Wednesday, January 25, 2023

UGCB 2020 Vintage Release Tour Chicago 2023

Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB) North American 2020 Vintage Release Tour Chicago Preview Tasting 2023 

The UGC Bordeaux (Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB)), annual release tour visited Chicago this week unveiling/showcasing their 2020 vintage release wines. The Union is the association of 130 members of the top premier estates from the most prestigious Bordeaux appellations

This year's North American tour visited Toronto, New York, Washington DC, Chicago, LA , Seattle and San Francisco. 

As in previous years, members of our 'Pour Boys' wine group (left) helped conduct the event in Chicago. 

This year, after a Covid disrupted alternate site last year at Chicago Union Station Grand Hall, which actually was delayed to June, as in years past, returned to the Drake Hotel in the magnificent grand Gold Coast Ballroom (shown below). 

The Pour Boys serve as volunteers, working with the hosts Mike Wangbickler, Kat and the Balzac Communications team, and the UGCB Bordeaux events team of Chloe Morvan and Marie Damouseau.

We help prepare the room and the wines, checking in trade registrants, and standing in for producers who faced travel or other disruptions, presenting and pouring their wines. 

We start early in the day unpacking and distributing the wines, carefully setting up each wine station for the arrival of the producers' and their representatives for presenting and pouring the wine during the afternoon session.

Several times over the years, several producers or their representatives were delayed in travel or had other disruptions and we were called in to service to pour their wines, hence we earned our moniker, the 'Pour Boys'.  This was our fourteenth year working this gala annual event.

As usual, close to a hundred producers were represented at the event that was attended by over five hundred members of the trade, merchants, hospitality and media.

As is their custom in the third week of January, this annual roadshow is a marathon trek across North America by the producers and their representatives offering wine professionals and oenophiles the chance to meet the Bordeaux principles, winemakers and commercial directors. 

As I've written in previous years, we appreciate the investment in time and effort expended by the producers and their brand ambassadors to visit Chicago. It provides a wonderful opportunity to meet them firsthand and discuss their perspectives on their brand, approach to crafting their style, their history, businesses, and their vintages including, of course, the current release.

Overcast skies and early morning snow
through windows of Gold Coast Ballroom

As collectors and holders of a not-insignificant collection of Bordeaux wines dating back four decades, we Pour Boys hold as many as several dozen or more vintages of some of these labels. Meeting the owners, family members, producer / winemaker / representatives of these great Chateaux is a great privilege and offers a collector the chance to learn more about their investment and wines. 

As such, I tend to focus on and taste those wines that I know well and hold verticals (multiple vintages of the same label), of which my wine buddies and I have holdings.  Shown left, Chateau Lynch Bages and Ormes de Pez.  

The new Lynch Bages winery was under construction during our visit in 2019. It is now open and in production with this 2020 release being the first vintage produced in the new state of the art facility. 

Marking four centuries of history and the culmination of four years’ hard work, the 2020 vintage, the first in the renovated cellars is commemorated in a new label design for the vintage.

The new cellars and vat room, were designed by architect Chien Chung Pei to put emphasis on natural light, functionality and innovative technologies. As such a light iridescent shadow suggesting the new building is set on the architectural architecture, while the vintage is handwritten by Chien Chung Pei to commemorate the collaboration.

Despite the inclement weather, this years event was well attended to a full house (shown below).

Earlier UGCB and related events are featured in earlier unwindwine blogposts.

Grand Cru Bordeaux 2019 Vintage Release Tour Chicago

 UGCB 2017 Release Tour Chicago

After working to set up the event, register attendees and fill in for late arriving producers' due to travel delays, we were able to partake of the release tasting. 

As usual, we focused on the producers that we own and collect, with particular interest in those that we visited during our last trip to Bordeaux, as well as those we are targeting for our next or futures visits to the region.

The 2020 vintage is another great year for Bordeaux. The year opened with a mild start triggering an early bud break and even flowering thanks to a warm and dry month of May. Early June brought frequent rainfall which provided reserves of water during nearly two-month period of drought which began from mid-June, continuing well into August.

While it was very warm in the first part of the year, significantly warmer than 2018 or 2019, the heart of the summer however was marginally cooler than those excessively hot years. Taken as a whole, 2020 was as warm as the baking 2018, but not as intensely hot during the summer.

By early August, a welcome flurry of rain showers swept over the region breaking the prolonged period of drought before entering a dry and sunny September, which pushed the grapes into their final period of ripening. The earlier ripening Merlot benefited from the superb conditions of an early September harvest.

