2015 Wine Camp, Day Eight: Banquet

I needed to sleep in. In has been a fantastic week, but I am exhausted. We usually finish dinner by 11:30, return to the hotel around midnight and Bill and I have Cognac and talk about the day until 12:30 or 1:00am. Then I return to my room and write the first draft of this newsletter. In the morning I edit this newsletter, load it to the on-line server and send it to you before we head off to Vinexpo or another appointment. It has not been a week of a lot of sleep, so I slept in.

Matthew had invited us for lunch so after the regular routine, and catching up on some email we went to his house around 1:30 and had a lovely lunch outside under a huge old tree, next to the vineyard, with two bottles of wine he wanted us to try: A Cotes de Rhone and a Spanish wine – both of which I quite enjoyed. It is a quiet, sunny and warm Sunday in Bordeaux and this is a lovely way to soak in the afternoon freshness. My son’s each called for Fathers Day and it was great to hear their voices. I was reminded of how fortunate I am and what a great ride this has been.

By 4:30 we were back at Cave L’Avant Garde to set up the Left Bank blind tasting. The same routine as the night before – remove the caps, cover the labels, uncork the bottles, mix them up and then number them – and we were ready to taste by 6:00. Once again Dave and Matt joined us and it is good to have some different voices as part of the tasting.

The choice of music is key. I would prefer to have the Four Tops on almost any occasion, but for this kind of serious “degustation” we returned to the goddess of jazz – the amazing Sarah Vaughn. Her voice is perhaps the perfect allegory for the Left Bank tasting. Sarah has an incredible range with soft luscious highs and deep lows; so did this tasting.

We had invited twenty-seven wines to “Hollywood” (aka Margaux) with great expectations that 2012 would be a Left Bank vintage. The first couple of wines were rough going – nothing on the nose, harsh pallet or empty flavor profile. I thought we were in trouble. We had such high expectations for this tasting and yet, in the blind tasting it wasn’t showing me much. I kept going. A couple of “wow’s” encouraged me and a few wines really blew me away.

You know a “wow” almost immediately. You stick your nose in the glass and it’s everything you can do to not scream, “Oh my goodness, you have to taste this!” Then you take your first sip and everything you experienced on the nose is followed through on the pallet. You don’t even want to taste the next wine. You want to go somewhere, sit down and enjoy every sip in the glass, and throwing it into the “creshoi” seems like a crime against nature. But silence is key so you act very cool and wait for the discussion time, sure that everyone will love it as much as you do; they don’t.

There were some solid performers, good wines that perhaps in another tasting would have done well, but my expectations for this tasting were too high and I demanded more from the wines we were tasting. There were several wines I didn’t want to stop drinking because they were so good. At the other end of the spectrum was a wine I thought the winemaker should pay me to taste because the nose was so bad. “How did this wine get into our tasting?” I would ask.

Sometimes I picture one of our members opening up these wines and I think, “oh, they are going to really love this,” or, “oh no, I could never show my face again if I put this in the club.” On and on it went, the good, the bad and the ugly all the way to number twenty-seven.

When all four of us had finished our blind tasting we compared notes and it was the first time in nine years that Bill and I disagreed so markedly. Wines I loved he hated and wines he loved I hated. The list came down to four wines we both loved, sixteen wines neither of us cared for, and seven wines we couldn’t agree on. We re-tasted the seven wines we couldn’t agree on and we took five to dinner. The final test for our wines is always dinner. The winners must be wines that match well with food, and so we always finish our tastings with taking the best wines to dinner. Along with the four wines we both loved we had a total of nine wines to enjoy with our meal at the Relais de Margaux.

They know me well at the Relais so it is not a problem when we show up with nine bottles to taste with our meal. The staff are delightful, easy going and very helpful. They set up the bottles on a separate table, brought us the “amuse boush” and we settled in and began tasting again. This time it was clear. It is amazing how a little food can change the way you taste a wine. I chose foie gras and steak to pair with the wines and seven of the nine wines have made the cut and will be in the club, while two were clearly not good enough. Two of the winners are from a producer we have worked with in the past, two are drop dead stunning, and three are very solid.

It has been an incredibly successful trip. After tasting hundreds of wines and narrowing the list to forty-four wines in our blind tastings we have selected thirteen to bring in for the club. All the work has paid off and you are going to love these wines.

But then panic struck. I realized I had made a huge mistake.

Three wines that we had picked up at Vinexpo had not made it into the blind tasting. Where were they? The must have been put in a part of Wayne’s shop that was not with the rest of the wines when we retrieved them for the tasting. I can’t believe it! These are great wines and now they have missed the blind tasting. What will we do?

