Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Wining by proxy...staff writer Marya Glur fills us in on the Union des Grand Crus...

Sometimes the Goddess doesn't get to attend wine events. Sob! Luckily, she has a band of merry and hearty wineaux who provide eyewitness accounts for her. Today, a special post by Staff Writer, Marya Glur, about an extraordinary annual event. Read on, and thanks, Marya!

Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux
January 21, 2012
Fairmont Hotel, Santa Monica, CA
By Marya J. Glur

The first time I attended the Union de Grand Crus des Bordeaux wine tasting a few years ago in an event space at Hollywood and Highland, I thought it was the single MOST important educational experience of my career as a wine aficionado. With over 100 château representatives, many of them winemakers and/or château owners, pouring over 150 Bordeaux wines, the event planners placed all the producers from each AOC area together making this event the perfect chance to taste through 5-10 wines from each viticultural area to really understand what makes Pauillac wine a Pauillac and how that's different from a Saint-Julien -- areas on the map that are directly adjacent. For that tasting, the Goddess and her merry band of wineaux decided the best strategy was to go for the most expensive, most prestigious wines of Bordeaux first while our palates were fresh. So, while everyone else was starting at the beginning by tasting through the whites, we headed directly to Margaux. The beauty of this strategy was that we were alone with the Margaux producers and then, Pauillac and Saint-Julien for an hour before anyone really caught up to us. We got to leisurely chat with each chateau representative about their wines before, during, and after each tasting. It was truly brilliant.

While I am excited to attend my third Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux wine tasting presented by Wally’s Wines, I am saddened by the fact that the Goddess will not be joining me. I am very honored to write this blog in her stead as the official "Lady in Waiting" to the Goddess.

I decided that the best way to prepare my palate (and stomach!) for French wines would be to enjoy a French lunch, so off I went to Cafe Crepe on Broadway and the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica to meet up with winemaker Shawn Shai Halahmy from Shai Cellars, whom I like to call the "Renaissance Man." A savory crepe with European ham and Emmenthal Swiss cheese with just a hint of nutmeg never disappoints. Bellies full, we rush the three blocks from the restaurant to the Fairmont Hotel with excited anticipation realizing that we are indeed already late to the Bordeaux Ball.

After the creamy goodness of the Emmenthal cheese, Shawn wanted to cleanse our palates by trying some whites from the Grave and Pessac-Léognan regions, the only Bordeaux appellations to create equally impressive reds and dry whites. In 1987, the Appellation D’Origine Contrôllée, the official governing body of French wine better known as the AOC, re-designated almost all of the Grand Cru Classé Châteaus in the northern area as Pessac-Léognan, relegating the southern lower quality land to remain known as Grave.

In tasting through a few of these whites, we discover that the formula of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes varies greatly from producer to producer. Here are the stand-outs:

At Château de Chantegrive (Grave), a 50/50 split is used to produce "Caroline," a very light yellow, almost clear white wine with high viscosity and a touch of fresh citrus splashing the tongue. $24.99

Ch. Carbonnieux (Pessac- Léognan, Grand Cru Classé) uses 67% Sauvignon Blanc to 33% Sémillon for a wine that has more minerality and bite along with the bright citrus notes. $42.99

Ch. Malartic-Lagravière (Pessac- Léognan, Grand Cru Classé) made of 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Sémillon where we find a perfect balance of minerality and fruit and tannin. Hints of tropical fruit like starfruit and light citrus waft over the tongue ending in a smooth finish with just the right amount of tannin. Simply lovely. $92.99

For both of us and our friend, Lucien Fick of Whole Foods, the white star of the event was the wine from Ch. Pape Clément (Pessac-Léognan, Grand Cru Classé) made from 52% Sauvignon Blanc, 38% Sémillon, 8% Sauvignon Gris, and 6% Muscadelle. The incredible nose of peaches and apricots immediately had our interest peaked. The wine had a higher viscosity and smooth mouth feel with a hint of sweet fruit on the tip of the tongue like a tiny drop of honey. Fresh citrus exploded all around followed by a perfect finish with just the right amount of tannin and oak. I wanted to enjoy an entire glass with some pan-seared scallops on a bed of frisée dressed in lemon vinaigrette and some shaved Parmiggiano-Reggiano. Divine. $169.99

From there, we decided to tackle the Pauillacs, the AOC area which boasts three of the five 1855 designated red Premier Crus. We immediately understood all the hullabaloo about 2009 vintage being the best in many years and why Bordeaux futures were selling through the roof. Many winemakers told us that 2009 vintage was great, but that 2010 was even better. Every Pauillac we tasted showed the graphite (lead pencil) nose that I dearly love and a smooth satiny mouth feel that made me want another sip. Here are some of the stand-outs:

Ch. Croizet-Bages (Grand Cru Classé) - 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc aged 18 months in 50% new barrels. 90,000 bottles produced. Lead pencil and eucalyptus in the nose, lovely supple mouth feel showing dark fruit and a speck of tobacco with a mushroomy finish full of tannin. This wine just slid right down. $39.99

Chateau D’Armailhac (Grand Cru Classé) - 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot aged 15 months in 25% new barrels. In addition to the graphite mentioned above, the nose held spices, bell pepper and a tiny bit of eucalyptus. Delicious mouth feel, dark fruit, and the perfect amount of tannin. Shawn’s exclamation of “sex in my mouth” described it beautifully. This estate has been owned by Baron Phillippe de Rothschild since 1933. $56.99

