I have a really, really tough job. Really- I do! I swear! Somedays it happens to be more grueling than others, as was the case of the 2008 Unions des Grands Crus Bordeaux Vintage Tasting in NYC at the Metropolitan Pavillion. Spitting snow and freezing drizzle made the travel with my guide dog near-impossible. The exits from the subway were barely cleared, and wearing business attire black was almost a joke with a shedding yellow Labrador. After trying in vain to walk a block with a Starbucks in my hand, and realizing that the curbs weren't plowed, and there was no safe place for Elvis and I to cross or even wait for the lights to change, I desperately searched for a cab, and was immediately sprayed in the face by one passing us by (empty mind you), as I disgustedly spit out bits of sand and salt from my mouth. This was not starting out on the right foot.....
Moments later my chariot arrived, whisking me quickly to my destination, where, upon exiting sed cab, I promptly stepped out into a rather large puddle, soaking my dress boots and slacks to mid calf. Oh God- I hope the wines are going to be good! The registration was poorly orchestrated, as they lost my information, and I had to suffer through a stick-on name tag that didn't stick to wool. Go figure. Onto the wine!
I started with the white Graves (Pessac Leognan) to get my palate going. Overall, they were under-whelming with searingly high acid, almost New Zealand-ish in their style with loads of grapefruit. This tells me that a lot of growers probably picked too soon. The best were more balanced, like Carbonnieux with a fresh citrus and mineral nose, and Chateau Olivier, with nice length despite its high acid. Two disappointments that are typically my favorite wines, were Domaine de Chevalier, with had a richer, waxy component from some additional Semillon, but not a lot of fruit to support it, and the Smith Haut Lafitte, which was literally "ok" in my notes, in which I also wrote- "a total miss". Shame....BUT, the good news is there were two bright stars amongst some lackluster wines- Chateau Pape Clement was extraordinary, "Gorgeous- perfect balance, with a slightly elevated alcohol that actually worked FOR the wine- WOW, Long!" and Latour Martillac, which I absolutely LOVED for its great acidity, body and length all wrapped into one fabulous wine.
At this point in the tasting, I sadly discovered the incredible design error of the event planners. The knuckleheads had placed all the wine tables around the sides of the room, and all the spit buckets in the CENTER, about 15 feet away from the table, so EACH AND EVERY bloody time you had to spit, you had to walk 30 feet, and throw elbows against a mass of people with your service dog nosing his way through the throng of 600+ people to get near the bucket while trying to say "Excuse me" with a mouthful of wine. Piss poor planning, which caused it to take nearly 3 times as long to taste the wines as it should have. Enough bitching....
Onto the reds...Unfortunately (little did I know at the time) I started at the top, and it was all (for the most part) downhill from there. It had me at the nose. Angelus, the legendary St. Emilion was the highlight of the vintage for me. My notes read, "OMG! Beautiful-plum, cocoa, silky tannins, elegant- does this wine EVER quit on the finish? I should just stay here all day." Hard to come back to earth from that, but press onward I did....
Beau-Sejour Becot was young with red fruit and moderately hard tannins and vanilla oak. Canon La Gaffeliere was like 'licking a barrel'- too much wood. Figeac was balanced, big, rich and chewy with blue-black fruit and rose petals. Clos Fourtet had some punishing hard tannins with a pretty red nose and a bit of leather. Pavie Macquin had many good parts- nice acid, complexity of palate and nose, with moderate tannins, however the wine appeared disjointed and in a million different places at once, not yet in full communication with each of its components. Troplong Mondot smelled like a forest fire, leading me to wonder how on earth my palate would recover for the Pomerols. Lucky for me, it did.
Oh Beauregard, sweet Beauregard- if only I could drink you every night! SO young, but full of sweet black fruits, and a great eucalyptus nose with such invigorating freshness it was like a breath of clean air in a city filled with smoke and smog. Then came the blessed Clinet. Simply SILK in a bottle. A delicate, bashful nose, enticing me to go deeper into my senses and coax this wine out of its cocoon and show me its true colors. Glorious, and though not one for the ages by any means, it is one to drink over the next decade while you're waiting for those 2000s to start showing their stride. La Conseillante showed sweet blue fruits with mineral and graphite- super tight, but very good.