I was depressed to say the least. As I stewed on this dilemma I thought of a couple of other wines I wanted in the blind tasting and as I counted, I was up to about six more wines! The only answer is another blind tasting. In a couple of weeks Deb and I will be with our friends Giles and Amanda at their gite in the Dordogne for two weeks. My brother-in-law will be visiting and the five of us will blind taste the remaining wines plus whatever else I find in the next couple of weeks.

It never ends. Camp goes on long after the last bus leaves. There are always great wines to discover, great new experiences to be had, and wonderful new people to meet. This is the joy of it all. It’s not just a week of camp; it’s the whole experience of people, places, great food and delicious wines that make the memories last long after I return from France. It is my privilege to share these memories with you, and I hope you look forward to enjoying these wonderful wines as much as I do.

Merci beaucoup!

2015 Wine Camp, Day Seven: The Games

The search for wines is finished, and now we will blind taste those we have invited to the “Grand Degustation.” It’s a little like American Idol. Hundreds audition, and a few are invited to Hollywood – or in our case, Margaux.

We left Chateau Camiac around noon and drove over to Margaux to deposit the wines we had collected from the Right Bank and prepare for the first blind tasting.

Before any of that however we had to have lunch. C’est necessaire! Bill really wanted to go to Le Savoie, which is a lovely restaurant a block away from Cave L’Avant Garde – our base and tasting location. We sat outside on the lovely patio and as I looked at the menu there was nothing that really caught my fancy. The waiter came over and shook my hand (he remembered me from my dinner there last week) and then the owner/chef came out to our table to say “hi.”

I’ve known him for a couple of years and he remembers me most from the night I sang with the band there. It was the night of the Tour de France time trials in the Medoc and they had a special band that evening at Le Savoie. Wayne knew the band members, told them that I could sing and in their second set they announced to everyone that their American friend would come up and sing with them. I thought, “What the heck? Why not?” So I went up and sang, “Stand By Me” with the band and we had a great time.

We have also done several tasting nights at this restaurant and it is truly a great place in Margaux. I told the owner that I was really in the mood for an omelet and asked if he could make me one. He said, “of course,” and so an omelet with fromage, mushrooms and magret de canard was prepared. We washed it down with a beautiful Rose from Provence and it was a lovely lunch. Then after the appropriate rest, it was back to work.

We decided to taste the seventeen Right Bank wines tonight and the almost thirty Left Bank wines tomorrow night. We went through our normal process to prepare the bottles. We covered the bottles with paper, removed the caps, opened the bottles, mixed them around and numbered each bottle. Around 6:00 my friend Dave Christensen (the photographer extraordinaire who has taken many of the pictures on the web page) joined us, and Matt – an American friend of Wayne’s who has lived in France for thirty years – also joined us also.

We tasted in silence. There is no talking allowed in our blind tasting and the only sounds were sipping, slurping, spitting and the lush music of the incomparable Sarah Vaughan in the background. We made our notes, went back and reconsidered and spat again. After I tasted all the wines, I went back to reconsider a couple that I wasn’t sure about. This time we swallowed a little of every wine because we had to get the full sensation of the wine to be able to give it a fair rating.

Once we were all finished tasting the wines we sat down and compared our notes. We all agreed on four wines that we thought were stunning, and disagreed on three wines that we would have to re-taste. From the three we re-tasted, one was moved into the “wow” group.

There were some shocks and some disappointments. The wine that we loved at the Pomorol tasting at Vinexpo was unimpressive here. The nose was still huge but it disappeared on the pallet. We had loved it at Vinexpo and were sure it would be one of the finalists, but this is why we blind taste. One of my favorite winemakers gave us three wines for the tasting and we didn’t like any of them. That is going to be a tough phone call. A wine that we liked when we tasted it at Vinexpo – but didn’t love – was in our top four. Blind Tasting is really the only way to choose a wine.

We left around 8:00 and took the top five wines to dinner at the famous Lion D’Or just up the road from Margaux. Lion D’Or is a classic restaurant that has been written about in wine books of the area and up until two years ago had an iconic owner. A very talented young chef has taken over and is doing an outstanding job of keeping up the tradition and the quality of the restaurant. I had called ahead of time to make the reservation and to request confit de canard – the perfect pairing to taste Bordeaux.

We sat out back on the terrace and had the five winning wines with the confit and each wine was stunning. The real test of a great wine is if it is good with food and each of these were wonderful. The staff at Lion D’Or was also fabulous – our waiter is the father of the chef – and we had a great time enjoying this dinner. We are thrilled with our selection and have great hopes for the Left Bank tasting tomorrow night.

