On the Trail

UGC Event Brings Bordeaux to SF

David Driscoll

Last night was the annual Bordeaux UGC tasting in downtown San Francisco, conveniently planned to coincide with the launch of the city's Super Bowl festivities, as well as Chinese New Year celebrations! Most of us looked for alternative forms of transportation to the Bentley Reserve on Sacramento and Battery, but as luck would have it there wasn't much trouble getting there. K&L being the premier Bordeaux retailer on the west coast, we sponsored and set up the event. Jeff, Steve, Ralph, Jacques, and the whole Bordeaux gang were there early to set out place cards, pop bottles, and yes taste a bit of the 2013 vintage before hand. Thirteen was a tricky year for the region and the combination of a wet Spring with a rainy Fall left little time for ripening, but as Ralph said to me early on: "These are the vintages where you really learn about Bordeaux. It's in these situations that you can taste beyond the obvious fruit."

Our esteemed owner and bon vivant Clyde Beffa was there front and center, making the rounds from table to table and shaking hands with old friends. Clyde's been traveling to Bordeaux for more than thirty years—this April will mark his 31st trip to the Mèdoc for en premier tasting. He's the reason why we all love the wines. It's his passion that's been instilled in us at this point and it's still quite a sight to watch him work the room.

My first UGC tasting was the 2008 vintage preview and five years later I still think the event is the best possible way to learn about Bordeaux and its wines. Not only are there more than eighty producers in the room—in some cases the château owners or the wine-makers themselves—you get an incredible guidebook as part of your admission; an encyclopedic handbook that breaks down each producer by region and explains their relative significance. There were plenty of big guns in the room last night: Gruaud Larose, Pichon-Baron, Lynch-Bages, you name it.

The UGC tasting not only introduces you to the wines of Bordeaux, but also its people. If you don't know who Fabien Teitgen is, you can walk right over to his table and find out. Shake his hand. Ask him about his wines. He's been the winemaker at Smith-Haut-Lafitte for years and—in my personal opinion—he had the best white wine in the room yesterday afternoon. How did he achieve such wonderful balance in his sauvignon blanc/semillion blend? Ask him. He's right there! There's no pretense at the UGC; only humble and appreciative faces looking to help demystify their category.

ugcmain7.jpg

One of the most dependable wines in all the Mèdoc is Château Cantemerle; a property that produces an elegant and pretty wine no matter the conditions. It was the most balanced red wine in the room yesterday, as far as my palate was concerned. There's not a bad vintage of Cantemerle, in my opinion, and in my reverence for the wine I found myself standing face-to-face with château director Philippe Dambrine. Again, where else but in Bordeaux can you get this type of access to the top personalities in the industry?

Lilian Barton-Sartorius was there in fine form pulling double duty with both the Langoa and Leoville properties. Langoa always shows up during the so-called "off" vintages and 2013 was no exception. The wine was an anomaly of ripeness in a room full of more robust reds.

Where there's a tasting there's always an after-party! Once we'd cleaned the glasses and carted out the empty bottles, we brought all the Bordeaux producers over to the new SOMA store for Champagne and snacks. The tasting bar was rockin' and rollin' at that point.

And remember: if you're hanging out with Clyde Beffa, be prepared to go all night long. After the Champagne party we walked over to Mathilde: a French bistro just around the corner from our Harrison St. locale. We had the back room to ourselves. It was time to let our hair down and blow off a little steam.

In typical CB form, we all sat, ate, drank, and enjoyed ourselves while Clyde (who much like me can never sit still) kept popping and decanting into the late evening hours. "Here, take this: it's 1982 Leoville Las Cases," he said at one point, handing me a decanter. "David, here's the 1995 Pichon-Baron," he said ten minutes later. If you wonder why we all love Bordeaux so much at K&L, it's because we have one of the most generous and selfless leaders guiding us along the left bank, and then across the river to the right. It's infectious. There's nothing you can do to resist.

-David Driscoll