With the 2010 trade tastings only weeks away, local grower and winemaker Gavin Quinney (@GavinQuinney) gives first-time visitors a steer on the en primeur week in Bordeaux. Please note that the tastings are strictly for trade and press.
Robert Parker and other critics are in Bordeaux this week, getting to grips with the new vintage from barrel.
The rest of us - trade and press alike - will have to wait until the first week of April (4th to 8th), traditionally the week hosted by the Union des Grands Crus or ‘UGCs’. Scores of other groups have sprung up over the years, while at least 30 of the most sought-after wines can only be sampled at the chateaux themselves.
So here’s a list of the most popular tastings and those exclusive chateaux, with the dates and the number of wines in brackets. At the end, I’ve jotted down my ten top tips.
Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux
5th to 7th April, 9.30am to 6pm
The busiest trade tastings are the ones hosted by the UGC, an association of around 130 classified and unclassified chateaux.
You must register in advance (see www.ugcb.net). If you don’t have a badge, you will not be popular during rush hour.
The sit-down UGC press tastings are from 4th- 8th April, while the stand-up trade tastings run from 5th-7th.
St-Julien, Pauillac and St-Estephe, at Chateau Branaire Ducru in St-Julien (5th-7th April, 26 wines)
Margaux, at Chateau Lascombes (5th-7th April, 16)
Medoc, Haut Medoc, Moulis and Listrac, at Chateau Citran, near Margaux (18)
Sauternes, at Chateau Desmirail, Margaux (5th-7th April, 20)
Pessac-Leognan and Graves, at Chateau Malartic Lagraviere (5th-7th April, 35)
St-Emilion, at Chateau La Couspaude (5th-7th April, 19)
Pomerol, at Chateau La Pointe (5th-7th April, 8)
Other group tastings
For most of the group tastings that follow, a business card or your UGC badge will usually suffice, although they prefer you to register in advance.
Group tastings: Left Bank
Group tastings: Right Bank
Association de Grands Crus Classes of Saint-Emilion, at Chateau Villemaurine (4th-7th, 50)
Cercle de Rive Droite, Hotel Grand Barrail, near St-Emilion (4th-7th April, 130)
St-Emilions and Fronsacs, Salle des Dominicans, rue Guadet, St-Emilion (4th-7th, 50+)
Pomerol, Syndicat de Pomerol (4th-7th Avril, 20+)
… and many, many more.
Right Bank ‘Consultant’ tastings
‘La Grappe’, Stephane Derenoncourt, at Chateau La Gaffeliere in St-Emilion (4th-7th, 50+)
Jean-Luc Thunevin, at 3-7 rue Vergnaud, St-Emilion (4-8th, 50+)
Hubert de Bouard, Chateau Angelus, St-Emilion (4th-8th, 25+)
Michel Roland, at Chateau Soutard, St-Emlion - a new tasting this year (4th-7th, 100+?)
Many trade visitors taste a selection of wines at the offices of negociants, the middlemen through whom nearly all the great wines are sold. Worth looking out for popular wines like Sociando Mallet and Gloria. (This is how Parker gets to taste a great many wines, as well as through the UGC and the Cercle de Rive Droite.)
Top chateaux presenting their own wines
Strictly by appointment
Grand Puy Lacoste
(The two Pichons are also worth a visit.)
Leoville Las Cases
(I also visit d’Issan and Boyd Cantenac as they are not in the UGC.)
La Mission Haut Brion (combined tasting)
Vieux Chateau Certan
L'Eglise Clinet (and other wines from Denis Durantou)
Le Gay and La Violette
Trotanoy, La Fleur Petrus, Hosanna, Providence and other Pomerols owned by J P Moueix from Pomerol, along with Magdelaine and Belair Monange from St-Emilion, are shown at the Moueix offices on the Quai de Priourat in Libourne. Strictly by invitation.
Clos l'Eglise, this year at Barde Haut in St-Emilion (appointment not required)
Ausone, and other wines from Alain Vauthier (8)
Pavie, with other wines from Gérard Perse (8)
Angelus and other wines from Hubert de Bouard (4th-8th April, 30)
La Mondotte, and other wines from Stephan von Neipperg at Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere (4th-7th April, 10)
Le Dome and other wines from Jonathon Maltus, at Chateau Teyssier (10)
Valandraud, and other wines from Jean-Luc Thunevin, below (50+)
Evening tastings in Bordeaux
There are numerous other tastings – contact the relevant Syndicat if there’s an appellation you’re interested in. Here are two that I’ll try and get to:
Graves, Palais de la Bourse (6th, 4pm-10.30pm)
Cotes de Bourg, Grand Theatre (5th, 11am-9pm)
Finally, my 10 top tips
- Plan ahead. Understand distances, the number of wines, and what your palate can handle.
- Most of the top chateaux are already booked up. For appointments, the French use the 24-hour clock like so: 16h30. Email is best: use google translate if you can’t speak French.
- It takes me nine days, not three, to taste all the wines above. Don’t overdo it. Better to taste 100 wines well, and save your palate for the next day, than to cram in 200.
- Don’t read or listen to other people’s assessments or scores before you have a chance to make up your own mind.
- Carry business cards and, in case you lose your UGC badge, memorise the reference number to save time.
- Don’t wear pale trousers (for your sake), and no aftershave or perfume (for everyone else’s).
- Drive carefully, especially during rush hour. Rest if you need to. Those bunches of flowers on the side of the D2 near Margaux are not there for decoration.
- Don’t try too hard to look the part. You don’t have to swirl the glass like your life depends on it (gently is fine) and don’t worry if you can’t spit like a courtier – just make sure you have access, in a crowded room, to a spittoon.
- Don’t bang on to chateau owners about prices having to come down. It just makes them want to prove you wrong.
- Lastly, here’s Pasteur quoting Bossuet, from ‘Matt Kramer on Wine’:
"The greatest disorder of the mind is to believe that things are so because we wish them to be so."