Monday, 12 October 2009

Bibendum Wine

A few years ago, when I had just moved down to London and was looking for ways to integrate myself into urban high society and shed my provincial skin, I considered going on a wine tasting course. The world of wine and wine appreciation had always seemed glamorous and enigmatic, and the ability of the BBC Food and Drink team to rattle off the name, year and producer of a particular bottle just from a single flamboyant slurp seemed like the kind of party trick I could make use of. After a cursory Google of potential courses though, the idea seemed less appealing - I was worried about the kind of people such a scheme may attract, the £100+ cost seemed a lot for an unknown quantity, and also - mainly - I was petrified of my appalling knowledge of wine becoming public knowledge.

But the idea stayed with me, as did the desire to learn more about this mysterious world. Even without any specialised knowledge of grape varieties or vintage years, a good bottle of wine is still a good bottle of wine, and I made a concerted effort to recognise and remember the ones that brought particular pleasure - a bottle of oaky, smoky '03 Argentinian Mendoza Chardonnay with a starter at the Capital restaurant, a glass of fruity Burgundy with my pigeon at the Square.

Fast forward to a couple of years and a food blog later, and it seems that the decision not to blow a ton on a private wine tasting was, fortunately, the right one. My association with Bibendum, a smart and savvy wine merchants who organise many of their events and tastings via New Media, thus attracting a diverse crowd of bloggers and tweeters, had led me to bunk off work and head to the Saatchi gallery in Chelsea for a full day of wine-related fun. I took part in the world's first live Twitter wine tasting, decided my favourite wine in the world was a Coleccion Vivanco Quatro Varietales 2006, and ended up somewhere around dinnertime in the Champagne room drinking glasses of pink Krug. It was an incredibly fun day, and a fantastic introduction to so many different styles of wines I would never have otherwise had the opportunity to try.

Since then, Bibendum have run a handful of blogger/Twitter tastings at their headquarters in Primrose Hill and each has been more educational and enjoyable than the last. Usually based on wines from a specific country (Italy, Australia, etc.) the most recent was instead organised by grape variety, and took us on a journey from Chardonnay and White Rhone through Rosé and Pinot Noir to full-bodied reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. Highlights for me included a remarkably grapefruity white Burgundy called "St Romain Clos sous la Chateau Domaine des Forges 2006" which coated the mouth with silky, oaky intensity, and a deeply chocolaty and satisfying Cab Sav/Merlot mix from Bordeaux - "Chateau Cantelys Pessac-Leognan 2004". These also happened to be two of the most expensive bottles on offer that evening - I don't know how I do it.

I wish I could say after all this fantastic, free exposure to the world's finest wines that I could hold my own at a professional tasting but alas, I'm still quite a way off yet. I still stand in awe of the guys at Bibendum who seem to be able to identify almost their entire stock by taste and have an encyclopaedic knowledge of producers, vintages and varietals. But some of it is definitely rubbing off - back in July, a few days after the Italian wine evening up in Primrose Hill, I had dinner at Galvin at Windows on Park Lane. For my beef and foie gras main course I asked the sommelier to bring me a glass of something suitable, and was very pleased with myself when I identified it as a Chianti. Not a clue which Chianti, of course, but a Chianti nonetheless. An email from the sommelier a couple of days later, and it turned out to be a "Chianti Classico Le Trame, Podere Le Boncie, 2005". Well, blow me down, if I hadn't actually learned something. And after all, what use is all this new-found knowledge if you can't use it to impress a date?


Manne said...

Nice writeup. Last week's wine tasting was my first encounter with Bibendum Wine outside of Twitter, and I must say I was thoroughly impressed.

Well organized, made me and Beth of feel thoroughly welcome and such amazing passion and knowledge displayed!

Very, very enjoyable indeed.

Dan Coward said...

Great post Chris. Really pleased that you feel more confident when it comes to wine in a restaurant. And a good tip there too - ask the sommelier for ideas and suggestions...that's what they're there for and they enjoy the challenge.

Now you just need to make sure your new-found wine knowledge doesn't scare your friends off. Any dissent and I'd probably cut them loose... :)

Gavin said...

Wise words there Chris, put the sommelier to work. In my experience they love being asked for advice about pairings.

I can recommend Thierry Tomasin's gaff Angelus at Lancaster Gate. Now this is a guy who can talk about wine for hours, and great fun it is. Food's good too.

Naimah said...

looks like fun! I want to learn more about wine, mainly so I know what to serve with food -- what a pleasurable hobby though!