Ch. Haut-Bages Liberal (Grand Cru Classé) – 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot aged 18 months in 40% new barrels, 100,000 bottles produced. Once again, that graphite nose, bright dark cherry taste with long finish and not too much tannin. $55.99

Ch. Pichon-Longueville (Deuxième Cru Classé) – 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot aged 20 months in 80% new barrels, 180,000 bottles produced. Lead pencil nose, rich mouthfeel, beautiful tannin with tobacco finish perfectly balanced. Shawn is in ecstasy and I want a filet mignon with potatos au gratin to go with this incredible wine. $169.99

Next we moved on to Margaux and got completely lost, spending way too much time chatting with owners and winemakers while tasting the outstanding wines that they were presenting. I was heartbroken when Château Kirwan’s owner and marketing director, Sophie Schÿler-Thierry, told me that much of her crop was lost due to hail and that she only had 6,000 cases produced in 2009. I was fascinated by Nathalie Perrodo Samani, winemaker and owner of Château Labégorce who told me that she uses Cabernet Sauvignon for structure, backbone, acidity and tannin; Merlot for richness and sugar; Petit Verdot for spice and aroma; and Cabernet Franc for the finesse. Here are some of the stand-outs from this region:

Ch. Marquis De Terme (Grand Cru Classé) – 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot aged 16 monthe in 50% new barrels, 130,000 bottles produced. Bright fruit and balanced acidity mark this lovely wine. Robert Parker recently noted that this is their best vintage so far. $49.99

Château Giscours (Grand Cru Classé) – 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot 2% Cabernet Franc, aged 17 months in 50% new barrels. 280,000 bottles produced. Vegetal and graphite in the nose with the lead pencil notes that continue throughout to the finish with a touch of oaky bitterness about a minute after its gone. $79.99

Ch. Lascombes (Grand Cru Classé) - 50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot and “a lot of love” according to winemaker Dominique Befve in 100% new oak barrels. 300.000 bottles produced. This rich wine starts with a barnyard and tobacco nose which continues in the mouth, smooth and velvety with dark berry fruit, and finishes with a nice amount of tannin and wood. “Holy crap!” is my official review and I mean that in a very good way. $119.99

Ch. Rauzan-Ségla – 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot aged 18 months in 50% new barrels. A favorite of Thomas Jefferson, this estate was acquired by Chanel in 1994. This wine is bigger than the other tasted today with more fruit forward characteristics, smooth mouthfeel with a bit of astringency on the finish. The brochure for this event says that this wine has a “generous bouquet with a great deal of finesse.” I would have to agree. We all felt that the label itself was attractive to US wine drinkers looking at wines on a shelf in a store and that the wine would be a good transition wine into the more earth-driven wines of Bordeaux. $119.99

After Margaux, we took a short break and then, decided to tackle a bit of right bank wines, going next to Pomerol where the wines were certainly great, but without the ‘wow’ of the Pauillac and Margaux. I enjoyed these wines, but my notes are very basic. Some stand-outs are Ch. Petit-Village, 75% Merlot, 18% Cab Franc, 7% Cab Sauv for $59.99; Ch. LaPointe, 85% Merlot and 15% Cab Franc barnyard nose with mushroom finish $59.99; Ch. Beauregard, 70% merlot, 30% Cab Franc, black fruit, slightly bitter finish, $54.99.

I regret to say that by this time, my palate for reds was shot, so we must move onto the sweet dessert wines for which Bordeaux is known – Barsac and Sauternes. In general, I find Barsacs to be much more heavy, more perfumed, more viscous, and more flavorful than Sauternes, which can be just sweet and syrupy. “It is the autumnal morning mists lingering over its cool water, followed by warm, sunny afternoons, that combine to create ideal conditions for the development of botrytis cinerea, or “noble rot,” which produces the unique sweet wines of Barsac.” French Wine by Robert Joseph. Here are the highlights:

Château Climens (Barsac Premier Cru Classé) – 100% Sémillon barrel aged up to 24 months in 35% new oak barrels. Aromas of honeysuckle, apricots and almonds, sublime in the mouth, drizzling honey and finishes oak. Shawn and I got the very last drops of this unbelievable wine. $131.99

Ch. Coutet (Barsac Premier Cru Classé) – 75% Semillon, 23% Sauvignon Blanc, 2% Muscadelle aged 18 months in 100% new barrels. 42,000 bottles produced. Apricot, white flower nose, super sweet and spicy vanilla on the tongue. $89.99

Ch. De Fargues (Sauternes) – 80% Sémillon, 20% Sauvignon aged 36 months in 20% new barrels. 15,000 bottles produced. This wine is not overly sweet, has a nice viscosity and flavors of apricot, white peach, almond and honey. Shawn calls this the perfect ‘belly button wine.” $172.99

Notes about this blog: 1. All wines listed are available at Wally’s Wines in West Los Angeles for the prices shown at the time of this writing. 2. All blending notes were given to this writer verbally at the event and do not always match the advertisement in the event brochure. 3. Barrel aging and notes are taken directly from the event brochure. 4. The tasting notes reflect the opinion of this writer at the time of this writing. As wines change with age, storage, movement, etc., they will show differently at different times as time progresses. I look forward to tasting this vintage again in the years to come.

Wow. I feel as though I attended! Marya will be attending Pinot Days in Santa Monica in my place as JD and I will be in the city by the Bay for ZAP - Zinfandel Advocates and Producers. It's a wine-rich world we live in. Cheers!

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