We just tasted the new 2016 Bordeaux vintage at the massive annual UCG event in San Francisco. Organized by K&L, a large Bay Area wine shop, this included some 90 labels poured by representatives of the wineries, many of them the owners themselves. Currently K&L has 106 labels available at pre-arrival prices. 

UCG is Union Des Grands Crus Des Bordeaux, a relatively new trade organization founded in 1973. It has achieved prominence in the wake of turmoil in Cru Bourgeois with disputes over tiered classification. Eschewing tiers, UCG functions as a collective marketing organ. It includes many former Cru Bourgeois labels such as Gloria, Siran, Phélan-Segur and Potensac,  some 1855 Cru Classé labels, including 2nd Growth names such as Pichon Lallande, Pichon Baron and Leoville Barton, and many other lesser known labels.

Staged in a cavernous hall at the Metreon, the tasting is organized in tables separated by appellations, allowing tasters to assess similarities and differences both within and among different regions. The appellations include Pessac-Leognan, Graves, St. Emillion, Pomerol, Haut Medoc, Margaux, St. Julien, Paulliac, St. Estephe and Sauternes, thus allowing a comprehensive horizontal overview of the vintage across a wide array of Bordeaux estates.

2016 was touted as a great vintage, the weather wet in the first half of the growing season, dry and sunny  in the second. The wines were reported in early tastings to be full and dense, with ripe tannins and generous fruit as well as crisp acidity. At the UCG tasting various owners confirmed the greatness of the vintage, Right Bankers more enthusiastically. There was general consensus that the wines are worth cellaring for decades.

It’s possible to provide individual tasting notes but oh, how I hate such blogs, full of bullshit words and phrases. Instead I will provide personal impressions.

First, a word about prices. While Bordeaux prices reached yet new astronomic heights with prior vintages (especially, 2009, 2010 & 2011-13), in the new 2016 vintage there are plenty of bargains. Look for La Tour Carnet ($30), Chasse-Spleen ($35), Prieuré-Lichine ($42), Beaumont ($14). Try finding a decent Napa or Sonoma meritage mix at those prices. Good luck.

My special favorite among the bargains was Doisy-Daëne from Barsac. A dessert wine at the Sauternes table, this was heaven on earth at $40 (for a full bottle, 75 ml).

Some wines that were formerly bargains have gone up in price and are no longer worth buying, most notably Armailhac ($60) and Clerc Milon ($70). Gloria, a good wine which had reached an unattainable price has come down ($50) and presented well.

Among the pricier labels, I noticed some that had also come down a bit and tasted well. Most notable were two from St. Emillion:  Canon La Geffelière ($100) and Larcisse-Ducasse ($75). Larcisse in particular has been one of my favorites. I fell in love with its 1999 vintage and bought quite a bit before it became Premiere Grand Cru Classé B a few years ago and its price shot up.

Beychevelle, formerly a good bargain from St. Julien, remains consistently excellent and nowadays, unfortunately stuck around $100. Leoville Barton, a well respected 2nd Growth was $110.

There is one wine that totally astounds me with its consistently high price: Pape Clément. It was offered at $90 for the red and $120 for the white. I found the 2015 vintage white at the K&L shelf for $140. Hailing from Passac Léognan, Pape Clément’s white (in 2016, 45% Sauvignon Blanc, 45% Semillion, 5% Muscadelle) was indeed a wonderful drink. But who buys whites at that price?

Especially when you can get pretty decent white Bordeaux consistently at around $20 or less. Try Riussec at $20 (not the Sauternes, but their regular white)  or Graville-Lacoste ($16).

Among the super high end labels with equivalent prices were Canon ($210), Pichon Lalande ($200), and Pichon Baron ($179), all tasting wonderful, with good aging potential. If you can afford them go for it. I’ll sit them out.

Overall the wines from St. Estephe, Margaux and St. Emillion were soft and mellow (as mellow as you can expect from an out-the-gate Bordeaux). Those from Pauillac featured dense tannins and much acidity in their finishes while their upfront fruits were supple and pleasing. I did not like any reds from the south (Graves, Pessac-Leognan). They were lighter in fruit, astringent and too acidic in mid and late palate. However, I suspect they would go well with food.

In a huge marathon tasting such as this, it is essential to spit like professionals. I usually bring my own spit cup and do this with 90% plus of the tastings.

The venue offers gourmet food in several buffet tables scattered around the hall. Many can’t resist the attraction. I did. With the exception of a single bread stick half-way through to cleanse my palate, I ate nothing. The group I went with however – there were seven of us – raved about the food, in particular a sautéed leek dish with ricotta cheese.

I always reserve the final 20 minutes of the tasting for the Sauternes table. These dessert wines taste sooo good after so many reds. Highlights from this table included La Tour Blanche ($40), Suduiraut ($65), Guiraud ($45) and, as mentioned above, Doisy-Daëne ($40), my favorite. These are all 75 ml, full bottle prices.

Finally, my Razzie award for the highest priced worst wine. The same producer keeps winning this several years in a row: Chateau Lynch-Bages. At $170, this 5th Growth from Pauillac which has achieved a cult status is totally not worth it. Over the years, Lynch-Bages has demonstrated inconsistent aging in the collective cellars of our wine group. We’ve rarely encountered a decent Lynch-Bages. If you disagree go ahead and buy some. See if I care.

At $70 per person, the UCG tasting is the best wine tasting bargain in the Bay Area and a good way to sharpen one’s Bordeaux knowledge, a daunting task for those inclined to do so.