The 2019 Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux Tasting in LA
On Thursday, at the Jeremy Hotel on the Sunset Strip, Will Blakely and I found ourselves among about 80 Bordelais and hundreds of thirsty Angelenos who were lined up to sample their wares. The annual Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux Tasting is a marvelous opportunity to meet winemakers and winery representatives, while viewing a Bordeaux vintage in toto. With glass and notebook in hand, we eagerly dove in.
2016 has been much heralded in the press (for example, here), so, I wondered, would it live up to the hype? And what would all that hype taste like? It was a year of extremes, with almost too much rain and then almost too much sun, somehow being held back from ruin by just a hair, and, somehow, creating impossibly perfect conditions. The vintage in general is one in which the wines express elegance and balance and relatively early drinking (though they’ve got the stuffing to develop beautifully with age). The wines are sexy and perfumed. The most outstanding ones have a seductive sweetness to the fruit that integrates seamlessly with all the parts. It’s been said that this is a Left Bank vintage, and I’d have to agree. Margaux stood out most to me for the sheer beauty of the wines across the board, but I found delight and surprise in every region.
The words on everyone’s lips were Pape Clément and Smith-Haut-Lafitte, whose stations were at the rear corner of the main room, and were thronged by admirers throughout. Indeed they were excellent—muscular and sweet and beautifully built. Will and I both took copious notes, so we’ll take you through some of our highlights below—with the caveat that choosing favorites among a sea of excellent, unique wines is a difficult task. There were many, many more that deserve a nod, but for the sake of space, here we are.
Pape Clément - Easily one of my favorite wines of the event. Rich, but not overblown, with aromas of sweet flowers, citrus and honey. On the palate, bright fruit and good acid, dominated by white nectarine and the same flowers from the nose. Marvelous complexity and a luxuriously long finish make this an unforgettable wine.
Olivier - Honorable mention for being one of the more interesting wines that day. Easygoing, approachable and refreshing, it exhibited uncommon tropical fragrances of guava and lychee. It was soft on the palate, but not overly round or rich, showing firm but balanced acidity. Definitely a delight to drink now.
Pape Clément (again) - Outstanding winemaking through and through. Exudes ripe blackberries and boysenberries, boasting a long, elegant finish and is remarkably approachable now. That said, it will only get better with age. The backbone is earthy but not green or vegetal, lending it structure while remaining clean and expertly balanced.
Rouget - Definitely an oddball, as they are the only Burgundian family to produce wine in Bordeaux. They use up to 25% whole cluster on their Merlot, and it shows. Remarkable nose, almost reminiscent of Burgundian soil, with a deft mouthfeel and high-toned fruit. I am probably going to pick up a couple of bottles myself and see how they age out.
Pichon-Baron - Tremendous as always, balancing richness and complexity of flavor with sufficient underlying structure. Truly one of the finest examples of Bordeaux this vintage.
Guiraud - Of the Sauternes I sampled, Guiraud displayed the most poise and ageability. Dense fruit, citrus flower blossoms, and intense botrytis abound, but a brilliant acid forms the perfect counterpoint to the sweetness. I can't wait to see how this one matures.
Domaine de Chevalier - Pure seduction. Sexy, silky, delicious. Black currant and graphite on the nose then ripe red fruit and caramel on the palate. Balanced and pretty. Sweet tobacco and spice notes. The texture is velvety but the tannins and structure are absolutely there for the long haul.
Kirwan - This one is pure delight. The fruit is juicy and ripe and full of electricity. Plum and raspberry coulis and espresso notes exude on the nose of this very classy wine.
Lascombes - Pencil lead and leather underline succulent berries and chocolate. Very balanced and elegant. It’s a plush texture pulled out to a tightrope intensity.
Léoville-Barton - Fresh violets, green olives, and blackberry on the nose lead to beautifully sweet, deep fruit and an uber long finish of cocoa powder and dark chocolate and currants. Powerful.
Léoville-Poyferre - Again, the finish here was epic. A nose of violets, lavender, and bay leaves with an underlying hint of vanilla on a ripe brambly berried palate.
Suduiraut - Suduiraut stood out to me for being very fresh and alive. When I stuck my nose in the glass, bright springtime aromatics grabbed me—notes of jasmine and honeysuckle and orange zest. They flowed to a layered, dulce de leche palate—concentrated and textured but still very lifted. This is satisfyingly rich but so vibrant.
- Kate Soto