Back at the hotel Bill and I enjoyed a glass of Cognac and thought about the tasting. We have been doing this for eight years and have selected over eighty wines. There is one wine among the eighty that I would probably not do if I had it to do over again (and I will never tell which one that is) but one out of eighty-plus is a pretty good record. The key is blind tasting and this part of the trip is the key to everything we do.

Tomorrow we will taste the Left Bank. Bring on the Cabernets!

2015 Wine Camp, Day Six: Outside Lunch

After five fabulous days of Vinexpo and staying on the Left Bank in Margaux, we moved over to the Right Bank to visit our friends in St Emilion and Pomerol. Our first appointment of the day was lunch with Thomas Thiou from Reclos de La Couronne and Pierre Emmanuel from Chateau Pierhem.

We met at Thomas’s chai and tasted his 2012 Reclos as well as Pierre Emmanuel’s 2008 Le Bastiene and his 2012 Chateau Pierhem. All you have to do is stick you nose in the glass to know who made the wine. Each winemaker has a distinct style and they are both wonderfully made wines that show the elegance, balance and structure that we value in great wine. Both will be in the blind tasting and we’ll see how they do, but I am afraid that Bill and I will know immediately which wine is Thomas’ and which wine is Pierre Emmanual’s because we know them so well.

We stuck the corks back in the bottles and walked across the street to a lovely little restaurant for lunch. The place was full of locals and we were late – 1:30 – so we were fortunate that another group was leaving and we go a table under a canapé of grapevines providing natural shade and looking out over the rolling landscape of the breathtaking St Emilion countryside. Thomas ordered a bottle of white wine to refresh our pallets and who were we to say, “no.” An eight-inch long terraine of duck pate was place on the table along with another full terraine of loose duck meet held together with a slight bit of oil and sauce. These were our appetizers. After an appropriately long time – the French way of having lunch – the main course was delivered. Confit de Canard! Finally after a week of other things, I got my confit, and it was fabulous.

The wines paired perfectly with the lunch and we were in heaven. We talked about the improvements in wine making over the last twenty years and the changes in the industry. We talked about terroir and the role of the winemaker in producing the best wine the terroir can give. We talked about women and their shoes – that no man will ever understand why a woman needs to have so many shoes, because no man ever looks at a woman’s shoes – and realized that even though we come from different cultures some things are the same. We had a great time. Desert was served, then coffee. Then we just sat. Thomas said, “In France the time after the lunch is still lunch. It is just as important.” Ah, the French. They know the importance of the entire experience. At home I have lunch and then race to the next thing. In America we have lunch at our desk, but in France the have lunch. It is not just fuel to keep you going it is part of a life that is worth living.

We said our good-byes and I realized how much I like these guys. They are fabulous men and I enjoy every time I am with them. We are separated by an ocean and a language, but we have a shared love of great wine – except that they make great wine and I just love great wine.

We went from there to pick up a bottle of 2012 Chateau La Fleur du Roy in Pomerol. Once again La Fleur du Roy was the best wine at the Pomerol tasting at Vinexpo and we are privileged to have his 2008 and 2010 in the club. We’ll see if his 2012 makes the cut in the blind tasting, but it is a powerhouse and I bet it will do very well.

We had one more stop to make, in Lalande de Pomerol at Chateau Bourseau. Neither Chateau Bourseau or Thomas’ Chateau Reclos de la Couronne were at Vinexpo. It is very expensive for the small wineries to be part of the event and the one’s that don’t need to be there skip it.

Bourseau is another wine we have loved in the club and when we visited the house/chai this time we discovered that Wine Spectator has asked for samples so it may be arriving in the States soon. I still wanted to taste the 2012 so we got bottles to put in our blind tasting and perhaps we’ll choose the wine for you before it comes into the US.

We returned to the Chateau Camiac where we were staying around 7:00 and didn’t want dinner. After a huge lunch and a big dinner the night before it was time for something light. We sat on the patio of the chateau and opened a couple of bottles of 1999 Chateau La Corronne (the “big brother” of Chateau St Brice) and had some cheese and bread for dinner. We went through our notes to make sure all the right wines were ordered for the blind tasting, sent a couple of emails requesting some more wines, and relaxed as the sun set around 10:00.

I realize that I am privileged to have some great relationships here in Bordeaux. It is incredible that I can have lunch with winemakers in Bordeaux and if you had told me ten years ago that I would be doing this I would have never believed you. These are great guys who are making fabulous wine and it is a privilege to know them and be able to work with them. I hope their wines make the cut (and I don’t know what I’ll do if they don’t) but I love working with these guys and I don’t take it for granite. Great wine shared with great friends is what this is all about and I am privileged to have both in my life.