Medoc is where everything went to hell in a hand-basket. In almost EVERY tasting note I wrote, I consistently tasted- "very dry tannins" and "lighter body" and lots of leather. The ONLY wine worth mentioning was Citran, which clearly had a healthy dollop of Cabernet Franc, showing lots of bright cherry, with a fresh, delicious nose of vanilla and red fruit. To further show you how disappointing the Medoc was, I even have the words, "Sweaty armpit" written clearly on the page of MORE than one wine- and NO I was not being followed by a poorly groomed Frenchman!
Margaux was all over the map with more chalkiness detected in the wines. My usual favorites really disappointed, and my often overlooked estates were the stars- go figure! Brane Cantenac was a delicious easy-drinking Margaux with sweet blue fruit and a long finish. Lovely to drink over the next 5-7 years. Du Tertre was a "little broody" but pretty nonetheless in a classic Margaux style. Kirwan and Lascombes had added elements of rose petal that gave them additional complexity, making me fall in love again with this appellation. Labegorce was a nice surprise with a closed nose, but firm structure and red currant fruit and a dry, chalky tannic finish. Malescot St Exupery was definitely the most elegant of the group, showing a long, silky, blue-fruit and vanillin palate. The losers? Sadly my two favorites! Prieure Lichine and Rauzan Segla both were shockingly GREEN with bell pepper on both the nose and even more so on the palate (if you COULD get PAST the nose). I asked the owners, and they said they used more Cabernet Franc this year (apparently very under-ripe Cabernet Franc at that!!!) Bummer indeed!
The third Superstar of the tasting (next to Angelus and Clinet)was Beychevelle. "Beautiful, creamy cassis, vanilla, and a non-quit finish. Like a scrumptious dessert!" Enough said, right? Gruaud Larose had a nice mouthfeel, but a hint of greenness. Lagrange showed Rich long, chalky tannins- tight as heck, but worth the wait. One of the few age-worthy St Juliens of the group. I was in the minority on preferring the Langoa Barton to the Leoville for its super-concentrated nose, and its full, lush palate. It had silky fruit and was incredibly inviting to drink even now. Not one for long-term cellaring (2-8years), but if you were to lay something down, the Leoville Barton won't disappoint with its intense spices and supreme concentration. Talbot was BACK with a pleasant balance, and an easy-to like style. Leoville Poyferre was simply forgettable- "blah" was my tasting note!
Clerc Milon and D'armailhac were green and hard- not pleasant. Grand Puy Ducasse was lean and austere, however I enjoyed the fruity nose. Lynch Bages will probably be the most ageworthy of the wines I've tasted here, showing excellent tannic structure and a great balance of cassis and coconut from the wood, with refreshing acidity. Pichon Baron was beautiful- a very "complete" wine with that same coconut and a chewy but elegant palate and a long finish. Sadly, Comtesse didn't make it through customs in time for tasting. Bummer number two...
Lastly, my usual FAVORITE part of the tasting proved not at all exciting- Sauternes. The Climens was NOT good- minty? Yuck. The Coutet was WAY out of balance with high alcohol, Doisy Daene was NOT exciting in any way, Guiraud had an over-abundance of wood, while Lafaurie Peyraguey was semi-promising with a candied palate and bright nose. My usual favorite, Suduiraut was full of fresh melon and honey, but lacking in decent acidity. The one glimmer of hope? The fantastic La Tour Blanche 1er Cru with fresh pineapple and vanilla. That was awesome.
After getting bounced around at spit buckets and elbowed at tables, I had succeeded in tasting about 100 wines and running into a few dozen colleagues. Fortunately the day ended up with a fabulous dinner with the winemakers from Larcisse duCase and Pavie Macquin, enjoying some much needed Italian wine to give us a break from our day. Overall, I would say the 2008 vintage was one where the right bank was by far the star, and the left very inconsistent, without enough structure to age long term, with some obvious exceptions. The Medoc was a disappointment for the most part, as are Sauternes, and I'd save my pennies for the 2009s