Tasted: May 16th, 2010

Bordeaux - Opposing Sides

No other region is more often duplicated and no other wine is more readily sought after; its famed estates set the prices and trends for the fine wine market worldwide. At 800 million bottles per year, Bordeaux produces a massive amount of ordinary table wine but for those who choose to research the subject, to delve a little deeper, there are endless treasures awaiting to tempt one's curiosity and taste. For this session, we are comparing the two styles of the region: those of the Left and Right Banks.

The styles of wine produced on opposite sides of the Gironde river varies almost as much as the ideals of the two rival groups themselves. The soils are not the same either; the left bank is predominantly gravel while the right bank consists of clay and limestone. For this, the grapes of choice and blends produce highly contrasting wines. During this tasting session, we set out to explore these differences, to discover our personal preference for the style of either the Left or Right Bank and to learn how these wine change with bottle age.

The wines sampled are listed below in order of tasting:

2000 Château Armens - Saint Emilion
2001 Clos du Marquis - Saint Julien
1999 Château La Vieille Croix - Fronsac
2002 Château Prieure-Lichine - Margaux
2003 Château Gigault 'Cuvée Viva' - Côtes de Blaye

When Tyler presents a mystery bottle, one has to be curious and perhaps a little wary; he has tricked us before by substituting an Ontario pinot noir in with the collection of Burgundies back in March. This time however, there was no fooling around. Trays of glasses containing the mystery wine circulated around the room and everyone inspected the contents. We swirled, then sniffed and of course tasted, assessing the wine's colour, clarity, aroma, and body. "What do you think, do you like it?" Tyler asked. A simple request, normally the questions are a lot more involved. He continued, "In your opinion, is this a young wine or an older one? The consensus was that we were drinking something quite old. Everyone was rather intrigued by the mystery and most seemed to enjoy the brick-coloured contents. The wine itself was soft and smooth, the colour and taste thin by comparison to the other selection. The fruit, while still present, had faded bringing to the forefront earthy notes and a lovely lingering aftertaste. "I suggest that you savour this one, it's not a wine for the spittoon. This wine is very special, but it is also approaching 30 years of age." Tyler informed the group. "But what better opportunity to sample very old Bordeaux than today." he said, "And it's not every day that you will have the chance to drink a First Growth."  Today however, we did just that; our mysterious guest was indeed a bottle of 1981 Château Haut Brion. Deborah, one of our members shared that she had picked grapes at Haut Brion back in 1985 so no doubt, this bottle brought back some wonderful memories for her!

Our group tasted and ranked the wines in order of personal preference, the results* are show below:

1 - 1999 Château La Vieille Croix
2 - 2003 Château Gigault 'Cuvée Viva'
3 - 2001 Clos du Marquis

Our top wine this afternoon was Gary and Joy's 1999 La Vieille Croix, a wine from the Fronsac region on the Right-Bank. This Merlot dominated wine was deeply coloured, balanced, and very fragrant. Most of us agreed that at 11 years, 'The Old Cross' was at its peak and seemed perfect for drinking today. Thank-you Gary and Joy for sharing your collection with us! The 2003 Gigalt 'Cuvée Viva', another right-bank selection was our second place wine and the product of an atypical vintage. The heatwave of the 2003 growing season made the wine stand out as 'different but very good' several members said. This wine had pronounced fruit and a 'jammy' body by comparison to the others. In third was the 2001 Clos du Marquis, a product of the left-bank and the second label of Château Léoville Las Cases. 2001 is a well above average year that is often overshadowed by the great vintage of 2000. This was indeed a lovely bottle that also seemed to hit the mark with a number of people this afternoon.

*Note regarding the 1981 Haut Brion: This wine was tasted blind and as expected, questions and comments quickly developed. After a short period I identified the wine, but also I fear, before the group had completed their final ranking of the other selections and therefore, I do believe that my description of the Haut Brion influenced the opinion of the group. It is indeed a very fine bottle but this example was also past its prime and had begun its slow decline from greatness. In terms of ranking, the Haut Brion finish well ahead of all the other wines though in retrospect, it probably would not have without my input and therefore is not included in the top three. - Tyler

Thank-you for joining us today and we look forward to seeing you again in June for an afternoon spent sipping California's liquid sunshine.