Tomorrow we head back to Margaux for our first blind tasting. Can’t wait!

2015 Wine Camp, Day Five: Bonfire

This was the last official day for Vinexpo and while there were no major events scheduled for us to visit we were looking forward to lunch with our friend Patrick who is the young winemaker at Chateau Tour Bicheau. I met Patrick when he was just 27 years old and still learning winemaking from his father and grandfather. Today he is in charge of the winemaking and is making a stunning wine. You know him from his 2008 and 2010 vintages that we have had in the club and we have his 2012 in the Blind Tasting.

We met at the Exhibition hall and mentioned that we were also looking for a Cognac. He has a friend whose family makes Cognac so he walked us to their booth and introduced us. The lovely matron of the family invited us to sit down while we tasted three of her very good Cognac’s. I have no idea how we will choose a Cognac from all the great ones we’ve tasted, but it has been fabulous learning more about this unique degistif and it will be fun to have a Cognac back home that is only available through our club. I am picturing many nights at the Union League in the cigar lounge sipping our Cognac and enjoying our cigars.

From Cognac in the morning we headed to lunch with Patrick. Bill wanted the Parmentier again so that is where we took Patrick. We enjoyed a long two hour, classic French lunch with a lovely bottle of Rose to wash down the Parmentier and talked about wine and French politics, enjoying every minute of it.

By two o’clock it was time to get back to tasting. We had narrowed our list of Cognac’s down to three and we went back to taste those three. They seem to fall into two categories. The first category are the one’s that burn your nose hair and light your throat on fire as they go down, much like a liquid bonfire you can’t stop being drawn to. There are various degrees of this pleasant torture, but that is the basic style. The second category are those that are silky smooth and deceive you into believing you are not really drinking 40 proof alcohol. So the question for you – those of you who are members of the club and are interested in a Cognac – which style would you prefer? I plan to visit the town of Cognac in a couple of weeks and make my selection, so let me know what I should be looking for.

We stopped at a couple of booths to taste some more wines but most were packing up and really, it was impossible to taste wine again after having had our pallets attacked by Cognac. It was another a great day and a great Vinexpo. We’ll spend a couple of days on the Right Bank then head back to Margaux for the Grand Degustation on Saturday. We already have a wonderful section for the blind tasting so I am very excited about the wines we will choosing from.

We drove across the river to Camiac and checked in to our Right Bank hotel. One of our favorite restaurants in Les Tour des Vents (I interviewed the Maitre’d a couple of years ago and you can see the youtube video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hV8aeXel7p8 ) and since it was only an hour away from our hotel we decided to venture there for dinner. As if the stunning view isn’t enough, the food is outstanding and every bit deserving of it’s Michelin star. It also happens to be mentioned in this month’s Wine Spectator! It was another incredible dinner and a “pinch me, I can’t believe I’m here” day in Bordeaux.

2015 Wine Camp, Day Four: Volley Ball Tournament

Some days are a mix of highs and lows; today was one of those days.

Our morning began with a tasting of about a hundred wines from St Estephe-a region in Bordeaux just north of Pauillac and home to some fantastic wines. Cos D’Estournel, Calon Segur and Lafon Rochet make their home here as well as many other great wines. The ridge of St Estephe cascades down to the river and the terroir is perfect for growing great grapes. Almost every wine is already available in the US so it was not a particularly important tasting for us, but the wines were good and some were fantastic. The 2012 Calon Segur was the wine of the room for me and worth whatever ridiculous price they will charge for it. There’s nothing like tasting incredible wine at 10:00 in the morning.

Our next stop was a structured tasting of the “Winemakers Collection.” For this event we sat classroom style with ten wines in front of us – each wine made from the same vineyard/chateau by a different winemaker each year. You can find these wines at Total Wine – they have a black and white label with a picture of the winemaker on the label – and they are all forgettable.

Each wine was described meticulously by the host, and each winemaker gave their reasons why the wine was special. Special is not the exact word I would use to describe these wines. “Special need” would be more like it. Every wine was uninteresting, simple and not worth buying. The idea was to show that the only thing that really matters is the winemaker; That the same vineyard in the hands of a different winemaker can produce a different great wine every year. I believe they proved the exact opposite. The same vineyard can only make a certain level of wine, and the winemaker can do his or her best, but they still are stuck with the grapes they have and they can only make a wine as good as the vineyard. The same is true with consultants by the way, but that will be another newsletter. The tasting was painful. The more they talked about how great the wines were the more absurd the whole thing became. We looked at each other and said, “Are you ready to leave?” We were.

