Last week was my first Primeurs campaign. I’d call it a “whirlwind tour” of Bordeaux because it was amazing just how much ground we covered in a 24-hour period, hitting all appellations at every venue organized through the Union des Grands Crus (UGC). We began on Tuesday afternoon with the Left Bank, and then finished up with the Right Bank (along with Graves/Pessac-Leognan) on Wednesday morning.
However, aside from developing my own impressions of the wines sampled, there were two aspects about the UGC tastings that were quite apparent for this first-time attendee:
#1 – Not all chateaux were present. It’s quite obvious that the ϋber-prestigious chateaux (and those aspiring such status) intentionally separate themselves from the regular UGC tastings to convey more prestige and have full control over how their wines are presented (usual strategy for any luxury brand). Instead, these chateaux hold on-premise private tastings by appointment only.
One of the most notable departures this year was Pontet-Canet, who pulled out fairly last-minute (it was still listed in the tasting manual—what a tease!). However, I can understand Pontet-Canet’s strategy—this estate is really aiming high, particularly with its biodynamic story, and based on the publicity I keep seeing, it’s doing a great job.
However, I was content with attending just the UGC tastings. The Primeurs campaign is intense, and tasting wine en primeur requires a strong learning curve that takes time (and I imagine many successive campaigns) to become truly adept at evaluating these wines. Furthermore, I’m considering purchasing wine futures myself this year and know I could never afford any of the labels doing private sessions. So, I’d rather taste the wines within my price range.
#2 – Purple Teeth and Bad Aim! Being a very hygienic person, this is still something I’m coming to terms with since working in the wine industry. I’m someone who always travels with toothbrush and toothpaste, mouthwash, and Trident White chewing gum—all serious palate killers when it comes to tasting wine.
So, here I am at Primeurs, with hundreds of wines to be sampled (mostly red), and everyone looks like they just ate Barney. After going through the Pauillac appellation I headed to the bathroom and literally gasped when I looked in the mirror: my God, not only were my teeth violet, but so were my lips—even my nose was a little stained from the rim of the glass. Of course, I could take comfort in knowing that I looked like everyone else, but still… yuck-o!
However, worse than purple teeth is the concept of spitting the wine back out—yes, it’s absolutely essential to spit, and honestly, I do have fun spitting. However, what is less appealing is the fact that the spit doesn’t always make it into the spittoon. At the UGC tastings, I estimated the spittoon per person ratio to be around 1:12, which means you often had to take turns spitting. Usually it’s a game of gestures with both people signaling the other to go first. Sometimes you manage, but other times you end up spitting simultaneously. When that happens, there’s excessive splatter and the wine bounces back. Obviously, not a pretty sight—I imagine it is this phenomenon that explains the numerous stained ties and blouses you’ll see at these tastings.
Rule of thumb: Dress in black!