by Winebounty Team| Jan 25, 2020

With Bordeaux’s 2017 vintage hitting the shelves soon, the Union Des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (“UGC”) made its annual trek through the United States and Canada this week to show off their goods.  What better way to spend an evening then sipping your way through 60 wineries?  Sounds magical, right?  Well, it can be but for anyone new to large-scale wine events, a few pointers are in order to help brace for what’s to come and to help ensure it’s a worthwhile event.

1.  Study Up (Where To Go)

Tasting tours are not limited to Bordeaux.  Several regions make their way to the United States to expose both the trade and the public to their offerings.  For example, James Suckling hosts an annual “Great Wines of Italy Tour” and “Great Wines of the World” event.  Also, popular wine publications host their own annual events, including Wine Spectator’s “Grand Tour”.  There are also numerous city-specific wine events like New York’s “Wine Experience” or the Uncorked Wine Festivals held throughout the United States.  Here’s a great list by state that is updated annually and they even have a list specific to California!

2. Study Up (What to Taste)

Wine events can be a very good example of your eyes being bigger than your stomach.  With the number of pours being anywhere from tens to hundreds of wines, you need a plan!  My recommendation is no more than 10 wines an hour.  Review in advance which wineries will be there and come up with your list of “must visit” wineries to fill those slots and divide them according to sparkling, white, red, and sweet wines.  This will help you keep focused during the event instead of getting sidetracked by every table in your path.  Depending on the length of the event, this will usually allow you time at the end to revisit some of your favorites or to explore wines that missed your list but caught your attention at the event.

3. Before the Event

Prepay for tickets.  Purchasing tickets at a wine event is like buying tickets at Disneyland; nobody wants to be stuck in a line at one of the most magical places on earth.  Purchasing in advance will also typically reward you with a discount.

Eat a full meal and drink water only.  While there are usually appetizers available at the event, they go fast and you will see guests literally picking at crumbs.  Don’t be that guest.  If you eat a full meal right before, you will rarely need to fight your way through the appetizers but can focus on what brought you to the event (the wine, duh). 

Do not plan on driving to/from the event.  Parking can be a hassle and unless you have a designated driver you should not chance it.  Either take public transportation or, if it is not easily available, be prepared to take a taxi, Uber, or Lyft.  Better yet, make a holiday of it and get a hotel room nearby.

4. At the Event

Arrive early.  Lines can get long (even prepay lines), so don’t be fashionably late.  This will also give you time to pick up a map of the event. If the host is not handing out maps, take a picture of the map (one will surely be posted somewhere).  Pull out your handy list of pre-selected wineries and plot your journey.  Wineries will usually be segmented by region or varietal.  Do your best to stay close to the progression you would do at any wine tasting (sparklings, whites, reds, and then sweets).  If you start switching back-and-forth it can really mess with your palate.  But most importantly, save the sweet wines for last! 

During the event, take notes and ask questions.  For notes, it can be as simple as a star rating system or as detailed as you want.  Just make sure it works for you and the number of wines you plan to taste that evening.  The amount of notes you take is inversely correlated with the number of wines you can taste. 

Be ready for crowds, big crowds.  These events can get packed.  Particularly at the beginning.  You need to be okay with invasion of personal space and you need to be okay with politely (but in a determined fashion) finding your way to the front of the tasting table.  This is where having a road map really helps to maneuver around the floor.

Like the appetizers, the wine can run out too.  Again, this is where being on time and having a road map helps.  If you are getting closer to the end of the evening and you haven’t hit those super wines on your list, it might be time to rush over to them.  The most anticipated wines go fast.

For many wineries, pours get bigger toward the end of the evening.  The winery does not want to haul away opened bottles (even for wines that run $250/bottle!).  This is a perfect time to revisit your favorite wine and, assuming a bottle is still open, get a nice pour that you can take to relaxing chair to recap the evening with friends or read through your notes and jot down any last thoughts.

5. Bordeaux 2017 Vintage Highlights

Ah yes, the reason for this article.  I digress but hopefully the above tips prove helpful.  Now for the highlights.  The 2017 vintage, in short, was complicated.  It started off slightly warmer than usual (giving the vineyards an earlier start to the growing season).  But, in April, the region was hit with a devastating frost that wiped out around 40% of potential grapes.  While this created a mixed bag for the reds, it enhanced several Sauternes and whites, particularly those from Pessac-Léognan in Graves.  Overall, the vintage produced some very good wines but lacked the “wow” of the best vintages.  This makes it a good opportunity for the curious who want to find good buys for classically proportioned wines. I’d give it some time though.  Prices haven’t yet hit reality, but they will. 

Here were my top picks for the evening (of the wines poured):

Best Red:Château Smith Haut Lafitte (Rouge)
Runner-Ups:Château Valandraud
Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande
Château Canon
Château Citran
Best White:Château Smith Haut Lafitte (Blanc)
Runner-Up:Château Pape Clément (Blanc)
Best Sweet:Château de Fargues
Runner-Up:Château Doisy Daëne

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