We were glad when it was over and headed for lunch. Bill was jealous of the parmentier confit du carnard I had yesterday, so we went back to that restaurant and ordered it again – and it was fantastic again! The morning was redeemed and we were ready for the afternoon.

We ran into Pierre Emmanuel – the winemaker from Chateau Pierhem – who told us he was at a booth for Montagne St Emilion wines and we headed there to perhaps find another wine like Thomas Thieu’s Reclos de la Couronne or Pierre Emmanuel’s Chateau Pierhem. We didn’t. It made us realize how special Thomas and Pierre Emmanuel are and what a great find Reclos de la Couronne and Pierhem are, and that is why you taste.

From here we walked the mile of the exposition floor over to a tasting of four hundred Cru Bourgeois wines. Yes, four hundred! Bill looked at the room and was ecstatic. I was less enthralled. Many of the wines were either already in the US or we had previously tasted them at the Medoc, Haut-Medoc, Listrac tasting so that narrowed the list down to about a hundred wines for me.

There were some surprisingly great wines in this group and we have added more to our list of wines for the blind tasting. It is amazing that there is such a wide spectrum of wines from the same vintage and the same general area. Sometimes all I have to do is smell the wine and I know I don’t want it. Other times I love the nose and it disappoints on the pallet. The great ones are really great and the others are not, and that is part of the value of the club. We are sifting through the multitude of wines to bring only the great ones to our members.

I ran into Christine – the winemaker and owner of Chateau Beau Rivage – at this event and it was good to catch up with her and talk about the tasting. She is also a cooper (barrel maker) and after tasting one wine she said, “If I wanted to make a wine that tasted like wood I could do it.” She’s right – some of these wines were so over-oaked that it was embarrassing. A winemaker over-oaks his wine when he doesn’t have good fruit, so he hides it with wood. They would be better off to focus more on their vineyard and make better grapes!

By 6:15 Bill and I were the only one’s left in the tasting room and I had to drag him away from the wines he hadn’t tasted yet; it was time to leave. It had been another productive day. Even the bad wines help you appreciate the truly great ones, and we tasted plenty of both.

The weather was finally good enough to have dinner outside and we enjoyed a lovely bottle of 1999 Chateau La Coronne and opened but didn’t finish a bottle of 2011 Reclos de la Couronne, while talking until late into the night and solving the problems of the world. It’s a true sign of becoming French.

2015 Wine Camp, Day three: Sailing

Today was a little less hectic, but not without it’s stress. My first meeting was a wonderful lunch (Parmentier de canard – confit de canard mixed into mashed potatoes and simply fantastic) with two French friends. Benoit is a rep for about two hundred wines in the US and Guilhem is a college kid from Bordeaux that I’ve gotten to know who is looking for an internship in the wine industry in the US. We had a wonderful time talking about the wine industry and the possibilities for Guilhem as well as catching up on each other’s lives. It was my Relationships Core Motivator at work and it felt great!

After lunch we met with the folks from Uni Medoc, a Cave Cooperative in the northern Medoc that is making some wonderful wines. Some of you know Grand Art – and the 2012 is fantastic. We tasted six wines and we’ll be including the Grand Art in the blind tasting along with another wine from their Cave. These are wonderful people and I love working with them. That is why the blind tasting is so important; we have to make sure we love the wine as much as we like the people.

From here Benoit walked us over us to a Cognac producer that he is repping and we tasted (and spat) and thought it was just ok. The search for Cognac continues.

Walking thru the halls of Vinexpo I had seen a small booth with a little old man sitting by himself that was displaying Cognac. I didn’t have time to stop, but later in the afternoon I convinced Bill to wander around the massive space and try to find this guy. After a good twenty minutes of tacking back and forth through the complex of booths and people we finally found him. In an almost unintelligible raspy, quiet voice he proudly showcased his Cognac for us. It was fabulous! We were drawn in to his story and personality and loved his Cognac. We are looking for a Cognac that will go well with Cigars and we may have found the one we’re looking for. We will taste his Cognac again at the end of the week against some others but at this point he is the front-runner.

From here Bill wanted to try some wines from the Loire Valley so we wandered over to a booth that had about twenty wines to taste. Freakishly the guy at the stand recognized me from a Chateau we visited years ago and after giving me a little attitude because we never bought his wine was helpful in guiding us to some very good selections. Although I am not a huge Cabernet Franc fan as a single varietal, some of them were quite nice – though not Club worthy – and he is going to be frustrated again. C’est la vie.

