The tasting was small with only 11 attendees plus the organizer. I would say that it was split down the middle between those there that worked in the wine business and those that were there for the pure enjoyment of drinking great wines. Personally I feel I fall somewhere in the middle.
The tasting was originally touted to be completely blind in that we knew that the wines were Bordeaux but not which ones they were. As we started, we were told that we would know all but one of the wines as we drank it. I have to say I was kind of disappointed as I wanted to test my skills - blind tasting is the "equalizer" in the wine world, humbling the most educated and respected palates and wines on any given day. At this point I figured the last wine served blind had to be a First Growth, more on that later.
We were to taste one wine from each of the better known communes of Bordeaux:
Saint-Emilion, Right Bank
Pomerol, Right Bank
Margaux, Left Bank, Medoc
Saint-Julien, Left Bank, Medoc
Pauillac, Left Bank, Medoc
Saint-Estephe, Left Bank, Medoc
Pessacc-Leognan, South of the city of Bordeaux
Last bottle served completely blind
The lineup was great, ranging from right bank Grand Crus to mostly second growth left bankers. The lineup was as follows, all from 2004 and decanted for 6 hours:
Chateau Magdelaine, Saint-Emilion
Chateau Certan de May, Pomerol
Chateau Brane-Cantenac, Margaux
Chateau Leoville-Las Cases, Saint-Julien
Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Pauillac
Chateau Montrose, Saint-Estephe
Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, Pessac-Leognan
Chateau "X" Served Blind
Each wine was undoubtedly very Bordeaux. The smoky, toasty oak is hallmark and very reminiscent of Bordeaux to me. After that the terroir, fruit, tannin and other subtleties will define which wine is from which region and which Chateau. The French whole-heartedly believe in terroir and that the consistency of a vineyard's terroir should evident every year, but of course varies in complexity and depth depending on vintage conditions. The 2004 vintage was a good, not great vintage according to the critics. 2004 is considered to be more classic of a vintage and reminiscent of the days before global warming talk and modern wine techniques which now allow a Chateau to extract (and unfortunately manipulate) more from the fruit they are given in a vintage.
Overall I was not blown away but came away with a much better understanding of Bordeaux. Some of what I already knew was reinforced, though I believe I took away a better understanding of the subtleties each commune has as I was able to compare them first hand and side by side. I thought 6 hours was too much decanting for some of these wines, especially the right bankers. Additionally the tasting glasses were correct, but they are small. I think the wines had sat in those small glasses for too long, not smelling and tasting as fresh as I feel they could have been. 2004 is a vintage with a higher level of acidity in the wines, something not exactly I crave in a good Bordeaux.
As we tasted through each wine, the lead taster spoke about the commune the wine was from and what to expect, what was typical of that region. She also mentioned how much of each grape varietal the wine was composed of. True to form the left bankers were mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and the left bankers were anchored with Merlot.
As we tasted each wine in order I was going back and fourth comparing the subtleties of Margaux and Pomerol to the power of Saint-Estephe, and the coupled finesse and power of Pauillac. I was guessing that the blind wine initially was Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillo or maybe Chateau Palmer, possibly even Chateau Margaux. I was hesitant on a first growth initially as the wine did not really taste any more great than the mainly second growth wines we were comparing it to. Ultimately I had forgone DB as I was definitely thinking this wine was from Margaux. I was right as the instructor revealed at first what the region was. Palmer is an interesting wine as it is one of the very few Chateau on the left bank that primarily puts Merlot in its wines. I felt the wine had more power, more structure than what a Margaux would have, this had to be First Growth Chateau Margaux and I was right as that was the wine in the brown bag! I was hesitant in guessing Chateau Margaux, but I was right. Lesson learned that you should always trust your instincts.
Some notes and highlights from the tasting:
Chateau Magdelaine, Saint-Emilion
Soft red fruit aromas, light ruby claret in color. Tart cherry, earth, some leather and bright acidity.
50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Franc
I will be in Bordeaux at the beginning of June with Lisa on vacation to visit some of these and other Chateau all over the Bordeaux region. This will be our first visit to Bordeaux and we are very excited for this opportunity to eat and drink our way through France.