Bordeaux: the first guide to survival

What is needed for a successful En Primeur de Bordeaux campaign? Planning, determination and good appetite.

© Wine-Searcher
| David Allen MW shares a tasting with Caroline Frey from Château La Lagune.

So I successfully survived a week – well five days in fact – of the Union des Grands Crus (UGC) Bordeaux tastings!

I’m sure my physical survival was never at stake but, as I expected, it was very hard work. These tastings took place again physically in Bordeaux this year, unlike the virtual campaigns carried out during the two previous years hit by the Covid. It’s been over a week now and I haven’t heard any reports of a catastrophic superspreader event.

What was my week like then? Stroll through a few castles, taste a few wines, go to fancy dinners, meet up with some friends, have a good time? That’s certainly how my co-workers and family seem to think things work.

And, in fact, I can’t deny it. I visited 27 châteaux, attended eight UGC tastings and another tasting with a merchant. I walked 736 kilometers (460 miles) and walked 38,908 steps (16 miles). I tasted 210 wines from the 2021 Bordeaux vintage and 41 others from older vintages or from outside the region. The oldest wines I tasted were a couple from 1942 (Château Petit Village and Château Doisy-Daene).

The hospitality I received was undeniably spectacular. Attended a fabulous black tie dinner with countless mature wines at Palais Rohan (Bordeaux town hall) and dined at two chateaux – even spent a luxury night at one of them . I enjoyed delicious lunches offered by UGC and its member estates on three occasions and a delicious breakfast another day. My favorite personal stat of the week, however, is the fact that after weighing myself before leaving, I found on my return that I had lost a kilogram (2.2 pounds) – The diet firstI highly recommend it!

During my travels, I have met eight MW colleagues, five journalists, three trader contacts, numerous chateau owners, managers, winemakers and viticulturists – and apparently hundreds of dedicated Wine-Searcher users. It was great to catch up with old friends and make lots of new contacts. A castle owner I know showed up without me recognizing him. Embarrassingly, I had sought him out but, alas, the lockdown had transformed his youthful appearance into that of a distinguished, silver-haired statesman.

Planning is everything

So what didn’t go so well? There were about six wines that I would have liked to try but missed. There seems to have been a problem with my invitation and I received late confirmation from the UGC; as a result, I was making late appointments. Sorting that out earlier would have made the process much smoother.

It’s also important to be realistic about allowing time between appointments. I didn’t miss any (even though I canceled one tour) but I was late for a couple and was under constant pressure to keep to the schedule. It’s easy to underestimate the size of a Bordeaux region – it can easily take an hour to drive from southern Médoc to Saint-Estèphe. Planning my schedule carefully paid off, but traveling with a colleague to share the driving and tasting load would have eased that pressure.

I avoided a mistake when I realized I had inadvertently chosen an electric vehicle with limited range. While I would appreciate the chance to reduce my carbon footprint, I didn’t see many charging stations in the areas I visited and probably would have gotten stranded. An upgrade with the rental company fixed the problem. Luckily, there were only a few near misses while driving, which to me is on the wrong side of the road. The only real motoring disaster was a 20 minute nightmare when my sat nav took me into the pedestrianized heart of Bordeaux without providing a viable escape route. I ended up escaping, despite the bollards that barred my way out several times.

I spent most of the next week writing tasting notes – I just finished the last one, for the Graves/Pessac-Léognan whites and the Sauternes. There was also strenuous effort on social media, as I made eight posts on Instagram and Facebook, publicizing the release of these notes.

I have a small stack of business cards from contacts to follow, many articles to write and a large number of thank you emails to send to the contacts in Bordeaux whose reception has been so incredible and whose determination to make of the week a superb event was much appreciated.

My completed notes have been posted in each wine‘s review section on our website and app and can be viewed for free. Next week we will publish a more detailed review of the vintage. The first wines have already been offered by the châteaux and the campaign promises to be short and sharp.

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About Michael Brafford

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