My day finished with a visit to our container shipper. They are a huge shipper and we have been dealing with them since the inception of the club. Our last three shipments have taken three weeks to cross the Atlantic and three weeks to get from New York to Philadelphia which is completely unacceptable. I had a constructive conversation (aka: rough sailing) with one of the management team and let’s hope this gets straightened out.

Our day of tasting was complete and we headed back to Margaux for a nap and dinner. We returned to Lion D’Or for a fabulous dinner with a couple of bottles of 1999 Chateau La Couronne. The wine was awesome, the lapin (rabbit) was wonderful and the glace vanille was beautiful. I asked why they didn’t have confit de canard on the menu and they told me that if I called in advance they would prepare it for me! This is quickly becoming our “go to” place and we have decided to hold one of our blind tastings here.

We have over twenty-five wines for the blind tasting so far and are feeling very good about the prospects of finding ten great wines for the club. We are a little light on Right Bank wines but are not worried about it. Our first love is really the Left Bank and it would be good to establish more relationships here.

It’s been a great week so far and we hope the last couple of days prove as fruitful as the first.


2015 Wine Camp Day Two: Mountain Climb

Yesterday was our “Mountain Climb” day. We had three major tastings to attend beginning in the morning with the Grand Cru tasting of about 125 wines from the 2014 vintage. These are the famous ones you would recognize, and it was like tasting the entire Bordeaux inventory at Total Wine. I knew we had a long day ahead of us, and I had already tasted most of theses at the Grand Cru event in New York last January, so I was careful with my selection of wines to taste. Bill tasted them all!

As I reported in January the 2014 vintage is a mixed bag. Some made fantastic wine (Smith Haut Lafitte, Pape Clement, Gruaud Larose and D’Armahillac are among the best) and others missed the mark completely (best to avoid the entire Margaux appellation). Be careful when buying futures in this vintage and make sure you are getting a good wine.

I tasted about a third of the red wines but couldn’t resist the Sauternes and had to taste all fifteen. Sauterne is indeed the “nectar of the god’s” and all except one were absolutely stunning. It is almost shameful to even critique them. The mix of sweet honey and light citrus is irresistible and 2014 was a great vintage for them.

We took a longer than anticipated lunch break because a simple hamburger in France takes an hour. There is a saying over here: “The French have no translation for the phrase ‘fast food,’ and the Americans have no translation for the phrase “bon appetite.” We experienced at least one part of that yesterday – the French can’t do food fast. We probably needed the longer break anyway so it was for the best but a little frustrating nonetheless. By the way – the hamburger was fabulous!

After lunch we headed to the opposite end of the spectrum both literally and figuratively. The tasting for the 2012 Medoc, Haut-Medoc and Listrac non classified wines was at the other end of the exhibition hall (a mile away), and we hiked over there to see what they had to offer. Fortunately for us, this tasting had been going on since before lunch and the crowd has thinned so there was not the pushing and shoving that we had experienced yesterday or at the Grand Cru event.

This tasting was our mountain top experience.

There were another one hundred wines to taste here and we weren’t expecting much. Two thousand and twelve is not considered a great vintage and we were expecting some very average wines. We were wrong. After tasting about twenty wines Bill and I looked at each other and said, “I’m shocked. These are amazing!” The wines were consistently complex, well made with good tannic structure, barnyard and great length.

We tasted every wine and then compared our notes. We re-tasted several and decided to invite fifteen to our blind tasting. That is the highest number of wines we have ever found from one tasting. There are some great wines that would have been invited to our blind tasting in any other year but they were out shown this year by some simply fantastic wines. This is exactly what we started the club to find; great wines from small producers that are hidden gems – and today we found a bunch of them. I can’t wait to taste them again at the Grand Degustation.

Our day wasn’t over. We headed across the lake to the tasting for “Bio” wines. These are the wines that are being made organically with no chemicals and these winemakers present together in one hall. I don’t really like the format because you have wines from Alsace, Cote de Rhone, Bordeaux and other regions all next to each other. I think the “bio” wines should be in the same tasting as the other wines from their regions and let them stand next to their competition.

Nonetheless I wasn’t there to taste the wines – I went over to see my friend Guilleume from Chateau Beau Rivage and taste his wines. It was great to see him and I remember when we first met and he was just a kid in his twenties trying to get started in the industry. Today he is married with a three-year-old baby, has just bought a house in Bordeaux and is becoming a fixture in the Bordeaux wine world. it is fun to think that I have been coming for so many years that I have friends here now that I look forward to seeing them every year. He is also working for a great winemaker and the wines at Beau Rivage were excellent. We’ll be including some of them in the blind tasting as well (the ’09 le Phare is stunning).

