January was the time when Burgundian producers, having had a chance to assess and price their latest vintage, flocked to London in droves to tempt us with the promise of largely nascent wares. And all the wine merchants worth their tartaric salt held en primeur tastings, giving customers the chance to buy wine at a discount before it arrived in the country a year or so down the line.
Bibendum, one of London’s largest merchants, held their event at the Royal Academy of British Architects, and it was perfectly well done: well-lit, bustling, with decent tasting glasses, not the standard ISO, and some top-end producers too (with prices to match).
The tricky thing with these events is that the wines that taste best on the night aren’t necessarily the ones to buy or keep, very high acidity, fruit and tannins, as well as other more unruly elements, being truer indicators of wines that will improve. Drinking lots of small samples of young chardonnay is also not the easiest thing on the palate either, and despite the quality of the whites on offer, the star for me was actually a red, the Henri Gouges premier cru, a raspberry-centred wonder.
Setting itself aside from other merhcants, however, Bibendum also hosted one of the capital’s biggest tasting fairs at the Saatchi Gallery for a second year. They seem to sell just about everything to just about everyone, and the free event was a pleasantly jazzy gathering of considerable size.
Winningly cheesy signs such as ‘Let’s get fizzical’ and ‘Voulez vous déguster avec moi’ welcomed assorted parties into 10 mostly regional galleries. Gems included Tony Hwang’s seriously classy Tokaji wines, the demi-sec in particular, as well as the 1995 Veuve Clicquot, a wonder of nutty, sherry-style interest, and not forgetting an English contribution, the elegant Chapel Down 2006 pinot blanc, all the way from Kent.
Other attractions included Tim Hanni, a Californian wine shrink, telling people’s fortunes through their taste buds, as well as taste trails, a bar staff versus sommeliers tasting contest and free lunch boxes. There were inevitably a few gaps in representations, but it would take years to taste everything on offer anyway, and overall it was an impressive event for a single merchant to stage: well-organised and good fun – none too chablis at all (sadly I can’t even remember if I made that one up).
Next on the calendar, the Bordeaux tastings in April.
Duke of York’s HQ
Bibendum Burgundy tasting: £30 or £50 for two
Tel: 020 7449 4120