From the Annals of Tasting: Grand Crus de Bordeaux
Last Friday’s Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tasting was a big deal. The crème de la crème of San Francisco’s wino high society turned out, and even in a city where “Friday casual” tends to be seven days a week, there was enough Armani to gag a Milan runway.
It’s a fun tasting, although the most famous Growths (Margaux, Lafite, Latour, Mouton, Haut-Brion, Petrus, Cheval Blanc, Ausone) never seem to come. I guess they don’t have to market their wares. But everybody else does, apparently.
I don’t even attempt to taste everything. It’s simply not possible, unless you power-taste your way through (which some people do, although it’s a pointless exercise, IMHO). Instead, I selectively taste. How to decide what to selectively taste? Ask others who know more than you do! I spotted the immortal Fred Dame, who immediately steered me to a pair of Right Banks, La Conseillante (Pomerol) and Figeac (Saint-Emilion). The former was amazing: fat, soft, unctuous, while the latter showed its composition of one-third Cabernet Sauvignon with hard tannins.
By the way, the French hate it when we American reporters ask them what the blend is. They expect the question, they know it’s coming, and they’ll rattle off the answer, but you can see their inner eyebrows rising to the tops of their têtes in exasperation, as if to say: What is wrong with these people? One is supposed to look for terroir, not burden oneself with such trivial pursuits as the percentage of this or that variety. Sometimes, I ask the pourers anyway, but I don’t like to—they make me feel guilty and provincial. (Or do I do that to myself?)
Then I ran into an old acquaintance, Jean-Noel de Formeaux du Sartel, the proprietor of Chateau Potelle, who reminded me that my story on him, back around 1990, had been the first I ever wrote for the Wine Spectator, when I worked there. Jean-Noel—“Johnny Christmas”—has had a lot of adventures lately, with some health issues and a trek through India to rediscover the wellsprings of his being. He insisted on my tasting Leoville-Poyferré, the Saint-Julien, which I found a little rustic, and Brainaire-Ducru, another Saint-Julien, whose rôti fruit, cocoa and meat flavors were so good, I wrote, “I would buy this.” I tasted also the Pomerol Clinet (“shows the power of the Merlot”), Haut-Bailly, filled with Pessac-Leognan stones and tannins, and a four or five others. Then I headed over to the Pauillac table to compare the two Pichons, Longueville and Lalande.
There I met another old friend, Gary Cowan, sales manager at Fine Wines International and also at Vineyard 7 & 8, who was doing the same thing. I think we agreed that the Lalande was more beautiful and approachable now—more feminine?–than the Longueville, whose tannins were like a Denver Boot on the mouth.
Wine chit-chat at these events is inevitable, but can be tiresome. A guy who knew who I was (I never did get his name) wanted to talk about precisely when a particular wine’s tannins kicked in. Was it mid-palate, 60%, or what? I don’t like to be rude to anyone, but that’s a situation I had to extricate myself from quickly, so I made some lame excuse and crawled away. That’s when a cool-looking dude with spiky hair introduced himself to me.
“Hi, I’m Josiah,” he said. That would be the exquisitely-named Josiah Baldivino, head sommelier at Michael Mina San Francisco, whom I’d spoken with on the phone earlier that day. He was with his lovely wife, Stevie. We talked about the evolving role of the somm, a subject of endless fascination for all three of us, so much so that we agreed to take it up again in the near future.
The 2010 Bordeaux vintage has generated a lot of buzz. I’m not a Bordeaux critic, so I’m not making any grand, informed statements, but I’d love to have a cellarful of any of the wines I tasted. Where we can only surmise at the ageworthiness of a great Napa Cab, these 2010 Bordeaux are stone cold guarantees. I don’t think that makes them better, just different. Young Napa is flamboyance, flash and instant bedazzlement. Young Bordeaux lets you know it won’t show you anything anytime soon.
Josiah and Stevie