Bordeaux: The En Primeur Survival Guide

Just what does it take to get through Bordeaux’s En Primeur campaign? Planning, determination and a healthy appetite.

© Wine-Searcher
| David Allen MW shares a tasting with Château La Lagune’s Caroline Frey.

So I successfully survived a week – well five days actually – at the Union des Grand Crus (UGC) Bordeaux tastings!

I’m sure my physical survival was never actually at stake but, as I expected, it was very hard work. These tastings were physically held in Bordeaux again this year, as opposed to the virtual campaigns conducted during the two previous Covid-hit years. It has been more than a week now and I’ve heard no reports of this having been a catastrophic super-spreader event.

What did my week consist of then? Wandering up to a few châteaux, trying a few wines, going to some fancy dinners meeting up with a few mates, having a good time? Certainly that is the way my colleagues and family seem to believe things work.

And, actually, I can’t deny it. I did visit 27 châteaux, attended eight UGC tastings and another tasting with a negociant. I drove 736 kilometers (460 miles) and walked 38,908 steps (16 miles). I tasted 210 wines from the Bordeaux 2021 vintage and 41 more from older vintages or from outside the region. The oldest wines I tasted were a pair from 1942 (Château Petit Village and Château Doisy-Daëne).

The hospitality I received was undeniably spectacular. I attended one fabulous black-tie dinner with countless mature wines at the Palais Rohan (Bordeaux’s town hall) and dined at two châteaux – I even had a luxurious overnight stay at one of them. I enjoyed lovely lunches courtesy of the UGC and its member estates on three occasions and a delightful breakfast on another day. My favorite personal statistic for the week, however, is the fact that having weighed myself before setting off, I discovered on my return that I had lost a kilogram (2.2lbs) – The En-primeur DietI highly recommend it!

During my travels I met up with eight fellow MWs, five, three negociant contacts, numerous château owners, directors, winemakers and viticulturists – and seemingly hundreds of dedicated Wine-Searcher users. It was great to meet up with old friends and make plenty of new contacts. One château owner I know introduced himself without me recognizing him. Embarrassingly, I had been looking out for him but, alas, the lockdown had turned his youthful looks into those of a distinguished, silver-haired statesman.

Planning is all

So what didn’t go so well? There were about six wines I would have liked to have tried but missed. There seems to have been a glitch with my invitation and I was late receiving confirmation from the UGC; as a result I was late booking appointments. Sorting this out earlier would have made the process much smoother.

Being realistic about leaving time between appointments is also important. I didn’t miss any (though I did cancel one visit) but it was late for a couple and was constantly under pressure to keep to schedule. It is easy to underestimate quite how large a region Bordeaux is – it can easily take an hour to get from the southern Médoc to Saint-Estèphe. Carefully planning my schedule paid off, but traveling with a colleague to share the driving and the tasting-load would have eased this pressure.

I did avoid one mistake when I realized I had carelessly selected an electric vehicle with a limited range. While I would welcome the chance to reduce my carbon footprint, I didn’t see many charging points at the estates I visited, and would likely have found myself marooned. An upgrade with the rental company sorted that out. Thankfully, there were only a couple of near misses while driving on, what is for me, the wrong side of the road. The only real automotive disaster was a 20 minute-long nightmare when my sat-nav took me into the pedestrianized heart of Bordeaux without providing a viable escape route. I did eventually escape from that, despite bollards barring my way out on several occasions.

I have spent most of the subsequent week writing-up tasting notes – I have just finished the last of those, for white Graves/Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes. There have also been strenuous social media efforts, as I have made eight posts on Instagram and Facebook, publicizing the posting of these notes.

I have a small stack of business-cards from contacts to follow up, numerous articles to write and a large number of thank-you emails to send to contacts in Bordeaux whose hospitality was so incredible and whose determination to make the week a superb event was very much appreciated.

My notes have been posted in the completed review section for each wine on our website and app and are free to view there. Next week we will publish a more detailed appraisal of the vintage. The first wines have already been offered by the châteaux and the campaign looks likely to be a short sharp one.

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