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.