UGCB Tasting HK - Vintage 2019
On November 30th, 2022, I went to the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB), held in a huge, magnificent room, on the 3rd floor of the Rosewood Hotel (Hong Kong).
The "UGCB" tasting is always a great opportunity to taste either the "En Primeur" vintage (not yet released, tasting usually happens around April of the year following the harvest), or one of the most recently released vintage (tasting usually happens around November/December).
That day, we tasted the 2019 vintage, which was released around March/April 2021, usually after 12-18 months of barrel aging, depending on the Chateau practices and the quality of the vintage.
This last sentence may come as a surprise for some of the novices, but both Chateau's vineyard & cellar management differ from vintage to vintage for various reasons (mostly due to weather conditions and their consequences throughout the year and during the harvest), and therefore it is the reason why the wine blend and period of aging differ from one vintage to the next too.
That explains why, despite trying to keep a similar style and profile, good years and bad years, the wine from the same Chateau will have a slightly different taste from one vintage to the next. Producers have to adapt to the various challenges they may face in the vineyard and in the cellar brought by both Mother Nature and more evidently these past 10-15 years, the climate changes, unfortunately.
The tasting was a seating tasting, which is good to take your time to taste and focus on the quality wine, yet, in my opinion, which is more difficult, slower, and less efficient to get an overall appreciation of all the wines of one appellation.
Wines are brought to you by flights of 3 wines at the time, which means that by the time you finish all the flights (e.g. 4 flights x 3 wines for one appellation represented by 12 Chateaux/Wines), you have to go back to all your notes and compared.
While a standing-up tasting, in my opinion, is preferable, as it allows you to
- see all the labels of the wines you're about to test at once
- speed taste all the wines one after another in a much faster fashion
- enable you to easily remember what you have tested before
- have a good overall appreciation of the quality level of the wines and the appellation
- arrange in order from worst to best (ascending) or best to worst (descending) as you prefer
- make a faster decision on the ones you liked the most
Don't get me wrong, I know that you can also do all the above (1-6) at a seating tasting, but in my opinion, it is different and not as fast when you're seating down, and, personally, I will rather be standing up and facing the table where the wines are lined-up, than seating at a table, but I guess it just a question of preference and the time you have at your disposal to do the tasting.
I had RSVP for the 1st session, from 10h30 to 13h30, as I prefer to taste in the morning, prior to eating, when the mind is still alive and focused, and the tastebuds are more sensitive and awake (e.g. try to go to a tasting after a nice lunch that you probably ended with a double expresso, trust me, your tastebuds won't be as efficient, and that's a fact).
3 hours may seem like a long time, yet, the tasting included 97 wines to taste, meaning that technically you only have, roughly, less than 2 minutes per wine if you want to taste them all, which might be possible if you're super fast and don't get distracted, and only if you are standing up, facing the display tables, not talking to anyone and barely taking any notes... which is basically impossible.
Impossible, because you know as well as me that during these types of tastings, more especially Bordeaux tasting and, in general, French wine tastings, which usually attract a full crowd of Sommeliers and other restaurants/bars/brasseries staff including F&B Directors, etc, as well as other people of the wine trade (importers, distributors, suppliers, salespeople, etc...) and even wine retailers, you are sure to be distracted a few times and therefore lose your focus and even waste your time in enjoyable catching-up discussions, yet ending nowhere. You know what I mean, we all do it. 😁👍🍷
So, I started to make a list, more especially for my friend Benny (picture below), for whom, despite the fact that he knows a lot about wine, this type of Bordeaux tasting was his first experience, and he could not stay for more than 45 minutes. Hence, I had to guide him in his choice about what would be the most appropriate wines to taste. And, as you probably guessed, I shorted down the list to the ones that I think are among the best of the lists.
Of course, being a Bordeaux native with more than 31 years of experience in the wine business, as a Sommelier / Wine Buyer, you may say that my choices are surely a bit biased, as I made the list based on my taste and preferences, and I have to agree. 😁👍
That said, I think that it is fair to also say that after having tasted these wines year after year, sometimes 2 or 3 times a year (or even more times, as I buy them for restaurants, as well as private and corporate events, then sell and/or serve them, and therefore also taste them).
Anyway, he was happy with the list I made, and I can that these were truly the ones to absolutely taste if/when you do have not enough time to taste them all.
I can already sense that some of you are drooling with impatience to know what were the wines on that list, aren't you?
