Me & Bordeaux: Tasting the 2008 Vintage

2011 Union des Grands Crus tasting

In Part 1 of this post I lamented that I was still a palate in training when it came to Bordeaux. To that end, as mentioned, I was thrilled to receive an invite to the Union des Grands Crus tasting that was recently held here in San Francisco to celebrate the 2008 vintage. Let me count the ways. First off I’ve never had a chance to try so many Bordeaux’s. There were a 103 tables set up. Reports were that there were 95 producers represented who poured 108 wines (including some Sauternes and a few whites). Now I’ve attended many tastings but none with this focus. Think about it. 100+ wines from the same region and the same vintage. I couldn’t imagine a better learning opportunity. Another reason this piqued my interest is that 2008 is my daughter’s birth year which means I’ll be looking to build her at least a little cellar of wines from this vintage. And lastly, given my limited knowledge I didn’t know more than a handful of these Chateau’s or their price points. Given how unbiased this left me I was almost anticipating running home to compare prices on my favorites…

Me & Bordeaux: Tasting the 2008 Vintage

Now let’s get back to the event at hand. As mentioned above this is not a small intimate event. This was serious business for most in attendance. Very little chit chat, just pour sip spit and move on. To some extent I started to reflect on traveling and got to thinking this was more like sightseeing than actually experiencing something but I’ll speak to that a bit more later. As well as to the fact that I have some learning to do on how to best leverage these tastings. One lesson I did learn is that you should certainly show up on time. I arrived quite late to this event and didn’t get to taste but 40 or so of the wines. So what did I think?

Again these are the general impressions of someone not well steeped in Bordeaux so you want to take them with a grain of salt. That said, all in all I thought the vintage was of the softer, thinner side and I am guessing not as ageworthy as many. These wines, if not ready to drink now, will likely be ready in short form compared to those from more esteemed vintages. Hopefully the prices will reflect that. K&L shared one such example in a recent newsletter with Calon-Ségur, St-Estèphe with the 2009 going for $110 a bottle and the 2008 a mere $60. Given that my guess is that this would be a vintage best suited for mining some gems for the long term and drinking in the short term. St-Julien seemed to show the best followed by St-Emilion, Pauillac and Pomerol.

2008 Gruaud-Larose, St-Julien

Now after tasting 40+ wines I like to retry my top picks and see if they still stand out. Most of the time they do. With that in mind here were my Top 10 picks from this event:

Interesting! Some cursory checking showed the wines at this event spanned a price range of $22 to $80. Given that my Top 10 were comprised of four on the lower end, three in the middle and three towards the top of the spectrum. Interested in hearing what others had to say? Check out these takes:

  • 2011 UGC Bordeaux Tasting: 2008 Vintage by Richard Jennings – for those that don’t know Richard is one of the most prolific tasters I know and I highly respect his knowledge, palate and opinion. Furthermore he manages to take notes on nearly every wine he tries. His favorite red of the tasting was the “very distinctive” Gruaud Larose, which he rated 93+ pts. Glad I caught that one as well ;)
  • Thoughts on the 2008 Bordeaux Reds by Fred Swan – Fred does most of his writing over at NorCalWine.com but took a day off to spend some time with the French. He thought the St. Julien and Pauillac wines showed the best and amongst his favorites were the Chateau Gruaud Larose, Chateau Lagrange and Chateau Leoville Poyferre.
  • 2008 Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, Chicago by David Honig – For those that don’t know David he is the publisher of Palate Press, the Online Wine Magazine, and offered rather extensive notes across all the regions recommending 10+ wines.
  • 2008 Bordeaux Vintage Tasting by Adam Japko – Adam, who writes over on WineZag.com, is relatively new to me but garners the respect of many of my friends and thus has mine. His favorites were the Troplong Mondot, Leoville Barton and Pichon Lalande. He also list 15 more of his top picks.
  • Thoughts on tasting Bordeaux by Steve Heimoff – Guessing most know Steve for his work with the Wine Enthusiast but he also manages to find some time for blogging. He shares some passing thoughts on the wines (he was a fan of the Lynch-Bages as well as some perspective on the tasting.

