Tuesday, January 23, 2024

UGCB 2021 Vintage Release Tour 2024 Comes to Chicago

UGCB 2021 Vintage Release Tour 2024 Comes to Chicago

Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB) North American 2021 Vintage Release Tour Chicago Preview Tasting 2024 

Once again, the UGC Bordeaux (Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB)), annual release tour visited Chicago this week unveiling/showcasing their 2021 vintage release wines. 

The Union is the association of 131 members of the top premier wine producer estates from the most prestigious Bordeaux appellations. In cooperation with distributors, brokers and merchants they host over 80 events in fifteen countries visiting 65 cities to present their wines to some 50,000 or so professionals and wine lovers each year around the world.

Their events go beyond France, taking them throughout Europe (Germany, UK, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Netherlands, Russia), to this tour of North America (US and Canada) , and to Asia (China, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore). 

This year's North American tour to Canada and the US visited Miami, then Toronto, Montréal, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and culminating in San Francisco.

'Pour Boys' Tom C, me, Ernie and Lyle with
UGCB Ambassadors Chloe Morvan and
Marie Damouseau, from 2020.
As in previous years, members of our 'Pour Boys' wine group (left) helped conduct the event in Chicago, one of the highlight of my wine exploits throughout the year.

As in years past, except the Covid disrupted alternate site last year at Chicago Union Station Grand Hall, which actually was delayed to June, the gala event was held in the Drake Hotel in the magnificent grand Gold Coast Ballroom (shown below). 

The Pour Boys serve as volunteers, working with the host organizers Mike Wangbickler, Kat Stark and the Balzac Communications team, and the UGCB Bordeaux events team member Marie Damouseau.

According to the routine, 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.

 Often 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 fifteenth 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 always, 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.

As collectors and holders of a not-insignificant collections 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.  

This year, due to the challenging vintage with its reduced yields and less than stellar wines in some cases, thereby potentially suppressing prices following three outstanding vintages, some of the producer's took a pass opting out of this year's tour. Conspicuously absent were two of our perennial favorites and cellar collection wines, Chateaux Pichon Longueville Baron and Pichon Comtesse de Lalande. 

Also, several of the Sauterne Appellation producers chose to showcase wines from recent past vintages rather than present the current 2021 release. 

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

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.

As mentioned above, the 2021 vintage was a challenging year for Bordeaux producers and the resulting wines need scrutiny in selecting winners and standouts.

The Bordeaux region experienced an atypical year, marked by a lack of sunshine throughout the spring, impacting the wine-growing season despite a favorable start in June and the return of sunshine at the end of the harvest. The 2021 season faced frost in April then mildew in late July and early August. Over the course of the year, the inclement weather cut Bordeaux’s crop by a third.

A technical year for the winemakers, it enabled them to produce a wine with lower degrees, perhaps more digestible, reminiscent of a more classic style marked by the Bordeaux continental climate such as the modern era 2008 or 2014 vintages.

Compared to the three previous top rated years of 2018, 2019 and 2020, it is lighter and fresher than those three vintages and will probably mature more quickly.

 An official card from the UGCB described the 2012 vintage this way - 

"A challenging vintage
where time appeared
to slow down.
Mild, cloudy,
then sunny conditions
resulted in
incredibly resilient vines.
A late harvest
with low yields
and subtle aromas
set the tone for
wonderful surprises. 

A well focused vintage.
A wine growers vintage."

Hence, it is not a vintage to avoid despite the typical panning by some of the press. It will require adjusting expectations accordingly. If the vintage results are reflected in prices, it will provide the opportunity to pick up more affordable wines, perhaps obtaining the Grand Vin as opposed to the second label, in some cases.

Wine Enthusiast wrote, "While it may be a smaller vintage, there are still extremely enjoyable red and white wines at the top end. At its red heart, it is a Cabernet vintage. That means look for wines with Cabernet Sauvignon on the Left Bank in the Médoc and in Pessac-Léognan and of wines with a good percentage of Cabernet Franc in Saint-Emilion." 

"The 2021 is lower in alcohol than recent vintages (13-13.5% compared with 14.5% or even 15% in 2018), higher in the fresh fruits and lighter on the tannins. Whites and sweet wines in Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes are magnificent despite seriously lower volumes."

“We have produced wines that are classic, with fruit to the fore,” says Nicolas Labenne, technical director at Château Lynch-Bages in Pauillac. 

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.

My perspective was that many of the wines showed a slight bit of astringency with slightly diminished thin fruits with some green notes and hints of menthol and some green pepper. 

There were some pleasant surprises, some in places one might not expect. Shown below, Château Coufran from St Estephe who go against the conventions of the Médoc region and prodominate Merlot over Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend, more akin to a Pomerol. 

With Frédéric Vicaire of
Château Coufran

Some of the standouts were the Margaux appellation seemed to show well with a highlight being Château Lascombes.

With Karine Barbier of Château Lascombes

The wines of Chateaux Leoville and Langoa Barton from St Julien showed well and revealed some new branding as well. 

From a branding perspective, Château Langoa Barton celebrates the 200th anniversary ownership of the property acquired in 1821 with a special label highlights milestone of the property and pays homage to the patriarch Anthony Barton who passed away during the vintage in January 2022. 

This is the first vintage vinified in the Barton family's new winery.

As is customary, the Barton wines were represented by Managing Director Lilian Barton Sartorius who represents the 9th generation of the Barton family. These days the property is managed by Lilian assisted by her husband, Michel Sartorius, and their grown children, Damien and Melanie, of the 10th generation, who are taking on increasing responsibility in the business.

The ever dapper Stephan von Neipperg,
(Château Canon-La-Gaffelière)

with Lillian Barton Sartorius (Chateaux Leoville &
Langoa Barton) and Claire Ridley representing
Leoville Poyferre.

Continuing the branding approach introduced in the post Covid era, Château Siran released an artist label series featuring artwork that was updated with new vintage release. Of course, this promotional branding was made epic by ultra-premium first growth producer Chateau Mouton Rothschild with their artist series. I chronicle that series in my compendium label library page on my winesite. (Notably, Mouton Rothschild with their grand vin are not members of the UGCB.)

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".  

The 2020 vintage marked 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'. 

Earlier UGCB and related events are featured in earlier unwindwine blogposts

Most recently .. 

UGCB 2020 Vintage Release Tour Chicago 2023

Grand Cru Bordeaux 2019 Vintage Release Tour Chicago

 UGCB 2017 Release Tour Chicago