All of our tasting and collecting of wines leads up to our big event – the Blind Tasting: “Le Grand Degustation a l’aveugle” We have collected almost fifty wines and when all those wines are sitting in front of us as we prepare for the blind tasting we are like little kids on Christmas morning. We can’t wait to get to the tasting and see what surprises we have behind the labels. We know we have good wines, but we don’t know how they will fare when they are tasted blind against other wines.
There are too many wines to taste in one sitting so we split the tasting into two sessions. Last night we tasted twenty-four wines from the Right Bank – St Emilion, Lussac, Montagne St Emilion and Pomeral -along with Graves and Bergerac.
We removed the corks and neck foil from the bottles, poured off a little bit of wine to let them breath and then covered each bottle with white paper mixed them up so we wouldn’t have any idea which wine was where and finally numbered each bottle. Then Bill and I each went to a different part of the room and began our tasting. We tasted in silence so that neither one of us influenced the other and we didn’t say anything until we had both tasted all the wines. It took us almost two hours to taste and re-taste all the wines, but we wanted to make sure we got it right.
When we do the blind tasting we begin by getting a sense of the nose on the wine, then a first impression on the pallet and finally a full expression on a swallow. After we have tasted each wine we return to the wines and re-taste – especially those we have some questions about. When we have both finished tasting all the wines we begin to compare our notes. We start with number one and give our thoughts, working our way through the entire list and even going back to re-taste when we disagree.
There were some very interesting things about this group of wines. First we both agreed that it was an overall excellent group of wines. There are wines in this group that won’t make the cut but may have in another year. Second we are again amazed at how similar our pallets are. We agreed on twenty-two of the twenty-four wines. Third – and the big surprise – we have returned to many of the same winemakers we have chosen in the past.
We picked eleven wines for the club. This is a huge number for just twenty-four wines tasted. It reflects the quality of the vintage and also that we are being more careful in the wines we invite to the blind tasting. Of the eleven wines we choose ten are from winemakers we have chosen in the past and one of those winemakers had three wines in the final eleven. That is amazing and tells us that this this group – and particularly this winemaker – is really making wines in the style we like. The crazy part is that the winemaker with three wines in the final eleven is Thomas Thieu one of our favorite people here and the winemaker pictured on the front page of the web site. This is the power of blind tasting – we had no idea which wines were his and were completely surprised when three of his wines made the final cut. You will recognize some of the other wines but I will keep the final list private until we have confirmed all the details of the wines – price, availability, label approval etc.
We had a very successful tasting last night and today we are going to taste the wines from the Left Bank – Margaux, Pauillac, St Julien, St Estephe, Medoc, Haut Medoc etc. We have several winemakers joining us for this tasting and it should be a very interesting afternoon. I’ll let you know how it goes.
For the last couple of days we stayed at one of my favorite places in all of France – Chateau de Sanse – a beautifully restored ruin about a half hour east of St Emilion. We knew that none of the wineries would be open on Saturday so we made out way to one of the best restaurants in France – Les Tour des Vents in Monbazillac to spend the afternoon indulging in lunch. This is a fabulous restaurant that I come to every year and am always blown away by the food and presentation. My next book will be called: “Defeated By Lunch: My time in France”, and this restaurant is one of the reasons why. Here is our video of our lunch;
One of the disappointing things about Vinexpo this year was the absence of a St Emilion tasting. We now have almost forty wines for the blind tasting from the left bank and Pomerol but almost nothing from St Emilion. We love the wines from St Emilion as they tend to be a little softer than their left bank cousins and slightly more elegant. St. Emilion is also difficult to navigate as there are over 1400 wineries and most are small properties with no large presence. So our goal was to try to find a way to begin discovering the small properties that are similar to the ones we’ve discovered on the left bank.
The search began with Bill doing his fact finding/researcher thing and coming up with a list of ten wines to try to find. He also found a Cave Co-Operative that looked interesting so we began there. We introduced ourselves to the nice woman at the front desk and within minutes were greeted by the sales manager of the Cave. He took us on a tour of the very modern facility and we explained to him what we were looking for – the kind of wines and the proprietors we like working with. We tasted ten wines most of which we didn’t like, but choose two to add to the blind tasting. I’m not sure how they will fare with the rest of the group since we have so many great wines this year but we felt these two were worth “inviting to Hollywood.”