Oh and did I mention they had 10 or so Sauternes on offer. A very nice way to finish a nice tasting. My favorites of the bunch were the 2008 Guiraud, Sauternes ($23/375ml) and the 2008 Suduiraut, Sauternes ($30/375ml). I thoroughly enjoyed this tasting event. It was perfectly organized, very enjoyable and extremely educational. Thanks to the folks at Unions des Grands Crus de Bordeaux for visiting and to the all those at Balzac Communications for the invitation. I most certainly look forward to attending in the years ahead!

*photos courtesy of Palate Press, RJonWine.com and Interest In Wine.

Me & Bordeaux: Part 1

Me & Bordeaux: Part 1

Ah Bordeaux! Where to begin… Bordeaux and I have been trying to reach an understanding now for what seems like forever. You see when I was new to wine I didn’t exactly feel welcome if fact I was intimidated. With the mystique of the 1st growths it always seemed to be the holy grail of the wine world. The exclusivity the prices demanded made me feel like an outsider looking in and wondering if I’d ever be part of the club.

So you try a few and to no one’s surprise you don’t get it straight away because Bordeaux is for the most part inaccessible to those just starting to learn about wine. How so? Should I count the ways? 1) Certainly by price. 2) These wines typically take years to shine which is problematic for those that didn’t start collecting ten years before they became enthusiastic about wine. And finally 3) The newbie palate struggles at best to enjoy future greatness now; especially when they can only afford to shell out $30 once. Of course this is all rendered moot if you are lucky enough to have a wine sugar daddy with a deep cellar to teach you the ropes (if you are out there listening I am a willing apprentice…).

Now over the years I’ve tried hard to gain an understanding. Obviously Trader Joe’s is not the place to be learning about Bordeaux. So I’ve purchased a fair number of wines that K&L Wines, a favorite retailer and Bordeaux mecca, spoke highly of in their newsletters. With some learnings I decided to try an older offering or two starting with the 1994 Les Ormes de Pez, St-Estèphe ($30). Around that time I had my first child who I wanted to build a cellar for. That pushed me to accelerate my efforts. Around the end of 2009 I had a memorable experience with the 2006 Cantemerle, Haut-Médoc ($30). I followed this up in early 2010 with tickets to Fête du Bordeaux , a K&L tasting dinner, where I sampled a handful of the 2007 vintages but more importantly a handful of aged offerings from 1975, 1990 and 2000. During the holidays I had my best experience yet with the 2001 Larmande, St-Emilion ($40) which I picked up for a dinner with friends. Smooth, elegant and balanced a fantastic bottle for sure.

So where does that leave me? I still feel like a novice here. While I know the difference geographically between left bank and right I certainly can’t speak to a bottle I’ve had from each of the major appellations. With that said you can imagine my pleasure when I received an invite to the recent Union des Grands Crus tasting that was recently held here in San Francisco to celebrate the 2008 vintage. A fantastic opportunity to learn more. I covered off on my findings there in part two of this post. In the meantime I have a few more Bordeaux’s of interest on hand. Another of the 1994 Les Ormes de Pez I recently picked up from K&L Wines. And a few I got from friends as special gifts over the years; the 1998 Chateau Figeac St. Emilon as well as the 1998 Cos d’Estournel, St-Estèphe. Other than that I am always open to suggestions though my budget may limit my ability to act on them… And if anyone out there is looking for an apprentice you know where to find me. Cheers!

Interested in reading more on Bordeaux? Check out my thoughts on the 2008 Vintage

2006 Les Caves Joseph White Bordeaux

Price: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Plume Ridge Wine Negotiants

What They Said:

Per the bottle “This blend of Sauvignon Blanc (50%) and Semillon (50%) produces a brilliant and silvery robe. The complex nose, blending floral and citrus aromas, reveals a perfect balance between fruit and wood, which makes this very enjoyable.”

