I am neither an expert taster nor an expert on the wines of Bordeaux. No one will ever confuse me with Robert Parker on either count. So when Amy and I were invited to the 2006 Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux Tasting I was pleasantly surprised and honored. So we each took the day off and flew to Dallas for the tasting.
I do have a decent palate and I love Bordeaux, so I was not too apprehensive despite this being my first tasting of this sort. However, it turns out that I was somewhat unprepared for how difficult it would be. I knew that young Bordeaux is typically quite harsh and often takes many years for the tannins to soften and the wine to come into balance. Wine tastings, for all of the fun involved, are typically very hard work, and I expected this one to be even more so than others I have attended. I was correct, but it was also a wonderful experience.
Imagine walking into a huge room, seeing meticulously stacked crystal wine glasses sparkling in the light, and being handed one of those glasses and being told to enjoy sampling as many of these legendary wines as you would like. There are rows and rows of tables with storied bottles of wonderful wines, with perfectly attired French folks, many of them the wine makers themselves, who are very happy to pour and talk about their product. Those are some of the wonderful parts.
The tables are arranged in such a way that you encounter mostly whites as you work your way around the room to the reds and then finish with the spectacular dessert wines. Between the rows of pourers are round tables for resting, writing your notes, and to hold water pitchers and the silver dump buckets. At the far end of the room is a nice assortment of cheese, fruit, crackers and bread. It is an impressive layout, to be sure.
I began with the whites. Bordeaux whites are primarily made with Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion. The more I drink Sauvignon Blanc, the less I typically like the varietal. That is not to say that I do not drink it, nor that I do not enjoy it when paired with the right foods. However, I find that many of them are less than pleasing by themselves, and there is a quality of sameness that is driven home whenever tasting a number of them side-by-side.
That is where the Semillion comes in. It adds a softer, more aromatic, creamy note to the white wines of Bordeaux. I find them to be much more pleasant than other examples of Sauvignon Blanc. They are also much easier on the palate while young than their red counterparts, and require less imagination and speculation to find the better ones.
The ones I liked most were:
Domaine de Chevalier
Château Smith Haut Lafitte
There was only one white that I did not much care for at all among the ones that I tasted. My notes for Château Pape Clément just say “tastes like ashtray,” although I did like their red quite a bit.
Continuing around the room brought us to the reds. Very young red Bordeaux is much more difficult to evaluate for someone like myself without many, many years of experience tasting them. I look forward to looking back on my notes years from now to see how I did. As a neophyte my plan was to try to forget most of what I know about Bordeaux wines and concentrate only on the basics of tasting. I would take the various components that make up the structure of a wine and then apply what I know about what it takes to make a wine age worthy and speculate as to which wines would eventually become fantastic.
As with the best laid plans this one ran into a snag due to the fact that so many of these wines show the potential to become quite good. The tannins are huge, the fruit is very tasty, the alcohol is sufficient, and most display a surprising amount of acidity, and almost all have incredibly long finishes. Even so, I did find some that I was more impressed with than the rest. These included:
Château Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande
Of those, the ones that I liked best were Château Lynch-Bages and Château Pontet-Canet. In addition, I have a soft spot for Château Dauzac as it is within my price range and tends to not need a ton of aging to be drinkable. The 2005 is already delicious. Happily for me, one of my favorites, mostly because it is tasty right NOW, turned out to be a Cru Bourgeois Superieur. The Château Beaumont is a very tasty wine that can be had for under $15 a bottle. That is an incredible value.
From there we moved on to the legendary desert wines of Bordeaux. There were 10 wines from either Sauternes or Barsac and all were fantastically delicious. While the really big boys were not represented, I doubt that any of these wines would have been embarrassed had Château D’Yquem had been served beside them.
Amy’s favorite was the Château Bastor-Lamontagne because it was lighter and had a refreshing citrus quality. My favorite, hands-down was the Château Suduirant. In fact, it was the last wine I tasted and was easily best thing I tasted all day. It was perfect in my estimation.
The 2005 vintage is a tough act to follow and 2006 is not up to the task. Difficult weather at the end of the growing season saw to that. It is, however, a good vintage. Very good in some cases. To me it seems that the wines with the higher percentages of Merlot are the best of the reds for 2006. They are softer, lusher and have very good fruit flavors. A big difference that I noticed between the 2005 and 2006 Bordeaux is that there seems to be much more acidity in the 2006 vintage. That probably works in the favor of the Merlots, as well as meaning that some of these wines will be ready to drink sooner.
This is an event that I hope to be invited to attend every year. It was an experience that I will never forget.