One weekend a year, the celebrated wine magazine Terre de Vins takes over the Bordeaux chamber of commerce in Palais de la Bourse for the Grand Tasting. The tasting is meant to be a celebration of the best of Bordeaux, but it also includes wines from around France and this year, an international selection.
Last year, I was unable to attend the tasting. I was taking a wine and spirits class on Saturday and truthfully, I can’t even remember why I didn’t attend on Sunday. Sadly, this year’s Saturday wasn’t any different. I had class from 10-5. But this Sunday I rallied and arrived at the tasting just as the doors opened at 10 am.
But after a year of tastings, visits and night’s out in Bordeaux, I wasn’t eager to indulge in the Bordeaux wines. So instead I made my way upstairs to the Champagne room. Charles Heidsieck. Drappier. G.H. Mumm. Joseph Perrier. Perrier-Jouet. Tattinger. But it wasn’t just the grand marques, the tasting included: Besserat de Bellefon, Boizel, Briaux Lenique, Charles Collin, H. Blin, Lionel Carreau, Louis Dousset, Michel Gonet, Mont d’Hor, Paul Goerg, Pinot Chevauchet, and Thienot. For me it was a revelation of what the region of champagne has to offer. And an even greater incentive to travel.
But I also got to taste a few exceptional champagnes, not necessarily the best I’ve ever tasted but definitely the most unique. I got to enjoy two Brut Natures, something I’ve been wanting to enjoy for some time. The methode champenoise is a process of double fermentation. Still wine is bottled with additional yeast and left to ferment in the bottle. The wine is then aged for a minimum of 18 months with the lees, or yeast. Before being labeled and brought to market the dead yeast is disorged and the bottles are topped of with a liqueur d’expedition, containing a small amount of sugar or dosage. A Brut Nature, is a champagne made with a zero dosage, or in other words it has no added sugar. I will confess this was one of the biggest surprises of the day. I was expecting very crisp and very clean wine. Instead, I was surprised by the subtle softness and rather sweet lingering taste.
Since 1834 the Boizel family has been making high-quality champagnes in Epernay. I will confess when I arrived at the table I didn’t expect much and subsequently asked to skip the Brut Reserve. But thanks to the persuasive powers of Monsieur Boizel I tried the whole range of wines. The Brut, Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs. Thankfully Monsieur Boizel was talkative and was willing to give us a taste of something truly special, his private production Cuvée Sous Bois, pulled out from underneath the table. Made in an antiquated style the still wine made used to make this Champagne is fermented in an oak barrel before being bottled and fermented via the methode tradionelle. It was my favorite wine of from the entire day and I was can’t wait to visit the estate.
I also got to taste a Rose Champagne made with the saignee method. Most rose champagne is produced via assemblage, where still red wine blended to create the pink color. But this Champagne, from Louis Dousset, is made from fermented red wine. Still wine is left to macerate on the skins and add color. This wine is then fermented via the traditional method to produce Champagne. Richer and more vinous than a blended rose champagne, I was pleasantly surprised by the character of this wine. Fruit, fresh and crisp it was a stunning example of creative winemaking. Now I’m eager to try additional rose champagnes made using this method.
I was also pleasantly surprised that there were foreign wines offered at the tasting. A stunning white wine from Japan. Distinct and unique red wines from Lebanon and Morocco. Bold reds from Spain and Chile. Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. Granted many of these wines were coming from Bernard Magrez properties – he was wandering around the tasting actually – and they showed some of the same characteristics as are typically found in his wines. But at least Bordeaux is starting to look beyond it’s own borders and acknowledge that the wine world is a much larger place than it used to be. But that being said, there were only 7 foreign estates invited/attending. I’m not sure which, but I was told that 7 estates were specifically invited. It is a step forward but a small one.
But Champagne wasn’t the only region outside of Bordeaux that I paid a visit, it was just the most extensive. I paid a visit to Monsieur Deiss, famed producer from Alsace, where I was also scolded for asking about the grape varietals. I was told that terroir was key and that the varietal doesn’t matter. While I do agree with this to some degree, this thinking is very French and won’t help sell wine internationally. And on another note, I was sadly disappointed in the wines I got to taste, even the haute gamme, or high end wine from his range. I’ve heard so much about the rich white wines from Alsace and these were lacking in complexity and structure.
From there I moved on to some other regions: Provence, the Rhone Valley, Maidran (an appellation in the Southwest of France not far from Bordeaux) and Languedoc-Roussillion. The Rhone Valley wines were from celebrated producer Paul Jaboulet Aine, currently owned by the Frey family, which also has strong ties to the Bordeaux region. And the Maidran was from Chateau Montus and celebrated producer Alain Brumont, whose daughter is a classmate. Ultimately what this has proved to me is that while the tasting organizers were looking beyond Bordeaux this year, they didn’t look very far or particularly hard. Again it’s a good start, if only a small step forward. Bordeaux doesn’t have the mass draw of the Grand Tasting in Paris after all.
At the end of the day I walked away a little buzzy but with a new wine wish list, some new contacts and a lovely Riedel glass. All in all it was a good way to pass six hours on a Sunday. And most importantly, I was left with enough time to go home, have a bit to eat and have a nap before I had to meet with a group for a project.