By this time it was noon and as you know everything shuts down for lunch in France at noon. So – as if it was forced upon us – we went to a lovely little restaurant for dejuner. An omelet washed down with a glass of rose and finished with vanilla ice cream – all while looking out over the village and vineyards of St Emilion – is a lovely way to spend a two hour lunch. The French do simple things like omelets and ice cream so much better than we do in the states that it is always one of my highlights here to enjoy them.
After lunch we went to see our friend Thomas Thieu at Chateau Reclos de la Couronne and to taste his 2012 from the barrel. He is making great wine and his 2012 is very good. We picked up his sample of 2010 Reclos de la Couronne for the blind tasting and filmed some video of him in his barrel room (coming soon) and had a good time catching up. I will be back to see Thomas later, and we are going to film an extended video with him when Dave comes over in a couple of weeks.
From Thomas’ place in Montagne St Emilion we made the short drive over to Pomerol to visit Pierre-Emmanuel the owner and wine maker of Chateau Pierhem. Pierhem is a very small property – making only 45 barrels of wine (about 13,000 bottles). This powerhouse wine has blown us away in the last two vintages and we are of course including his 2010 in our blind tasting. Pierre Emmanuel was in a talkative mood and we shot a lot of video as he explained the complexity of his wine and the impact of the different barrels on the blend.
We continue to find that the winemakers here are very passionate about their wine. They are excited to tell us about the differences in terroir, barrels and blending that impact the unique quality of their wine. When a winemaker puts this kind of hard work and creativity into their wine they are very proud because the wine – like any other work of art – is a representation of who they are and an expression of what they consider beautiful. They want you to appreciate what they have created but like any other work of art beauty is in the eyes – or the tongue – of the beholder. We are privileged to be surrounded by all this beauty and to be welcomed into their “studio’s” as they create their masterpieces and share them with us. And of course, it is our privilege to share these great works of art with you.
One of our joys is working with wonderful people here. We are shooting some video of winemakers and here is the owner of Chateau La Fleur Jonquet:
Today we got up late after the amazing party at Chateau Phelan Segur and a very late night. We decided to drive up to Cave St Brice and see if we could get a sample of the 2010 St Brice for the blind tasting. I love St Brice and always say that it is the wine the club was built on. When I first visited Bordeaux in 1999 I went to a tasting at the tourist center in Pauillac and of all the wines there I loved St Brice. The next day I drove out to their place and bought some of their wine – the 1996 – and it was fantastic. We have returned every year and included their wine several times in the club. However – it is a Cave Co-operative and it has been very difficult to work with them for label approvals etc. They are not particularly interested in exporting to the US and the woman who works at the front desk is, how shall we say…difficult (and I’m being kind).
This time we arrived and asked to taste the wine (avez vous un crachoir? – no.) and asked if we could speak to the maitre de chais – the guy who makes the wine and manages the cellar – and he happened to be in the cellar room. This guy was fantastic and very helpful. We spoke only in French and the woman at the counter just sneered (ok, I was a little too satisfied by this) and even gave us a bottle for the tasting. We then spoke about printing the labels for the wine and he is going to work with us on that. This is a break through with St Brice and I am very excited that we might finally be able to include it in the club.
The days go quickly here with so much wine to taste and so little time. The convention center where Vinexpo is held is over a kilometer long and yesterday I walked back and forth at least four times. There was a tasting of Sauternes on one side, then a meeting with a winemaker on the other side and a tasting in the afternoon of Pomerol back on the other side…and so it goes. We had several meetings with winemakers and we are making good progress as we continue to build relationships with producers. This is a key thing for the future of the club as we need to be able to get allocations of their wines – particularly in good vintages.
We found several new Pomerol’s that we are excited about tasting in the blind tasting and a new wine from a Cave Co-operative that is really fantastic. They only made 3,000 bottles of this wine and if it makes it through the blind tasting we will be taking 1200 bottles.
In the evening we attended a “fete” at Chateau Phelan Segur and it was truly over the top. Imagine a wedding reception for 600 of your closest friends and pouring amazing wines with amazing food. I’ve attached the menu:)
As I wright this we are assembling the group of wines for the blind tasting and inviting some winemakers to share the event with us, which will be held on Monday. We already have 22 wines ready for the “degustation” and are headed to St Emilion tomorrow to look for more.
