The Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux stopped by for an evening in Las Vegas, sponsored locally by Lee’s, at the Hilton (okay, I know it’s called the LVH – Las Vegas Hotel – since Hilton divested its Vegas properties, but I’m an old-timer and can call it what I want). They are on a whirlwind tour of the United States and their very next stop was Denver. Forty-eight Bordeaux Châteaux brought their newly-released 2011 vintage wines, and was I in heaven or what.
The Union de Grands Crus de Bordeaux was founded in 1973 and is an association of 133 Grand Cru estates. They all strive for high levels of quality and represent some of the very best appellations in Bordeaux. They make good – okay, great – wine and travel world wide to personally share their recent vintages with importers, distributors, the media, and, of course, enthusiasts! They count among their membership three Membres de Honneur: Château Cheval Blanc, Château Mouton Rothschild, and Château d’Yquem, all Premier Grand Cru Classé, with Château d’Yquem being classified a Premier Grand Cru Classé Supérieur en 1855, the only one in Sauternes. Unfortunately, these stellar Châteaux were not in attendance. Dammit.
I tasted Pessac-Leognan, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Pomerol, Listrac-Medoc, Moulis-en-Medoc, Haut-Medoc, Margaux, Saint-Julien, Pauillac, Barsac & Sauternes. Saint-Estephe was represented by one Château, and somehow I missed tasting those wines. Even so, I can guarantee that it was the best use of my time that evening!
If you know Bordeaux, you probably already realize that these wines were very young and in a couple of cases, I felt that we were committing infanticide. The wines were young, tannic, acidic, luxurious, mouth-coating, mouth-watering, silky, flavorful, wonderful. Young, yes, but there was no mistaking the quality and potential. From now on when I read in one of the Mega Wine Mags the tasters state something like “young now, but will age beautifully over the next (insert ungodly number) years,” I will really get what they’re saying.
Because it wasn’t the human zoo that’s so common in Las Vegas wine events, I actually got to talk to some of the Châteaux representatives and learned quite a bit about their wines which I ordinarily wouldn’t have the opportunity to do.
Other people felt that they could intelligently speak with the representatives as well. They weren’t always correct. Here are a couple of conversations overheard during the course of the evening.
Nitwit: You make white wines. (A statement, not a question.)
Frenchman: Yes we do. (insert silky French accent)
Nitwit: So is this a white Burgundy or what?
Frenchman: (after expanding from his previous 5’7” to about six feet – oh! And the accent became far more pronounced)
Thees ees a BORDEAUX! Thees ees NOT a Burgundy! (To fully understand this – he managed to give Bordeaux several extra syllables and managed to say “Burgundy” with a decidedly hostile sneer, lip curl and all. I tried to do that. I can’t.)
Nitwit – who was obviously just guzzling with no care for the wines: So what’s the difference between these wines?
Frenchman – who was just as obviously impatient over being monopolized by Nitwit: This is red (points to bottle), and this is white (points to other bottle)
Okay, let’s get to the wines. Out of the 48 Chateaux, I was only able to taste about 30-ish of the wines, but I really want to share some of my impressions, brag about the wines, and let you know what my favorites were. Understand that for many of them, “favorite” means that night, because since they are baby wines, they are evolving even as we speak. Truth told, I wanted at least a half case of several of them. At the very least, one of each!
One of the first and favorite wines I tasted was the white from Château Carbonnieux. A blend of 65% Sauvignon Blanc and 35% Semillon, it was incredibly fragrant and luxurious on the tongue. Easily one of my favorite white wines of the night. Château Carbonnieux is located in Pessac-Léognan.
Château Malartic-Lagravière, a Grand Cru Classé du Graves, is one of only six Châteaux that produces both red and white wines. I enjoyed their white, an 80% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Semillon blend. According to my notes, “it smells like spring!” Textured and fragrant, it was lighter in style than the Carbonnieux, but no less flavorful. Delicious wine.
