I was watching a documentary on TV this past week about French wine and the impact that famed critics like Robert Parker have had on the industry. There was a scene where the crew followed around a few different critics to see how each worked individually, and one such individual plopped down at a desk in a French office, put on headphones, and sat there for hours tasting wine and typing notes on his laptop. I said to myself right then and there: "I can't think of a more miserable way to approach wine education." Where's the conversation? Where's the food? Where are the producers, each with their own personality, adding color commentary to the play-by-play? While I understood the intention of this particular critic—to block out all outside distraction and dig deep into the nuances of flavor—wine tasting and education to me has never been about identification, nor about translation. Personally, I don't approach wine appreciation through tasting notes. Wine is exciting and romantic because to drink it is to have an experience. An experience is always heightened, intensified, and made more memorable when there are interesting people to share it with. When it comes to the Bordeaux experience, there's no better event in my opinion than the Unions des Grands Crus tasting we host each January in San Francisco. It's there you get to actually meet the winemakers from each château, talk with them face to face, and understand what makes each wine tick.
Even when you go to Bordeaux for en primeur tasting like we do each Spring, it's impossible to visit each property individually. For the sake of time and efficiency, you end up in these huge halls that are broken down by region where each château has its own table and representative nearby. The UGC pretty much takes that same experience and brings it across the Atlantic. You get access to more than eighty different producers and a large variety of wine styles including some of the sweet Sauternes as well. It's a veritable who's who of the region, including Léoville-Barton, Branaire-Ducru, Gruaud-Larose, Kirwan, Pichon-Baron, Lynch-Bages, and basically every other non-first growth player that you can think of. They're all there in one room, pouring their top wines, and you can actually talk to the people who work at each property to get the information you need while you taste. Unlike isolating yourself in a small room and pumping your way through a blind line-up of wines while listening to music, I can't think of a better way to experience Bordeaux. You can work at your own pace, take as long as you like with each producer, and leisurely learn about the wines in the way you want to. I've gone for the last four years and I've always walked away with a better understanding and appreciation of the category (as well as a few new friends).
This year's UGC tasting is on Friday, January 27th at the Westin St. Francis on Powell Street and starts at 6 PM. Tickets are available here for a mere $65. I hope to see you there!