What I Think:

After an amazing glass at Fleur de Lys a few months back I went combing the shelves at Trader Joe’s for a Pouilly Fuisse (a French appellation widely known for Chardonnay) to see how it could compare. I didn’t find one then I did come across this Sauvignon/Semillon blend that my wife and I fell in love with back on our honeymoon in New Zealand (especially the Pegasus Bay!).  I grabbed it without hesitation.

After pulling the cork this one seems like a winner. As it got closer to room temperature it began to show some chinks in the armor. The racy, mineral backbone that I thought was there disappeared leaving only light floral notes intermingled with barrel type flavors. Not bad, just not what I was hoping for after the first sip. This could sneak into my cart again but more likely not. You are better off grabbing a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc like this Geyser Peak.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2000 Chateau de Panigon Bordeaux

Price: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Plume Ridge Wine Negotiants

What They Said:

“A Middle-class Vintage of very good level with a beautiful presence of the fruity matter. Today the flesh and the structure of the wine remain separate. The wine is still too young. The year 2000 is expressed here by fruity merlot as well with the nose in mouth. But the cabernet and its powerful structure are also quite present in mouth. It is necessary to wait a little so that very harmonizes itself.”

What I Think:

The other night when searching for a bottle to open for a night cap I found this bottle. Knowing that we were having beef tomorrow night I figured I would open it now and sample it while simultaneously giving it some time to breathe allowing it to show the best it had to offer come dinnertime the next day. All in all I wasn’t impressed. Not that this was a bad wine, it seemed quite nice. As I have yet to have that eye opening experience with Boudreaux perhaps I am still not clear on how one is to be appreciated. $7 for this bottle seems fair but I would be tempted to look for better, especially from this vintage which was suppose to be a knockout. This effort showed aromas of dark fruit with floral undertones lingering on top of spicy barrel notes. On the palate the same suspects were present thought the fruit seemed a bit on the thin side. I wonder what the blend ratio on this one is. From the information I found it seems to be a Cab/Merlot but I couldn’t track down any specifics on the percentages. If I had to guess I would say 70% Cab given that it seemed a bit on denser side though the nice tannins on finish left the subject open to debate.

The write-up above mentioned that it needed time to integrate. I think it had enough. With more air it seemed to unravel which is the opposite of what I am used to. It actually seemed to get worse by the day as I continually found myself saying it seemed more complex yesterday. It makes me wish I would have taken better notes the first evening. As this one is to expensive for a 12th bottle so unless you are really craving a Boudreaux I’d have to say “Skip It”. It did remind me that I have to grab one of those bottles of Chateau Laborde out of the cellar; they’ve been down there for a while now and as this wine shows; older doesn’t always mean better

Rating: Skip It

2003 Caronne Ste Gemme – Haut-Medoc

Price: $17.99 @ K&L Wines

What They Said:

Per K&L Wines The 2003 Caronne Ste. Gemme was awarded 4 Stars in the November 2006 Decanter blind tasting and 5 Stars from the prestigious Revue des Vins de France. According to Food & Wine magazine’s Wine Guide: ** (very good – distinctive) “Abundant fruit & herb flavors are competing for attention, but they’ll work it out in 3-12 years…” Clive Coates writes: “Good colour. Good plump fruit here on the nose. Very well-made. Medium to medium-full. Plenty of ripe, ample, stylish fruit. Good tannins. Plenty of grip. All very well put together. No undue astringency at all. Good plus. From 2008.” (June 2004)

What I Think:

Guess I should have read what they were saying above before popping the cork on this one…Day 1 this wine was not quite for me. After sitting for two days this seemed to be a whole different ball game, real dark fruit that lasted in the mouth for a long time before fading away to an herbal finish that lasts for a while. Hardly any tannins at all, aren’t wiines that need aging to “sort it out” usually laced with tannins? Maybe they are there but surpressed by the lushness of the fruit, there is enough of it that it makes it is hard to hone in on any of them. Seems like on the lighter side there may be some cherries and certainly some darker fruit and just a hint of something spicier, seems like black pepper to me. At this point it was certainly a nice wine, would love to see what it does after a couple more years of lying down. Just not so sure I want to pay the price to find out. Don’t think so, but if I do I will change the rating.

Rating: Pricey