Bacchus must be pretty pleased with Cebu these days. Lately, the social scene here has been somewhat of an ode to the Roman god of wine and intoxication.
It started last Jan. 18 when Kaiser Tan, Jacqueline Tan (no relation), and Melvin Banzon got together with Diageo Philippines to throw just the party to get the year rolling—the unveiling of Johnnie Walker Platinum in the newly refurbished Formo Restaurant and Lounge.
The venue was a no-brainer since the three, apart from being good friends, have all been part-owners of Formo since last year. There’s a fourth partner, Ryan Felicida, a US-based meteorologist and independent game developer, who unfortunately wasn’t in town for the party.
Frankly, we’re not sure how the three found the time to host the high-profile event. Apart from their duties at Formo, the rest of their proverbial plates look pretty full. Kaiser runs his own construction and real estate company and is also part-owner of Formo’s slightly rowdier sister and one of Cebu’s longest-running clubs, Vudu.
Jacqueline is the managing director for Sheridan Beach Resort & Spa and is president of the Mutya ng Pilipinas beauty pageant.
Melvin oversees the sales and marketing of Formo and, on top of that, is the technical sales engineer in his family’s construction, interior fit-out and furniture firm.
Among the four of them, the friends-cum-business partners behind Formo have an average age of 28.5, which makes their accomplishments so much more remarkable—albeit detrimental to our self-esteem. That cliché of working hard but partying even harder was obviously coined for people like them.
It was no surprise that their fellow partyphiles came in droves for the party in question—the exclusive unveiling of Johnnie Walker Platinum Label, a preciously crafted 18-year-old blended scotch whisky. That this happened during Sinulog weekend, when most people’s social calendars were full, did not stop the well-heeled crowd from attending.
And they picked the right revelry that night, because where else were they going to get a free-flowing, virtually unlimited supply of Johnnie Walker? Double Black or Gold—in mojitos, gold rush, or on the rocks—all one had to do was ask.
As the crowd hobnobbed and shared their Sinulog plans and traffic horror stories for that evening (taking more than 30 minutes to get anywhere is news here), the true whisky aficionados were whisked away to a mentoring session with Johnnie Walker Reserve brand ambassador Raveen Misra in a customized private lounge. Sleek and sexy in all-black leather with platinum accents, 007 would’ve fit right in.
The highlight of the evening was, of course, the launch of the Johnnie Walker Platinum Label with a brief program (just the way Cebuanos like it) hosted by Paolo Abrera with a few words from Johnnie Walker brand manager Ranielle Mendoza. Jacqueline also quickly welcomed the crowd with Kaiser and Melvin cheering her on.
Diageo Philippines and Formo sure know how to throw a party. After the unveiling, guests who at that point have had more than their fair share of Johnnie Walker, were offered a glass or two of the new label—with the exception of businessman and Volvo and Chevrolet Cebu proprietor Franklyn Ong, that is, who promptly got a bottle for himself, which he generously shared with his buddies and neighboring tables. He clearly knows how to throw a party, too.
As does the gregarious globetrotter Hans Joerg Eulenhoefer. The 47-year-old entrepreneur was born in Manila, and has lived in Bangkok, Sydney, Switzerland, London, Miami and Cebu, which he loves and now fondly calls home.
Born to a Cebuana mom, the savvy entrepreneur Margaret Richards Taylor—who is part-Filipino, English and Spanish—and a German father, Hans runs the family business, The Harston Group. It sells wines and fashion accessories like Timex, Jacques Lemans watches and Greg Norman eyewear—the famous golfer is his brother-in-law—to duty-free shops around the world, which lets Hans travel a lot to Latin America, Europe and different parts of Asia.
Hans has given us oenophiles something fresh (well, fermented) to rejoice about—the opening of his new wineshop, Bibendum Wines, across the Cebu comfort-food institution Café Georg. As a direct wine importer, he can guarantee the quality and integrity of their wines by bringing them in climate-controlled facilities, so people are assured every bottle they get, from the exceptional 1995 Chateau Mouton Rothschild to an everyday Kressmanan Vin De Pays, is in tiptop taste.
What was supposed to be an intimate wine-tasting turned out to be a full-blown inaugural party with Cebu’s flush set eager to dip their noses in the store’s selection of more than 300 wines.
First to arrive were Marguerite Lhuillier, Agnes Huettel and Frances Siao who fretted about not being able to catch their breath that afternoon. “We came straight here from afternoon tea at Jewelmer’s Pearl Talk, and before that we were at Sandra Pesch’s birthday lunch at Anzani,” they said, to which Hans wryly replied, “Tough life, ladies.”
Hans told us the idea for Bibendum first came about when he and his good friend Mikel Perdices, marketing director of The Harston Group, were having a drink after work late last year. They were bemoaning the lack of good mid-priced wines in Cebu, and how a star wine find would lead to disappointment after a bottle or two, because it would inevitably go out of stock. It got them thinking about bringing in some of the wines that they represented in duty-free shops.
Aside from notable and award-winning bottles from leading estates and vineyards in France, Spain and Portugal and new world wines of Argentina, Chile, South Africa and the US, Bibendum carries a wide selection of everything from first-growth wines and top American vineyards to various Petit Chateaus and varietals. It boasts a broad selection of the best wines at any price, using the reviews and wine-rating system of internationally acclaimed wine critics like American Robert Parker and the British Jancis Robinson, who incidentally provides advice for Queen Elizabeth II’s wine cellar.
His best picks? “Stag’s Leap Artemis, Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou and Chateau Le Bon Pasteur are my very favorites at the top end, but there is a host of other very nice wines such as the Miraflor Malbec and Remhoogte from the Michel Rolland collection which I enjoy drinking with my friends and family,” Hans declared earnestly.
One wine exclusive to Bibendum in the Philippines, an excellent island-hopping companion, is Première Bulle—a first-rate sparkling wine from Limoux, France, which, in the 16th century, was the birthplace of the first sparkling wine in the world.
Seen making the rounds at the tasting were New York-trained sommelier and chef Stephen Aznar of Café Elyssa, currently Cebu’s No. 1 restaurant on Trip Advisor, food and wine devotee Shigejiro Onda and his wife Kumiko, and Gilt Lounge proprietor Jay Chiongbian who set aside his usual bottle of beer for a glass of wine—at least for that evening.
The cardinal rule in wine-tasting of swirl, sniff, sip, savor, spit eventually went down the drain. Like everyone else, we left pink-faced, like Caravaggio’s painting of Bacchus.