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Overwhelming. A summation of my experiences in one word, after I attended the Union des Grand Cru de Bordeaux event this past Saturday at Barker Hangar in Santa Monica. Last Saturday was also a very special Ducks hockey game; the first time that Saku Koivu would return to Montreal, as an opponent, after captaining the Canadiens for nine seasons. The stars were aligning.

Wally’s—a champion of Bordeaux wines—sponsored the event, making their sponsored presence felt at every turn with offers to buy Bordeaux. The tasting featured some of the legendary Châteaux, showcasing their wines of the 2008 vintage.

The event is held annually and allows the consumers/professionals to taste through an esteemed lineup of producers’ efforts that might be hard to replicate. It also presents an opportunity to have conversations with some of the Château owners, along with other knowledgeable representatives of these famous estates.

It was my first time at an event of such magnitude (and caliber), having been to tastings more intimate before. This was a classier free-for-all—a run on all precious vin de Bordeaux. It was not what I was expecting.

I met up with my professor at the beginning of the event, before establishing a tasting order, heeding her advice on sampling through the wines and diligence about spitting, no matter how many bodies crowded me out. She also told me break frequently, for my palate’s sake, and to change up the sampling by tasting some of the dry white wines that were being served, to reinvigorate the taste buds.

The hangar was brimming with people on both sides—bees buzzing vibrantly around the comb—and I decided to break right and taste the wines of Paulliac first. The first pours of Bordeaux I really prized. I held on to my stemware to sniff the delicate and amazing perfumes in no rush to taste, but instead to take it easy and keep from being overcome.

I tasted too many wines to remember the exact order but the 2008 vintage was showing well with the Cabernet based blends of Paulliac. Tasting myriad wines and scribbling my notes in the books (provided by Wally’s) proved difficult because I had to balance the glassware on some of the booklets, mind my clunky camera and move through the crowds of people to find some elbow-free room.

I was able to catch notes of fruit (primarily cherry, blackberries, plum…), tobacco, herbs and sometimes an occasional trip to the kinderboerderij [kin-der-börder-rye]. The tannins inside the mouth ranged from dry and firm to bitter and all were omnipresent. The finish on some of the wines was intense and others were truncated… tasting side-by-side did some favors.

I was really impressed by some of the wines of St. Émilion, especially Château Figeac and Canon-La-Gaffelère, which were really a treat to try—I even contemplated not spitting but remained dutiful and consistent. By the time I made it to Pomerol my phone had alerted me that the Ducks game was underway and at that same time my tongue was beginning to show signs of fatigue. My glass also began to be partial, retaining some of the powerful jam-like odors of all the red fruit blends.  I called a timeout and drank some water, swishing aggressively to revive the palate. I decided it was time to engage the white wines of Graves.

The first glass of Ch. Smith Haut Lafitte was perfect; it sent an electric pulse down my tongue, resuscitating it with the refreshingly high acidity (higher in contrast to the red Bordeaux). Moving casually down the line of the white wines until my taste buds came to.

I then embarked on the wines from Margaux and tasted some wonderful examples from Ch. Lascombes and Ch. Giscours. I continued weaving in and out of the frenetically paced (by this time…buzzed) crowd, pushing through till it was time to taste the dessert wines of Sauternes. Unfortunately though, I was not the only one with that idea. It was suddenly much more aggressive, people snaking others for the last sip of Ch. Guiraud and other honeyed sweet wines. What little I tasted, before I called it quits was spectacular but that crowd turned me off; it was crazy. On the flip side of crowd behavior, the hockey fans of Montreal were giving Saku Koivu a spine-tingling ovation—very rare to see an opposing team’s crowd bestow such an honor on a former player.

If only the majority of consumers acted so beautifully (or I had the courage to ask that girl from my class to come with me) this tasting would have been my favorite. Much like huge music festivals, I prefer smaller concerts and definitely smaller tastings—where a few special wines are sipped with more emphasis, each particular bottle being understood and appreciated or, just hearing one musician that would be worth the price of admission instead of rushing through sets to get to the next artist, sacrificing bands and songs along the way. I feel very lucky to have tried all the Bordeaux that I got around to but will probably have a much different approach for the next major event.

I went home, prepared a dry-aged ribeye with chanterelle mushrooms and brussels sprouts (held off on the wine) and caught the tail end of the game; a shootout victory for the Ducks and I was able to witness the other neckhair-raising cheer for Saku as he took to the ice as the second star of the game. Beautiful evening.

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