We ended our day at Vinexpo stopping at another Cognac producer on our way back to the car. This one was a little disappointing; or I am developing my pallet for Cognac and just becoming more critical. Je ne sais pas.

It was a great day and we now have over twenty wines for our blind tasting this weekend. We finished the night with dinner at Lion D’Or – which was fabulous – and reminds me why I love the simple bistro food of a classic local French restaurant.

Just another day at Wine Camp:)

2015 Vinexpo: Wine Camp Day One

It is that time once again to make the pilgrimage to Bordeaux for the biannual wine festival – Vinexpo. I landed in Bordeaux on Wednesday – arriving a couple of days early in order to try to get over the jet lag before the serious tasting begins – and have had a great time playing tour guide for a friends son who has met me here.

Vinexpo is the trade show for the professional wine world and the major gathering of the big wines in Bordeaux. Bill and I started attending in 2009 and it has become something we look forward to. It is held in the Parc des Expositions just outside the city limits of Bordeaux and the halls themselves are about one mile long. You can spend your day walking all over the exhibition floor and get caught in the maze of wine merchants, negotiants, and chateaux owners selling their wares at individual booths, but you would not find many wines for the Club.

The best part of the event for us are the major tasting events – usually by a special grouping – where we can taste a lot of wine in a single place. We began our day visiting the Pomerol tasting with about forty winemakers showcasing their 2011 vintage. I begin by asking a winemaker if they currently export to the United States and if they say, “yes,” then I don’t taste their wine. We tasted all of the wines that are not currently imported into the US, so that got our list down to about twenty wines.

Bill and I do not taste together. We split up and taste separately and then compare notes when we are finished. Sometimes I have a wine I want Bill to re-taste because I think it’s great and sometimes he has one for me to re-taste. Sometimes we agree to disagree. When we finally agree on a wine, we ask the winemaker to submit a bottle to us for our blind tasting which will be held this Saturday and Sunday.

The Pomerol 2011 vintage as a whole is uninteresting and a tad thin. We chose only three wines from this event to include in our blind tasting, and one of those is a stretch. There is also one from a winemaker we have had previously in the Club that was the best wine in the room and is truly outstanding; again. I’ll let you guess which one it was, and we’ll see how it does in the blind tasting.

After a quick lunch we headed to the St Emilion tasting room where about sixty winemakers were crammed into a room far to small for the capacity crowd that was pushing and nudging to put their glass in front of a winemaker in order to get a sample. I am more careful now than I used to be, but in previous years it has been a kind of bumper cars affair trying to avoid getting wine spilled all over me.

Again, they were showing off their 2011 vintage but at this event they were also pouring their 2014 vintage. Here the ‘11’s were much better, and there were quite a few we liked. We chose four wines at this tasting and would have chosen more except that most were already available in the US.   A couple of these wines are WOW’s and I can’t wait to see how they will do in the blind tasting.

From St Emilion we ventured out into the sea of stands and booths and decided to try a couple of Cognac’s. I have developed a love of Cognac and am toying with the idea of finding a great one to import for our Club members. We came across two that blew us away, and will continue our search tomorrow.

It was a long and fruitful day and we are off to a great start. Tomorrow is more focused on the left bank and we will see what it brings.

“Pinch Me; I Can’t Believe I’m Here!”

Yesterday was another one of those days that makes me say, “Pinch me; I can’t believe I’m here.”  My day began with a visit to Chateau Gloria to meet Jean Triaud the grandson of the founder and the person currently in charge of promoting the wines.  We had met in New York at the Grand Cru event and he had invited me to come visit the chateau so I decided to take him up on his kind offer.  Gloria has long been one of my favorite wines but at the Grand Cru event I discovered their other wine, Ch Saint Pierre which is fabulous.  Jean gave me a tour of the grounds and the history of the chateau even pointing out places where he used to play as a child growing up on the property.  We went into the barrel room and tasted Cloria, Saint Pierre and Ch Bel Air and they are all great wines.  I was walking around the chateau thinking, “I’m just a kid from Baltimore.  How did I get here?”  It was a wonderful visit and even though Gloria is imported to the US in large quantities, and we will never offer it in the wine club, it was a great way to spend the morning.

At noon France closes down.  The shutters shut, the streets are quiet and you would think a national emergency has caused everyone to run for their bunkers.  It is the sacred right of lunch and the country stops to worship.  I had a lovely ham and cheese baguette alone on a bench looking over the Gironde river; it was just ok.

