The 2017 Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux Tasting was Awesome!

If you didn't go to the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tasting in Philadelphia this year, you must go next  year... Happily, it sounds like the tasting will become an annual event!!

The Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux serves as Bordeaux's official marketing and PR department, and its message is that Bordeaux is large, and although much of it produces very established and elite wine, its wines are largely accessible. ( Just forget about the First Growth / Premier Crus : Haut-Brion, Latour, Lafite, Margaux, and Mouton-Rothschild. Those bottles can cost thousands and are not, and have no interest in, being accessible.)  The Union tours Asia, Europe, and North America, and you can find its schedule here. 

Over 70 chateaux were at the Rittenhouse Hotel on that rainy Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia on January 22nd, representing the appellations of Graves, Pessac-Leognan, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, Marguax, Saint-Julien. Pomerol, Moulis-en-Medoc, Listrac-en-Medoc, Medoc, Paullaic, Saint-Estephe, Barsac, and Sauternes. Winemakers and wine reps showed off the 2014 vintage.

2014 was not as rockstarish as 2010, 2009, or 2005 in terms of stellar weather, but as Olivier Bernard, President of the Union, said in his opening statement, "2014 was a 'good' vintage." That was literally how he ended the speech. Off we then went, to take down the wines, fairly blind - without tasting notes or prices (although both were provided, we thought it might be fun to taste without any preconceived notions) - and with all the giddy energy of two notebook laden, geeky wine nerds. Winelala rolls deep!

Marguax: Chateau Angludet, Chateau Brane - Cantenac (2nd Growth)  Chateau Desmirail (Third Growth), Chateau Siran  
Saint Julien: Chateau Beychevelle (Fourth Growth), Chateau Gruaud Larose, 
Pomerol: Chateau Gazin
Listrac - Médoc: Chateau Clark
Moulis: Chateau Maucaillou
Haut - Médoc: Chateau de Camensac (Fifth Growth)
Pauillac: Chateau Lynch - Moussas (Fifth Growth), Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste (Fifth Growth)
Pessac-Léognan: Chateau de France, Domaine De Chevalier (Classified), Chateau Pape Clément (red and white) (Classified), 
Saint-Emilion: Chateau Canon (Premier Grand Cru Classé)
Saint-Estèphe: Chateau Cos Labor
Sauternes: Château Guiraud (First Growth)

Keep in mind that these wines are YOUNG, as they are all 2014s. Many, as lovely and full of potential as they were, were not fully ready to drink (especially the Margaux), so they will continue to improve over the next few years, and most will age well for a decade or more. Tasting notes at this stage largely centered around blackberries, black pepper, cedar box, earth, and menthol, with variations and additional notes such as graphite, bramble, and red berries, depending on whether the wine was dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. I recommend buying as much as you can of any of those listed above.

Bordeaux is a big and complex beast. There are many directions in which to take a post on the subject, but as I have really been studying its world-famous classification system for an upcoming WSET test, I thought we could talk about how the wines are classified. The classifications are interesting, useful, and put right on the label, so you know exactly where a given wine stands.

Several classification systems actually exist in Bordeaux, with the1855 Classification of Médoc and Graves being the most well known. This system was born after a request by Napoleon III following his 1855 Exposition Universelle in Paris. In her Oxford Companion to Wine, Jancis Robinson sneakily but probably correctly wonders if the request was so 'dignitaries there should effectively know what to be impressed by'. Wine brokers in Bordeaux organized themselves and created a list of top chateaux/producers which formalized the brokers', and the market's, perception of Bordeaux's best producers based on price. At the time of the original ranking, only 60 chateaux in the Médoc were included. The system has not been updated since1855, although an addition was made in 1973 (discussed below), and has stood the test of time. The Classification of 1855 is in place today and heavily influences pricing, brand identity, and trends. 

The 1855 Classification is a five class system, with five chateaux/producers considered 'Premiers Crus', or First Growths. Those are Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Ch Margaux, Ch Latour, Ch Haut-Brion, and Ch Mouton-Rothschild. Chateau Haut-Brion was not originally considered a First Growth, but after much lobbying for the position by Barron Phillip Rothschild, Ch Haut Brian was added in 1973, resulting in a list of 61. 

Following the First Growth categories, are Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Growths, which contain 14, 14, 10, and 18 chateaux, respectively. These lists do not change, and they are easy to find, so if you are looking for anything particular, it is very straightforward. Check wikipedia or just take a look at the pic below from IG Wines.

Producers in St-Émilion were also classified in 1855, but the St. Émilion list has been updated several times (in 1969, 1985, 1996, 2006, and most recently in 2012) which has caused quite a bit of controversy. As you can imagine, being 'on the list' is just as important to wineries as it is to you. Inclusion just matters. The St. Émilion Classification is broken out differently than Médoc and Graves, however. Instead of labeling the categories 'Growths', they are called 'Premiers Grands Crus Classés', and chateaux are simply considered Premier Grand Cru Classé A, Grand Cru Classé B, or Premier Grand Cru, and are labelled as such. Classé A only contains four entries:  Ch Angélus, Ch Ausone, Ch Cheval Blanc, and Ch Pavie, while Cru Classé B contains 14, and the 64 are listed as Premier Grand Cru. 

Next we reach the Classification of Sauternes-Barsac, a region that creates lusciously sweet, decadent, and prized dessert wine. Sauternes-Barsac was classified in 1855 along with the Médoc, and these rankings also remain in place. Interestingly though, this area contains the Premier Cru Supérieur, or 'Superior First Growth' designation, which reigns supreme over the First Growth reds listed above. Only one chateau was deemed worthy of the Superior Frist Growth title - Chateau d'Yquem in Sauternes. Next come First and Second Growths, containing 11 and 14 chateaux, respectively.

Finally comes the Classification of Graves, completed in 1959. Pessac-Leognan is in the northern Graves, and this is where Ch Haut Brian lives. As mentioned, Ch Haut Brian was elevated to a First Growth in 1973, but it remains part of Graves' official classification. The Graves system has the least nuance, and only broken out as Classified Red or Classified White.

their When the 1855 classification was done, only 60 (and now 61) chateaux were accounted for, or approximately only 25% of Medoc producers. The left-out producers tried to create a system of own, because French people do not mess around when it comes to wine, called the Cru Bourgeois in 1923. However the Cru Bourgeois system proved difficult to organize and implement, and in 2007 it was discovered that of the original 441 participants, over 300 no longer existed, were absorbed, or no longer grew wine. In addition, the term 'Cru Bourgeois'  was never recognized by the Minister of Agriculture, so today it is not a designation, but rather a qualification. Wine can be labelled Cru Bourgeois after being approved by a tasting panel, and a site visit to the winery by an independent organization. The awards are given annually and of course endure quite a bit of change, unlike the classifications above.

Thank you to the Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux for adding our city to the list, and for causing me to check out how well my palate faired in picking out Growth wine... which led to this really exciting exercise in learning the classification systems!! WSET major test, here I come!!!

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Noelle AllenComment