Andrew Bell, ASA (r) at Union Des Grands Crus de Bordeaux
“If only people could imagine the riches!” says a wine connoisseur friend, standing in the gorgeous ballroom of the historic Waldorf Astoria hotel in Manhattan. It is a sunny winter day, and celebrity wine writers have turned out to taste the ’06 vintage at Union Des Grands Crus de Bordeaux.
Each year the finest vignerons of the Chateaux of Bordeaux — many of them Chateau owners — showcase their wines for the media, wine store owners, and restaurateurs. I waive to many fellow journalists I know from the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and prestigious magazines. Many of the restaurateurs and sommeliers waive and recognize me. “Why haven’t you been in to our restaurant lately?” they ask, with a kiss on both cheeks, the French way.
We — all of us here in the room — are on a mission. We are here to find out what the ’06 is made of, if it is worth buying for our restaurants and stores, or what to write about it for our publication. So if you have not been to this sort of event before, let me set the scene.
Imagine walking into a room, taking a crystal glass, and having all afternoon to sip fabled wines like Chateau Rauzan-Segla, Chateau Figeac, Chateau La Lagune, Chateau Batailley, and dozens more. Beyond the famous wine, behold the plush, gilded surroundings, the burnished furniture, the elaborate architecture of the ballroom with its many-storied ceiling and opera-esque décor.
Then of course, you have the Bordeaux people, a combination of owners, winemakers, and sales staff – the men all very dapper and well-dressed, and the French women, well-coiffed and wearing the kind of elegant, fitted attire one does not typically see at the other end of the tasting table during an American tasting. Wine is poured with great charm and ceremony. Most tasters seem to know the representatives behind the tables from visits to the wineries, or appear to have warm friendships with them.
I start tasting with the whites. As you probably know, the whites of Bordeaux are mostly Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion, though some have a bit of Muscadelle added. I fall in love with many – especially Chateau Larrivet-Haut Brion in Pessac-Leognan, very rich and creamy, as well as Chateau Oliver. I was completely surprised by Chateau Pape Clement, with its white grapefruit nose and complexity.
Venturing into the reds, I found myself revisiting the wines of estates I had visited on my last trip to Bordeaux, where I lunched with many of the winemaking families and stayed in their estates. This particular vintage tasting was a much more personal experience for me than it had ever been before, mainly because I recalled my visit with each sip. Some estates, such as Lynch-Bages, I had never visited – yet owned several cases due to auction-buying frenzy.
I also had the opportunity to recall my first Union Des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, while still a student. Seeing all the famous wines awaiting inspection, all the world-famous journalists analyzing and spitting and scribbling, was quite something to behold. Though by that point in my education I could take accurate tasting notes, at the time I remember wondering when I would be sophisticated and accomplished enough to predict how a young Bordeaux would taste in ten or twenty years time. Happily, that time has come – at least, I feel to be at the cusp of it.
Like life, studying wine is an ever-evolving activity. I’m grateful for the formal wine education I received, and the luck to live in a fabulous city like Manhattan where the great estates of Bordeaux can come to me!