Once the “all clear” sounded it was back to work and time for another appointment at another chateau.  I was in Begadan a small town in the northern end of the Medoc at a petit chateau whose wine we had just selected in the bind tasting.  I drove onto the estate, parked my car and was greeted by the owners dog – not my favorite thing – which I’ve gotten used to as most of these places, particularly the ones in the countryside have dogs around the property.   I found the owner who was another wonderful winemaker and very engaging.  He was kind enough to give me a tour of the property – which he had just purchased in 2010 – and show me the changes and improvements he is undertaking.  He moved his family from Belgium to France to follow his passion for owning a winery and making great wine; and he is succeeding!  We toured and tasted and I enlisted his son as cameraman to shoot a video of us talking about the wine which we will eventually post on the web site after we import his wine.  I was in a place where very few Americans ever go, tasting wines on the patio of a beautiful small chateau in the middle of nowhere, and I again found myself wondering, “How did I get here?”

From there I made my way to the final appointment of the day, another chateau whose wine we had selected in our blind tasting.  This property was more of a major operation with fifteen people working on various aspects of the wine business and quite the production under way.  I met the owner who spoke very little English and we tasted his wines including the best white Bordeaux I have ever tasted.  My French is coming along, but it’s no where near enough to have a long conversation so after we tasted the wines we were pretty much done.   I managed to enlist his mother to shoot a very short video using the little English he was gracious enough to muster for the film.  We loved his wine but he may not have enough for the club – a new problem we’re running into since we’ve grown from thirty members to eighty members in the last year.

We are discovering several new challenges as the club grows.  In good vintages the chateaux don’t keep wine in quantities large enough for the club.  The wines are being sold as soon as they are bottled and by the time we taste them they are sold out.  We are going to need to buy wine “enpremieur” which will be our next adventure.  We have also found our first winery that will only sell us 1,000 bottles because they are only making 2,000 bottles – and we loved this wine.  That is enough wine for now, but in the future it could be a problem.  The more time I spend in the wine world the more I am pealing back the layers of the wine business and the more I understand how it works.  I remain convinced that we have a great model and am excited to see the club grow.  In fact, that is how I got here; it’s you our members and I am grateful for each of you.

Merci beaucoups,



Tasting the Left Bank

We were very encouraged after tasting twenty-four wines from the Right Bank and finding eleven we could include in the club.  That is a great start to being able to find ten wines for next year.  Yesterday we set up the bottles again to taste another twenty-four wines – this time from the Left Bank.  Although I would consider myself more of a Left Bank wine lover than Right Bank, the blind tastings and club selections over the last couple of years have been remarkably weighted to the Right Bank.  Perhaps I have been fooling myself and I am really a Right Bank guy.  Yesterday we tasted the 2010 vintage – a great vintage in Bordeaux – and if ever there was a vintage to love the Left Bank this was it.

We covered the bottles, removed the corks and set up our tasting.  We were joined by Guilliume from Chateau Beau Rivage and Chateau Clos la Boheme who brought three more bottles with him to include in the tasting.  We were also joined by Pierre-Emmanuel the owner and winemaker at Chateau Pierhem.  It was particularly interesting to have a winemaker taste with us as he was intensely judging the quality of the wine-making.

Again we tasted in silence – a difficulty for one of our guests – and made it through all twenty-four wines, often going back a second or third time to make sure we got it right.

I am happy to report that I still love the Left Bank!  Of the twenty-four wines we tasted we have chosen nine for the club and we now have a total of twenty wines to bring in for our members.  The big surprise was that although one of the winemakers scored four of her wines in the final nine, the others were from chateaux we have not worked with before.  This is very exciting because it means that 1) we have found a great winemaker who makes wines we love in the style we love, and 2) we are expanding our reach to new wineries and new winemakers.

We took the top two wines from the Right Bank and the top two wines from the Left Bank and went to dinner to enjoy these great wines with food – specifically Duck!  Let me pause here to say that the duck was amazing.  It was my favorite – confit de carnard – taken off the bone and without the skin, then stacked in a two inch high tower, with mashed potato’s on top and a sauce on the side.  The sauce was amazing as most French sauces are but this one was particularly fantastic.  I asked the waitress about the sauce and she told me it was foie gras sauce.  WHAT?  Foie Gras in a Sauce?!  Seriously?  It is made with foie gras, cream and Cognac and there wasn’t a drop left on my plate.  Only in France!

We did not finish the wines so we took them to a table of two couples still left in the restaurant and asked them if they’d like to try the wines – which they quickly agreed to do.  These folks went nuts for the wines, and we knew we had winners.  I can’t wait to get these imported for our members and I know you will have the same reaction.



Members:  make sure to check out the Members section as I continue to upload more videos of winemakers talking about their wines.  Thomas Thieu is now on there talking about three of his wines.