Mid-September light rain falls provided a final infusion of freshness to the Cabernet grapes. Only those with late ripening plots of Cabernet Sauvignon were left in a rush to bring them in in before the concerning forecast pertaining to storm Alex at the beginning of October.

The overall harvesting conditions of 2020 were also perfectly suited for the earlier ripening Merlot grape, while the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon vines picked towards the end of September when warm winds imposed an evaporation effect on the grapes, resulting in unusually small berries with high levels of tannins. This translated into wines with deep colors, very concentrated flavors, and abundant, well-ripened, fine-grained tannins.

Anne-Francoise Quie Château Rauzan-Gassies
Lise Latrille - Château Prieure Lichine

For the white wines of 2020, the effects of the intense summer heat was compensated by the moisture reserves from the spring showers, producing dry whites which were less aromatic than in 2019, but with plenty of complexity and vibrant acidity. 

Although the grapes had reached a perfect level of ripeness by early September, the crucial rain showers did not arrive until October, which meant that only the most patient and diligent growers were rewarded by the small harvesting window with lower levels of wine produced.

James Suckling stated, “The 2020 vintage is another great year for Bordeaux, marking a rare trilogy of excellent vintages that produced wines at the same or very close quality level across the board from great named chateaux to lesser-known estates.” 

Jancis Robinson decreed, “Some stunning wines have been produced in 2020. On the Left Bank, they tend to be made by producers who can afford to be extremely selective in their final blends. There is a host of very successful wines on the Merlot-dominated Right Bank too. I have found myself falling back in love with St-Émilion” thanks to a continuing trend where “wines are so much fresher and more expressive than they used to be.” 

Jane Anson, reporting for Decanter says, ‘I would say 2018 is the most exuberant, 2020 the most structured and concentrated, while 2019 combines both and for me is the strongest of the three – certainly the most consistent.’ She also points out that ‘Yields overall were around 25% lower than in 2019, particularly with Cabernet Sauvignon but also Cabernet Franc in many cases."

Lilian Barton-Sartorius - Châteaux
Leoville and Langoa Barton
The event is sponsored by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, (UGCB) and is hosted and orchestrated by Balzac Communications, boutique wine marketing and communications consultancy firm in Napa, under the leadership of Mike Wangbickler.

As is the custom, the afternoon session is for the benefit of the press and trade and wine professionals, and in Chicago, the evening session in Chicago was hosted by merchant partner Binny's Beverage Depot, the Chicago-land wine superstore, offering tickets to the evening session to their valued customers and the public. This year, over four hundred collectors and vinophiles registered for the even. 

My perspective was that many of the wines showed better this year being more approachable at this early age with expressive forward and full fruits – especially the right bank Merlot based wines. 

One of my standout favorites of the tasting was the Chateau Canon which was especially approachable with bright vibrant fruits and a delicious sweetness.

From a branding perspective, in addition to Lynch Bages above, a couple other new special bottling or new labels emerged.

Château Léoville Poyferré presented a striking gold painted bottle with embossed molded emblem at the top commemorating their anniversary vintage. 2020 marks the symbolic centennial vintage for the Cuvelier Family, the centennial anniversary of their ownership of this Second Grand Cru Classé of Saint-Julien. 

And, for Sara Lecompte Cuvelier, fourth generation to be at the helm of the domain, this historic vintage is encapsulated in a special bottle to commemorate this significant milestone.

The unique bottle inlaid with gold, the details of which 'pay tribute to the enduring strength of Léoville Poyferré and its multifaceted terroir'. 
Our visit to and tour of Château Léoville Poyferré was one of the highlights of our visit to the region in 2019.

Another new branding approach is Château Siran who introduce in the post Covid era an artist label series featuring artwork that will be updated with each vintage release. 

The 2020 vintage marks the return of the family tradition of Château Siran’s illustrated labels with a collaboration with Federica Matta, a Franco-Chilean artist 'sensitive to the natural elements and the culture of wine'. 

Producers Sevrine and Edouard Miailhe wanted to memorialize the pandemic that paralysed the world in 2020. They chose a theme of an anti-Covid allegory recognizing the olfactory qualities together with the beneficial properties of red wines with the new label's bright colors, celebrating "the joy of living and the happiness of sharing". 

Charlotte Burckhard showing
new Chateau Siran label branding

'Pour Boys' Tom C, me, Ernie and Lyle with
UGCB Ambassadors Chloe Morvan and
Marie Damouseau

Anne-Francoise Quie Château Rauzan-Gassies
with enthusiastic patron

Earlier UGCB and related events are featured in earlier unwindwine blogposts.