Saint-Émilion was well represented by eight Châteaux. This is going to be difficult, but I’ll make this as brief as possible. The wines, as you can well imagine, were pretty spectacular. And will no doubt command equally spectacular prices if you can find them. They are all Merlot based, with Cabernet Franc usually the next highest proportion in the various blends. Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and in one case Carmenere, were used to balance the wines. A couple that stood out for me were the wines of Château Canon, Château Canon La Gaffelière, and Château Larcis Ducasse.
Château La Couspaude’s wine was incredible, with beautiful, structured tannins and balanced acidity. My favorite of the Saint-Émilion wines was from Château-Figeac. According to Fréderic, the terroir around Figeac is unique in the region, as it has primarily gravel and pebbles. The wine was quite beautiful; it’s drinkable now, but will be stellar in about five years. Another note – it’s a three figure wine, so you’re going to pay for the experience of enjoying it!
In the Margaux region, Châteaux Dauzac was the standout for me. The wine was a 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot blend. Black as night, tannic, balanced, textured, it would drink well after decanting, but will be worth sinning for in three to five years. The vines are 35 years old, and they use 70% new oak (French, of course. What did you expect?) with a light toast to let the character of the wine show through. As good as it was I was shocked to find out that prior vintages are only about $30 on Wine Searcher.
In Pauillac, I enjoyed the wine of Châteaux d’Armailhac. Not only did they have a cute label, but the pourer looked like a young Pierce Brosnan. Nice. They are a 5th growth designate from 1855. The wine was 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. The wine was tannic but structured, as you would expect from Pauillac.
Châteaux Coutet, a Premier Grand Cru Classé en 1855 (First Growth) from the Sauternes region, did not disappoint. Its Sauternes, a blend of 75% Sémillon, 23% Sauvignon Blanc, and 2% Muscadelle, was like drinking honey. Unfortunately, I was only able to get a sip at the very beginning of the event; when I came back to revisit, they were gone, a victim of enthusiastic fans.
Châteaux Guiraud, another first growth estate, also shared its Sauternes. According to my notes – and I was waxing quite poetic by this time – was that it was “beautiful, honeyed, and a long finish.” I called it a “fireplace wine,” which means a romantic wine.
My favorite Sauternes of the evening, however, was Châteaux de Rayne Vigneau. Another first growth estate, its Sauternes rocked me back. This was the first wine of the evening that I tasted, and was completely blown away. My notes read: OMG. Gorgeous. Honeyed sweetness, nuanced fruit, incredible acidity, and long, luxurious finish. And I’m not a fan of sweet wines in general, but this easily and effortlessly changed my mind. In fact, if I hadn’t had this first, I’m not sure I would have tasted any of the Sauternes, but this made me experiment. As a result, I was able to fully appreciate Sauternes and its nuances. Yes, I’m most definitely a fan now. No cloying, skittles-in-a-bottle here! Even if I didn’t know boo about Sauternes, I’d know that this was quality.
Of course there were many more, whether the Merlot-based, velvety wines of Pomerol or the Cabernet Sauvignon-based blockbusters of Saint-Julien, the wines did not disappoint. I have to admit that I eventually got to the point where my notes reveal little more than the blend, but not necessarily my impressions. I had finally decided to just enjoy the wines, learn about Bordeaux, and only scribble something only if there was a wine/Châteaux that really caught my attention in a negative way. Well, that didn’t happen, and I just enjoyed the wines.
What has really surprised me is that most of the wines are within a reasonable price range, especially considering their origin. Some of the wines are as little as $25.00 and others are approaching $200.00. I did a couple of searches on Wine-Searcher and found average prices on many of the wines. I plan to pick up a few bottles (after tax refund, because my budget already isn’t speaking to me) and put them away for a while.
But Hey! Can you think of anything better to do than to sit with beloved friends and share an exquisite glass of aged Bordeaux?