Well, to be fair for the other chateaux presented that day, I will just list those recommended to my friend to taste (as he did not have time to taste them all, it is important to note the context once again in all fairness for all the other wines).
The list is in alphabetical order without indicating which ones I preferred more, or even which ones I estimated being the best respectively in their own appellation. So, it is fair, ok? You will probably do the same if you were at my place.
Pessac Leognan (White)
- Domaine de Chevalier
- Malartic Lagraviere
- Pape Clement
Pessac Leognan (Red)
- Domaine de Chevalier
- Larrivet Haut-Brion
- Pape Clement
- Smith Haut Lafite
- La Couspaude
- La Dominique (of course, as it is my name and I love their wine)
- Le Bon Pasteur (of course as this Chateau belonged to the previous company I worked for, and I know the wines and the team rather well, I was even behind the table at the previous UGCB to pour the wine and represent the Chateau, with my friend and mentor the late Bernard de Laage de Meux, who passed away earlier this year, and for whom I had tremendous respect, may he rest in peace)
- La Lagune
- La Tour Carnet
- Cantenac Brown
- Rauzan Segla
- Langoa Barton
- Leoville Barton
- Leoville Poyferré
- Lynch Bages
- Pichon lalande
- Ormes de Pez
- Phelan Segur
- Lafaurie Peyraguey
- de Rayne Vigneau
Voila, that is the list, and that's 40 wines out of the 97 presented that day, and my friend did not even have the time to taste them all, mainly due to lack of time, distraction, and slow service; hence the reason why I was saying earlier that standing-up tastings are better and faster in my opinion. But I took the time to taste them so I know. 😉
Distraction also, because "Madame la Consule", Mrs. Chrstile Druhle, of the French Consulate of Hong Kong and Macao was there, with two of her colleagues, Bertrand Quevremont (Managing Director Hong Kong Office, Head of F&B and Agriculture Department Greater China) and Philippe Baudry (Economic Counsellor / Head of the Economic Department), and Benny and I know "Madame La Consule", via events and projects with the company we work for.
So, we had to say hello and ended up discussing longer than planned, which is both important and a very good thing when you want to entertain a strong relationship with the Consul and the consulate in general and continue doing projects with them, in a long-term scenario.
I must say that it was very nice tasting the 2019 vintage Bordeaux at the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, at Rosewood Hôtel, well organized, classy and spacious environment, great wines too.
Four of us decided to go for a quick bite at BluHouse restaurant, in K11/Rosewood, after the tasting. And, it was a very nice lunch with good food and good wines, in great company. 😁👍🍷🍷🍷
From left to right in the picture:
- Minnie Wong (EaSiness Wine)
- Jean-Baptiste Copot (Blacksheep Restaurants Head Sommelier)
- Roland Tram (Senior Sales Manager at Imperatrice)
- and your humble servant, myself, Dominique Noel (a.k.a. LeDomduVin) 😁
As for the 2019 Bordeaux vintage, I will say: solid vintage, lots of black, dark ripe fruits, with ample, generous, ripe, juicy, rich palate, even thick for some; so a lot of volume and layers, yet with good acidity for the freshness and nice chewy tannins, fairly well integrated overall, bringing nice structure and texture to most wines.
Overall, I really like this 2019 vintage, lots of very good surprises. Personally, I mostly loved the wines from Pauillac, Saint-Julien, Haut-Médoc, and Pomerol. These appellations are in the lead in my opinion (from what I could taste that day).
That said, some seemed overripe to me, with a bitter aftertaste or presenting some bitterness, mostly due to some unintegrated alcohol and some tannins that lacked a bit of maturity.
Some said the 2019 Bordeaux vintage is a winemaker's vintage and I tend to agree. Even more so, in my opinion, once again, I could tell that those who are making good to great wines, bad years and good years, have been making stunning wines.
Unfortunately, and once again, those who despite some recurring advice to change their methods and technologies in the vineyard as well as in the cellar, to get better, produce better wines, and obtain better scores, unfortunately, continue, out of stubbornness or lack of vision or motivation or maybe for financial reasons, to produce lesser wines.
I won't name anyone as wine is so subjective that everyone has his or her own taste. Yet, every year i try to approach the UGCB tasting with an open and fair mind, by saying to myself "this year you will be surprised" and yet, I was not...
Good winemakers will always be good winemakers! Yet, those who don't want to learn or admit or see or change will never be as good.
Dom (a.k.a. LeDomduvin)
(NB: looking at these pictures, I realize that I am getting old and fat 😱😱😱🤣🤣🤣)
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