Union Des Grand Crus

Where to Wine & Dine: Paris

Where to Wine & Dine: Paris

Post by Chuck Hayward | January 25th, 2013


Au Passage Restaurant Exterior

Here at JJ Buckley, January brings with it thoughts of Bordeaux, as the Union des Grand Crus travels the country pouring the latest releases while we make plans for attending the en primeur tastings in France. And with Bordeaux on the brain, it’s not too hard to start dreaming of Paris, the city where we land before traveling south, and where I always make sure to get in an extra day to check out the latest and greatest culinary pit-stops.

Like almost every major city these days, Paris is undergoing another seismic shift in their dining scene. With strong influences from American cuisine (including the arrival of many expat chefs), the plates arriving on today’s Parisian tables highlight bold colors, fresh ingredients and light-handed cooking techniques. In short, they are quite different from the requirements of haute cuisine, which dominated French cooking for decades. Traditional French dining once meant maintaining a large staff and paying rent in pricey neighborhoods. All of the required overhead kept prices too high at a time when diners started tightening their wallets and eating out less. At the same time, the strong traditions surrounding French cuisine and service left little room for younger chefs to innovate in the kitchen and promote a relaxed environment in the dining room. Paris was ready for change and (thankfully) that change has arrived. (more…)

Saving the best for last— My final, final at Chateau d’Yquem

Saving the best for last— My final, final at Chateau d’Yquem

Post by John Perry | Friday, April 2nd

Last day in Bordeaux. Gotta go out with a bang, and boy did I ever. Just like capping off a terrific meal, my trip ended on a high note at none other than Chateau d’Yquem. And the best part? I didn’t know I was going until the boss handed me the car keys.

The day started off with a light breakfast and catching up on work at the hotel.  It was one of the few off periods for me, and I spent the morning

Chateau d'Yquem

banging out blog entries, tasting notes, placing orders and catching up on emails. Truly fascinating stuff. Most of the JJB crew was off doing some morning tasting and I knew that my options when they got back would be a) more computer work or b) more negociant tastings. You can imagine my surprise when I went downstairs to chat up the boss and found out that I was going to d’Yquem! Not only going, but Shaun says, “you’re driving”. Score! The best sweet wine in the world and I get to speed all over Bordeaux. (Honestly, I don’t know what it is about Europe that turns our crew into Formula One wannabes.)

The d’Yquem property is set on top of the highest hill in the general vicinity. With scenic views of everything around, it was the perfect prelude to our tasting.  Unlike most of our visits where there are multiple wines on offer, at d’Yquem there’s only one. We drove over an hour for one wine— and it was totally worth it, seriously everything that it’s cracked up to be.

Tasting at d'Yquem, the glass is always half full, even when it's not!

Our host explained how the 2009 growing season was ideal— great for maturity of the grapes and great once the botrytis set in.  Often it’s good for one or the other— either it’s an easy growing period, but then botrytis devlopment is difficult, or else it’s a challenging year for ripening, but the botrytis is wonderful. The 2009 vintage was a perfect combination of both and really shows in the wine. Furthermore, we were told that this vintage was their largest production since 1893 (!) as well as having the highest level of residual sugar (the highest previous level was 2001).

A blend of 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc (the usual cepage for d’Yquem), which will spend 30 months aging in 100% new oak, the wine was terrific. Fabulously concentrated with notes of pineapple and apricot, opulent but extremely focused, precise and fresh, balanced by acidity and displaying excellent length. Really outstanding, and it left all the other sweet wines we had tasted on our trip in the dust.

Little did I know that we would be enjoying twenty-plus wines at dinner and I would keep the party going at a discotheque until the wee hours of the morning. But for all intents and purposes the tasting at d’Yquem was the end of our hectic trip to Bordeaux and I couldn’t have asked for a more appropriate finale.

Using the wide-angle: A macro assessment of the ’09 vintage

Using the wide-angle: A macro-assessment of the ’09 vintage

Post by Andy Frieden | Tuesday, March 30th

There is rain, wind and sun coming in cycles throughout the day. It’s March in France and the French call it the ‘jubilee’ season. For us, it is just wet and cold weather, which makes it a challenge to travel from one appointment to the next. But thankfully, there is joyous work at each stop— this is en primeurs week in Bordeaux and we’re here to taste.

One of the places we get to sample the most number of wines in a single setting is at a negociant-hosted tasting. So setting out from Libourne, we

I know there was one in here somewhere with plus concentration...

battled Bordeaux’s legendary traffic and arrived at one of the top negociant firms in the land. The owner’s son  greeted us on arrival and ushered us in to get down to business. This is not a fancy tasting room at a picturesque romantic Château organized by winery marketing personnel— at a negociant tasting there can be anywhere from 100 to 300 wines open and our job is to taste, evaluate the vintage and to share our recommendations and tasting notes with you.  (We’ll be posting our TN’s shortly after we return from en primeurs).

While it’s a lot of work to focus on that many wines in one shot, I actually look forward to this type of tasting every year. Here’s an opportunity to compare and contrast wines both within and between appellations. This is an invaluable experience, as it allows me to take an overall look into the vintage by tasting the top, classified growth Chateaux wines from both banks in one sitting. When tasting wines within an appellation— side by side between the left bank and the right bank— patterns, styles, intensity of fruit, and overall structure within a region can emerge. This is a macro approach to tasting and it gives us the opportunity to make intelligent vintage assessments and buying decisions.

At no other time during the trip will any one single tasting event give me a chance to clearly identify what the vintage looks like more than a visit to a negociant— and we have scheduled three of them this year! This is what we’re here for as these insightful tastings allow me and my colleagues to confidently recommend a Bordeaux buying strategy tailored for you. Indeed, the 2009 vintage is turning out to be a vintage for the ages and will provide an excellent opportunity to buy wines for a lifetime of enjoyment. Exciting stuff!