court recently in the grandest of grand finals somewhere deep in the badlands of Islington. TJ’s experience of this sport has so far been restricted to one girls’ game at university where, being male and over six feet tall, he was forced to play center against someone of clearly superior technique. She made The Juice look pretty stale and this led to dark days for your correspondent, marked by an alarming increase in Isotonic Lucozade Sport consumption (it gets to your thirst…fast). Fear and ignorance have kept TJ from the court since then but this was the first step back on the road to the world of wing attacks, wavey arms at 3 feet and strange rules about which lines you can and can't cross. And boy…either the eyes have slowed down since that fateful day or this sport has got a lot faster. The air was crackling with crisp passes, audacious shots and just occasionally, an errant elbow or two. A good crowd had gathered to see the teams battle to a dramatic tie at full time. Darkness threatened to fall, others had packed up and gone, but still the game went on. Bibendum’s finest did their team proud and in an impossibly close game, the mighty Lionesses were edged out in the final few seconds of extra time for a heart-breaking defeat. Hmm…and the umpire just happened to be the opposition coach…what would the ‘special one’ say?

A week on, and the new season has started already. Keen to put the defeat behind them, Kelly, Jenni et al are off to a strong start. As the evenings warm up, throw your picnic into a basket and come along to support. Rumours that the girls have started sipping rose at half time are almost completely possibly true…

Friday, May 05, 2006

A world champion at Bibendum!!

Talk about hidden talents… mild-mannered Alex Carty who works in the finance department at Bibendum has been revealed to be the newly-crowned world champion of Doce Pares. This ancient martial arts discipline originated in the Phillipines and comprises “all forms of open hands and all ranges of weapon fighting which also includes Espada Y Daga (sword & dagger) and Blade Techniques.” Phew.

Alex took the crown at the recent world championship at the hitherto sleepy seaside town of St Ives in Cornwall. What the locals made of sticks, swords and daggers being whirled and wielded in numbers is not recorded.

Alex modestly attributes his success in the ring to having learnt Thai Boxing as a youngster. It is not clear at this stage whether Credit Control Manager Barquita ‘Ninja’ Trinanes intends to train the rest of her team in hand-to-hand combat as a means of aiding debt recovery.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Glass in hand, laptop on knees...

The Juice has set up his spot on the roof terrace. It is from here that I shall report for the next few months, basking in the sun’s glorious rays. Because Summer is here, and not just for the moment, but maybe forever. This soupcon of hyperbole comes not from recent exposure to an Al Gore lecture (he is the Numero Uno Campaigner in the environmental field at the mo), but rather from the blind desire to see Summer stay literally forever...that is, until the end of time. Those cheery folks who say “oh but I love the seasons…blah blah blah” only say it because they have gorgeous, long, long, half-of-the-year summers. Hence their cheeriness. Sure the odd bit of winter is fairly crucial for growing grapes but just for a moment I want to bask in eternal sunshine with a spotless wine. And having managed to recently live through Aussie and American winters before coming back to our own morbid version I feel like Summer is something I remember only by watching old episodes of the ‘Wonder Years’. So bring it on…

'Foxy' is a good word. As I sit in my deckchair with my imaginary laptop, I reach for a cool, condensation-strewn glass of rose…foxy rose. It is no doubt the sexiest of Summer drinks so here are a couple I have been drinking recently that will bamboozle your friends with full-frontal freshness and elegance in abundance:

Laroche Rose, Vin de Pays d’Oc 2005
Strawberries and raspberries burst out of the glass in this classic example of contemporary southern French rose. Delightful ripe, round fruit coats the mouth with cherry and raspberry leading the charge. Plenty of get up and go here. If it were a band it would probably be the Scissor Sisters!

Chateau des Sarrins, Cotes de Provence 2005
Deliciously fresh and delicate with light red fruit and floral notes on the nose. Dry, yet with a medium-bodied richness that gives it incredible smoothness on the palate. Lots going on which points to a multi-faceted style offering more than your average rose. Lovely acid balance and clean satisfying finish. If it were an actor it would be Jonny Depp...oh yeah...

So go on, think pink. Forget that Wayne Rooney prayer mat, and instead focus your hopes and dreams on that big ball of fire and stuff in the sky which brings so much joy for so little time to so many Brits…occasionally