Carl Kanowsky: The 2016 Bordeaux UGC wine tasting

The Bordeaux region, a lovely area of southwest France, boasts annual wine production of 700 million bottles over an area of almost 300,000 acres.

Bordeaux wines run the gamut of some of the most expensive (Wally’s in West Los Angeles offers a bottle of 2009 Ch. Petrus for $5,000, that’s more than $800 for a 4 ounce glass) to quite affordable, some as cheap as $10 a bottle or even less.

The folks in Bordeaux have been making wine for a long time, since the mid-1st century according to Wikipedia. You’d think with that kind of history and those stratospheric prices that the Bordeaux chateaux could simply pump out the wine year after year and let their history and reputation do the sales work for them.

Instead, many chateaux heed the adage, “Out of sight, out of mind,” and once a year travel the United States pouring in five locations, including Los Angeles. The Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux (UGC for short), comprised of 134 Chateaux members, an elite sampling of the more than 8,000 wineries in Bordeaux, are the French wineries that pour at the different locations.

It has been my great good fortune to attend at least the last seven UGC tastings. For the uninitiated, a UGC tasting presents an excellent introduction to Bordeaux and some of its finest wine. The actual owners or winemakers (who, for several chateaux, are one and the same person) pour their wine, patiently answering the same questions over and over, all the while grateful for the opportunity to garner new devotees to their brand.

Recently, the UGC members poured their 2016 wine, a highly acclaimed vintage. While some of the less expensive 2016 wine is available now, most higher-quality 2016 Bordeaux won’t be on the market until November 2019. So, if you were thinking of buying the 2016 Lynch Bages (rated 97 by Wine Spectator), you could go to the UGC tasting and taste it, then decide whether you want to spend $175 for a bottle of it.

I find my tastes going through a bit of an evolution. Ten years ago, I kind of turned up my nose at white Bordeaux, thinking of it as the stepchild of the esteemed reds. Now, I find the better whites to not only be approachable almost upon release (I have bottles of 2005 red Bordeaux that are just now losing their tannic cloak to allow the drinker to savor what they have to offer) but to feature unique flavor profiles with different layers to experience.

Pessac-Leognan, one of the Bordeaux appellations, while noted for its treatment of cabernet sauvignon, is also justifiably proud of its white wine heritage. My favorites of the whites were Ch. Smith Haut Lafitte (the directeur general and winemaker, Fabien Teitgen, is pictured to the below), Ch. Pape Clement, and Domaine de Chevalier. The Smith Haut Lafitte white (90 percent sauvignon blanc) was outstanding, with an inviting bouquet and a mix of flavors, including grapefruit. I also enjoyed the reds from these three chateaux.

Fabien Teitgen, a winemaker, holds up a botttle of a 2016 Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte wine.

As I’ve mentioned, the Bordeaux reds need time to develop and mature before you can truly see what quality of wine they are. But, I did find three that I would gladly pop open now, decant it for a few hours, and relish. They are Ch. Berliquet from St. Emilion (75 percent merlot, 25 percent cabernet Franc); Ch. Beychelle (Saint Julien appellation and an even mix of cabernet sauvignon and merlot) and Ch. Pavie Macquin (82 percent merlot, also from St. Emilion). The Berliquet had a heady leathery bouquet with tastes of bright tart cherry and raspberry with remarkably low tannins. And, at $40 a bottle at K&L Wines, a relative bargain.

Be sure to join me next year to see what the 2017 vintage has to offer.

Carl Kanowsky is an attorney, a fledgling baker, an enthusiastic cook and an expert wine drinker. He may be reached by email at [email protected] Kanowsky’s column represents his own views, and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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