“The wine is still arrogant,” legendary sommelier (and now Area Manager of Ramon Bilbao wines) Patrick Tabhan said as I arrived in El Cirkulo on the evening of 25 September for the Ramon Bilbao Wine Dinner, hosted by one of my favourite people, Edna Diaz of BestWorld Beverages.
Our mutual friend JP Migné of Blackbird offered me a glass. After I had a sip of the Mirto (the state of which, at that moment, required more time to aerate and open up), I said, “You say arrogant, I say it’s coy… Like a dalagang pilipina.” JP looked at me. “Well, I don’t know if dalagang pilipinas are like that anymore,” he said with a chuckle.
Maybe. But there was one thing I was sure of at that point: The evening would be full of great wine, good food (by renowned Chef J. Gamboa, of course), and the most irreverent statements pertaining to wine.
Don’t get me wrong… People like Pax, JP, and myself take our wines seriously, but we are of the mindset that wine is not a snobby ritual dominated exclusively by snooty people with the word “curmudgeon” emblazoned on their foreheads… It’s also not a matter of competing with one another (even if Patrick is an award-winning sommelier), or the fanning/destruction of intellectual egos. No, what we clearly believe in is the sheer enjoyment of the beverage, using a language that is relatable and accessible to everyone, generously sharing what we think about what we drink.
It’s not about me (or JP… Sorry dude), however. The evening was about Patrick and his wines.
I was greeted with what we called a “welcome respite to the heat outside”, an artfully made Rosado Sangria using Bodegas Ramon Bilbao Rosado, fresh fruits, and soda water. The wine’s Rosado was great as a Sangria, but equally good on its own… Patrick did say that it mimics the very light Provence style of rosé making (a style I personally prefer), using 100% Garnacha to create the wine.
We then moved on to the Mar de Frades Albariño. Firstly, I must admit I was pleased with the fact that they still use the “invisible” boat on the bottle, where a tiny picture of a boat only appears if the wine is at its optimum temperature (taking the guesswork out of serving the wine correctly). Patrick also explained that the winery is the only one that uses the Ganimede method in the region, which works with gravity to naturally bring out the signature fruit flavours (apples and pears) of the grape.
Then, there was the Bodegas Ramon Bilbao Crianza. As with most government indicated age-classified Spanish Riojas (from the youngest to the oldest in terms of time spent in oak + bottle: Joven, Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva), Crianza was ready to drink… What’s interesting about Ramon Bilbao’s take on its Crianza, however, is that it’s decidedly fruit-forward, a conscious effort on the winery’s part to create a style that is easy to drink.
It was at that point of the dinner when Patrick turned to me and said, “There’s something about wines that have been aged in American oak, right? There’s always this chocolate-y thing going on that I couldn’t figure out…”
“For me, it’s coconuts. It varies from smelling like sunblock to proper coconuts, so sometimes, it’s a bit of a minf*ck… Thinking of the beach while drinking a powerful, winter-worthy red wine,” I said.
Patrick’s eyes lit up. “Ayun! Coconuts! Tapos what do you call that coconut husk you use to make kaskas on the floor…?”
(Translation for those uninitiated in the art of Taglish: “There! Coconuts! Then what do you call that coconut husk you use to scrub a floor…?”)
Everyone looked at him in disbelief (for context, you have to grow up Filipino to appreciate being part of a cleaning group in school, dependent on the day of the week, and using said dried up coconut husk to polish the floor of your classroom to a shine that your school’s nuns/brothers approve of… #IslandLife #CatcholicSchoolProblems).
“You mean a bunot?” JP said, snickering.
That said, there was definitely a hint of, uh, coconuts to the Crianza, with strong flavours of dark fruits as well. It also had some smoky characteristics to it, which made it an excellent pair to the evening’s Costillas de Res Al Carbon (Josper Charcoal Oven Grilled U.S. Short Ribs).
As we moved on to the Bodegas Ramon Bilbao Gran Reserva, Patrick took a sip… He then exclaimed, “Figs! Definitely figs.” The Gran Reserva has been aged for 2 years in American oak and 3 years in the bottle, and was technically deemed ready to drink. Despite this, Patrick said that he prefers to decant it to smoothen and soften the rather aggressive oak notes of the wine. Still, unlike most Gran Reservas in the market, Ramon Bilbao’s style stays true to its philosophy of making fruit-driven reds, making the wines easier to drink and appeal to a “wider, and even younger audience.” As for the figs, the wine had sufficient notes of the fruit notes to pair with the Cochinillo Asado (Spanish Style Roast Suckling Pig with Fig Compote) we had.
When we got to Ramon Bilbao’s top-of-the-line Mirto, Patrick tried a little and (finally) deemed the initially “arrogant” wine ready to drink. Despite being labeled as Joven, it’s not really a young wine, as it has spent 20 months in French oak, giving it baking spice and espresso flavours. Unlike the other wines of Ramon Bilbao, Mirto is meant to be cellared upon release to the market (but the wine we had during the dinner was a 2008, which meant that, at 10 years old, it was ready to drink). I told Patrick that it was a wine “I could inhale all night long,” a statement that drew a bit of appreciation from the guy.
As the evening went on in the spirit of merriment (that included trading horror stories of having worked in the service industry), I came up with the conclusion that one of the best things in life involves good wine generously shared with amazingly intelligent people over endless, fun conversations (yes, plural, because there was definitely more than one).
Did I mention good wine? Salud!
Special thanks to Mr. Patrick Tabhan and Ms. Edna Diaz of BestWorld Beverage Brands
Ramon Bilbao wines are available through BestWorld Beverage Brands, Unit 1504, The Centerpoint Building, Julia Vargas Avenue, corner Garnet Road, Ortigas Center, Pasig City
Telephone: (+632) 637-8491 to 94