It is rainy and cold here today – which is very unusual for this time of year in France. It doesn’t bode well for the 2013 vintage, but that is not why we’re here. We’re here to taste the 2010 and 2011 vintages and select wines for the club.
Our day began with a lovely lunch tasting eight wines from the maker of Mirambeau Papin and Cru Lagaillarde. Xavier makes great wines and we had already selected his 2009 Cru Lagaillarde for the the 2012 Club Pack so we were meeting up with him to discuss some details and taste his other wines. We are very impressed with a couple of his other wines and we are including them in the blind tasting. It was a fabulous lunch with great wines and fun to meet a new winemaker. We also took our first winemaker video – which will soon be on the web site.
From lunch we wandered over to Joseph Burrier’s stand. This is my favorite Burgundy producer and I imported some of his white wine for the Union League. He is making wonderful whites and I am trying to get him to come to the League for a tasting event. We’ll see…
At 3:00 we attended the tasting of the wines from St Estephe and although there were some wonderful and amazing wines (Calon Segur, Montrose, Lafon Rochet ) there were many disappointments also. We really weren’t thrilled by much in this tasting and were very surprised at the number of thin and uninteresting wines. This is a great vintage with too few great wines.
Our final tasting event of the day was at the Bio dynamic Winemakers event. There were many not good wines here but several standouts that we have invited to the blind tasting. Again, we’ll see how they fare compared to the others. One standout in this room was a Sauterne that I am thrilled about. I want to find a Sauterne for the Union League and for our members but I’m not sure how to decide which one. This one is certainly a contender and I can’t wait to taste others at the Sauterne tasting tomorrow.
We had dinner with the winemaker from Beau Rivage and Clos La Boheme (and my favorite sales rep, Guilliume) and tasted some more good wines. Christine’s family owns a cooperage and she also makes several wines. She is a great winemaker and a wonderful person to have dinner with – I just wish she had enough of her 2010 for our club members. We are having a great time and continue to pinch ourselves and wonder how we got here. It is also a lot of work but I’m not complaining. How can I complain when I had foie gras and magret du carnard for lunch and steak with seared foie gras on top for dinner – all washed down by wonderful wines.
Ahh, we love Bordeaux!
The first day at Vinexpo is always an exciting time. The halls are filled with energy and excitement as everyone begins to settle in to tasting the new wines.
We began our day tasting 65 wines from the 2010 vintage in the Medoc and Haut Medoc. I was expecting big things from this event based on the great wines I had tasted from 2010 at the Grand Cru tasting in New York in January. This vintage is highly rated and everyone has been raving about how great it is. We were shocked and disappointed when we tasted many mediocre and ordinary wines. There were many wines that were thin and uninteresting and this was very different from the wonderful wines I tasted at the Grand Cru. Could there be that much difference between the Grand Cru’s and these wines? Yes.
We tasted through the lot and in the end we picked ten wines that we will invite to our blind tasting. That is still a good number of wines, but I was expecting more from this vintage.
In the afternoon we went to the Cru Bougeois tasting and there were another one hundred wines to taste. At about the thirty wine mark my pallet was dead. Every wine I put in my mouth felt like sandpaper. Bill continued to taste and overall we were very impressed with this group. We selected another ten wines we are inviting to the blind tasting and we feel much better. After only one day we have twenty wines to invite to the blind tasting and there are many very good wines in this bunch.
We also did a video at Vinexpo showing how I look for wines which I’ve uploaded for you there:
We had a fabulous dinner to top off our evening. We were invited to a grand dinner at Chateau Citran – with wines from Chateau Citran, Chateau Chasse Spleen, Chateau Ferriere, and Chateau Camensac, and Chateau Gruaud-Larose. It was a fantastic evening and again I wonder how I got here. But I am thankful for it all and amazed that I get to do this.
I stood on the balcony of a third story apartment in the center of Bordeaux and wondered, “How did I get here?” On my first visit to Bordeaux in 1999 I gazed at the ancient buildings and marveled at a wine world that seemed closed – even hostel – to outsiders, and I was certainly an outsider. On that first trip I fell in love with a city and surrounding countryside that had already wooed me with it’s wine. Now I was having dinner with a winemaker friend and a few of his other clients. I met Benoit Trocard and his family several years ago and imported his wine for Brasserie Ruhlman in New York, The Union League in Philadelphia, and Bistro de Paris in Disney World. It’s been quite a ride.
