Friday, February 17, 2012

Grands Crus De Bordeaux on U.S. Tour de Force

Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

1-5 The many faces of Bordeaux lovers

6. LAURENT lebrun-Chateau Olivier-Grand Cru Classe de Graves, France

7. Shelford Trotman -Sommelier Galleria Liquors

8. Ken Frandsen (left_in hat) L&L Tavern, Lakeview, Chicago

Mike Sidel-(r) Manager, Hugo Frog Bar & Chop House Des Plaines

9. Alain Crohem- Chatueau Grand-Puy Ducasse-Pauillac, France

10. Dwight The Wine Doctor with Philippe Dambrine-Chateau Cantemerle Margaux, France

CHICAGO—One hundred and thirty-two of France’s greatest winemakers and chateau owners were in attendance in great numbers for the Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux 2009 Vintage Tasting. This was a chance to rub shoulders with the owners and creators of the wines of such storied Chateaus as Chateau Croizet, Lynch-Bages, Mouton Rothschild, Giscours, Beaumont and Lagrange, among so many others. Accompanied by groaning sideboard of exquisite French cheeses, cured meats and cornichon and other light fare, the wines had an opportunity to shine in their best light. 2009 is already being heralded as one of the great vintages of all time, with deep flavor expression and a lasting impression in the mouth that speaks to the rare combination of terroir, climate, exceptional grapes and, of course, the art of the winemaker, and growing regions seasoned by centuries of winemaking skill and lore.

Founded in 1973, the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux is an association representing estates with the highest standards of quality located in the finest appellations of the Gironde department: Medoc, Haut-Medoc, Saint-Estephe, Pauillac, Saint-Julien, Margaux, Moulis, Listrac, Graves, Pessac-Leognan, Sauternes, Barsac, Saint-Emilion, and Pomerol. Besides sharing the wine, the members also enjoy sharing the centuries-old culture that surrounds it. As ambassadors to their craft, they travel extensively, sharing their unique gift with the wine lovers of the world.

To single any of the wines out individually would almost be a disservice as they were each distinctive in their own way. Each spoke to the terroir and the technique of the winemakers, who use both traditional and modern techniques to bring forth the complexities and characteristics of their wines. There were several, however, that attracted my attention and, after a careful perusal of the entire collection, commanded mention as my personal preferences.

Chateau Cantemerle($36), a fifth-growth estate of the Haut-Medoc, was the proud offering of winemaker Philippe Dambrine. “We are in the heart of the Haut-Medoc,” Dambrine proudly proclaimed. Historical records date the estate’s existence back to the 12th century, which made it seem rather odd that the creators of the first Bordeaux Official Classification map of 1855. Subsequent maps corrected the oversight.

“On average, the vines are 30 years old. We use a blend of 50% Cabernet, 40% Merlot, with the rest a balance of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, aged in new French oak.” The resulting wine is rich and fruity with an overlay of oak and spice. The color is a deep. Ruby-red, so characteristic of great Bordeaux. This is a wine for aging, which will reach its peak in 8-10 years. Only 25,000 cases have been produced, and much of it has already made its way to the cellars of fine restaurants and avid collectors.

Only Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles and New York were the cities fortunate enough to host this premiere league of wine legends. Bordeaux wines are memorable for their exceptional quality. Learning of their varied qualities first-hand from the winemakers and owners added to the rare pleasure of tasting them.

A special treat were the wines offered by the 15 estates representing the Sauternes or Barsac. These are generally sweet white wines ranked as Premiere Cru Classe. Consisting primarily of a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, they are among the most coveted of all dessert wines. A half bottle can run into the hundreds of dollars, depending on vintage. Fona Perrin Birken is the US Brand Ambassador to Chateau Guiraud ($18).

“The wine is made from estate vine plantings, consisting of 65% Semillon and 35% Sauvignon Blanc. It’s unique for dessert wine in that it is very fruit forward with rich fruit flavors and a natural crisp acidity that cuts through the sweetness and leaves you with a delightful, natural fruit flavor.” With its flavors of lemon-thyme and gooseberry and its lovely sage color, this is an exceptional wine with unique character. As someone who normally shies away from sweet wines, I felt it was telling that I often returned to Fiona’s table for a refreshing “sorbet” between tasting flights.

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