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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux 2012 tasting and what will Premiere Napa Valley bring this weekend?

As I noted a few weeks ago, The Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB) was in Denver showing off the 2012 vintage.  Though the organization represents 133 wineries, both classified and non-classified producers, only about 60 producers were in Denver at the fundraising event for the Denver Public Schools Foundation, with the rest of the group splitting off to Las Vegas. Just tasting the wine from these 60 was more than enough to gain some perspective on the 2012 vintage.

As you probably have read, Bordeaux had three less-than-stellar vintages in a row. 2011, 2012 and 2013 have been met with critical disdain and falling prices, especially since the esteemed 2009 and 2010 vintages caused prices to skyrocket. Of the producers I spoke with, they claimed that 2012 was the best of these three off years and certainly meant for early consumption while the venerated vintages rest in the cellar. 2014 was discussed as a favorable vintage and a welcome reprieve from the trio of disappointments, but still not up to the standard set by 2010 - the greatest ever vintage in Bordeaux, as claimed by one producer.

I left the tasting with three conclusions about the wines.

Château Angludet
First, 2012 is not a terrible vintage, but most of the 2012 red Bordeaux are mediocre. I wasn't impressed, but I also wasn't disappointed. I'd be happy if a guest brought any of those bottles over to my house for dinner, but I won't really be on the look out to add any to my cellar. My favorite reds were Château Canon-la-Gaffelière ($60), Château Troplong-Mondot ($120), Château Leoville Poyfere ($85), Château Angludet ($28), and Château Clerc Milon ($60). Few wines really stood out from the others. Though the cheeses were really tasty, all of the wines would be much better alongside a hearty meal. I really like the nose on the Troplong and the Poyferre. The Angludet was unbelievably smooth for having 12% petit verdot and didn't taste as muddled as the other Margaux wines. I left not really wanting to buy any of the wine at the prices they would sell for.

Château de Fieuzal
Second, white Bordeaux is too often forgotten. I was much more pleased with the dry white wines at the tasting. I particularly liked the Château Smith Haut-Lafitte blanc ($90), Château de Fieuzal blanc ($35), and the Domaine de Chevalier blanc ($50). All hail from the Pessac-Léognan region in southern Bordeaux. All three all had great depth to the aromas, concentrated fruit flavors countered with mouthwatering acidity, and smooth, long finishes. I might try to find the Château de Fieuzal and the Château Angludet if I can, but I left not really wanting to buy any of the other wine at the prices they would sell for.

Maybe my lack of enthusiasm was due to the vintage, which brings me to point number three: Bordeaux is overpriced. There are almost 10,000 producers in Bordeaux, but the American consumer is limited to the top couple hundred. The top Bordeaux wines, the First Growths, are even more expensive, selling for upwards of $1000 a bottle. I'm not really concerned with them. Most of the wines at the UGCB tasting were in the $40-$200 range. At the lower end of that range I can find some relative value, but it is hard to come by. With so many good wines available for less than $30 from California, Mendoza, Rioja, Umbria, Languedoc, or you name a region, I find it hard to spend that much money on a wine unless it completely wows me. And even amongst UGCB producers, you have over 100 wineries all trying to compete in almost the same category and about the same price. And it's not like these are tiny-production wines. Many Bordeaux châteaux produce 10,000 cases or more. I think consumers my generation, and younger, have lost interest in Bordeaux because of the rising prices. Yes, all of the wines at the UGCB tasting were very nice and I'd be please to enjoy any one with dinner, but none knocked me off my feet. A long track record of quality wine is worth something, but so is value.

And speaking of a massive tasting previewing a collection of expensive wines, I will be in Napa this weekend for the Premiere Napa Valley barrel tasting and auction. This year, the acclaimed 2013 vintage will be the main attraction. Two hundred twenty five wineries will be pouring barrel samples of unique wines and then auctioning them off as a fundraiser for the Napa Valley Vintners trade association. Almost all of the wines offered will be 2013 Bordeaux cultivars, but there are a few outliers. Perhaps the most intriguing wine that I look forward to tasting is a Muscadine from Spiriterra Vineyards. Muscadine, not to be confused with muscat, is a grape species, Vitis rotundifolia, native to the southern United States. I am completely amazed, flabbergasted, bewildered, and intrigued that someone would plant prime hillside land overlooking Lake Hennessey to non-vinifera grapes. I can't wait to taste it and to see how it is received by the deep-pocketed bidders!

I know I mentioned that Bordeaux is overpriced, but Napa (specifically cabernet sauvignon) now also has that rarefied distinction. You will be hard-pressed to find Napa cabernets for less than $40. The average price of the PNV wines last year was over $150 per bottle. Several wines sold for more  than $2000 per bottle. No doubt Napa produces outstanding wine, but these prices are insane. The 2013 wines in this year's auction could  be even better if all of the hype I've heard from producers is to be believed. I will be curious to see what the wines taste like and how high the bidding gets.

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