Dinner was amazing – Seven courses, eight wines and some awesome vintages.
The flight is never good but I know I will not get any sympathy form any of you reading this so why complain? I have arrived three days early in hopes of getting over the jet lag prior to the start of Vinexpo and our yearly tasting adventure. It’s quiet in Margaux at 3:30 am. That says it all. Vinexpo is the world wide wine industry trade show held in Bordeaux every other year. It is a fantastic opportunity for us to taste new wines and meet new winemakers.
We will be tasting the 2010’s this year and even some of the 2011’s . 2010 is another fantastic vintage following the massive 2009’s. At the Grand Cru tasting in New York in January I was very impressed with the 2010’s and I am really looking forward to tasting the wines from lesser known properties that we will be tasting this week. The big difference between the 2009’s and the 2010’s is that the 2010’s can be enjoyed now. At least that was my impression in January; We’ll see how they show up this week.
2011 will be another story. We will have to look very carefully to find wines that make the grade for the club from that vintage and it won’t be easy.
Monday is the big day. Bill arrives in the morning and we will have our work cut out for us. Tastings for the Medoc, Listrac and Cru Bourgeois are all on Monday, plus we have been invited to dinner at Chateau Chasse Spleen ( I can’t wait). We have never been invited to any of the big dinners at the chateaux in previous years and this year we are going to dinner every night so it is quite exciting. I’ll let you know how it goes but I am looking forward to tasting some wonderful wines.
Tuesday is the St Estephe tasting and Wednesday is Sauterne and Pommerol. In between those group tasting events we will be meeting with individual winemakers and searching for new wines for the club. I am on a quest for a great Sauterne for the Union League (and also the club) so we will see what we can find.
Until next time,
The first day in France is always a long day and I never seem to do well with jet lag. After flights from Philly to JFK, JFK to Paris and Paris to Bordeaux I arrived by 8:30am and was totally exhausted. I waited for my friend John to arrive at 11:40 and we began our trip by driving up the magical D2 roadway to Margaux. Driving past the chateaux and the vines never gets old to me. it is simply a stunning drive for a wine lover. We arrived in Margaux around 1:00 and it was great to see my friends Wayne and Cathy at Cave L’Avant Garde. We had a beautiful lunch at the Relais de Margaux including a very nice wine Wayne brought. They even remember me at the Relais and somehow that makes the food even better:)
We will be back in Margaux on Thursday so we didn’t stay long before we made the trek over to Lussac – passing through the ancient village of St. Emilion. We arrived at Chateau Lussac as they were pressing the grapes that had just been picked. The chateau was a buzz with workers navigating long tubes laying across the floor carrying juice to the various vats and beginning the process of making wine. We met Jacques who is the manager and he gave us a tour and then showed us to our rooms. We are staying here for four nights and the place is really wonderful. Our rooms are very modern, but in the walls of an ancient chateau. The owner is Herve who also owns Chateau Vieux Maillet (we had the 2004 and the 2008 in the club) and Chateau Franc Mayne (we are getting the 2009 in the next shipment) and he has a great passion for excellence. He restored the chateau and has made some great wines and it has been my pleasure to get to know him over the past several years.
Herve invited us for dinner with he and his wife and we gladly accepted. Sometimes I have to stop and pinch myself and wonder “how did I get here? ” I am sitting in the grand dining hall of a grand chateau with the owner of a fantastic wine – a classified growth – and having an incredible dinner (confit de carnard because he knew I liked it along with incredible cheese and desert) tasting four different wines! Thank you to all the members of the club who have made it possible for me to be here, I really do owe it all to you.
One of the wines we tasted last night was the 2003 Chateau Lussac. Bill and I had picked this wine in the blind tasting a couple of years ago but we were unable to receive label approval. Herve is going to work with the label and change it for us so we can bring this wine to you. As I tasted it last night I was again impressed by what a great wine this is and I am thrilled we are going to be able to get it to you. The 2003 vintage is drinking very well now, so you are going to as impressed as i am when you receive it.
I am thinking of you all with every wine I taste and picking only the best wines to be blind tasted. Thanks again for enabling me to be here.