The annual Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGC) tasting rolled into San Francisco on Friday, January 21st, and since the trade tasting wasn’t coming to Los Angeles this year, I took the day off and flew up to San Francisco to taste the 2008 vintage. After the trade tasting K&L sponsored the consumer tasting. The event was held in the luxe Grand Ballroom at the Palace Hotel, which was more than enough room to handle the more than 350 consumers who came to the tasting. After speaking with some of the customers myself, and getting more feedback from Ralph Sand’s customers, the consensus seemed to be the tasters were blown away by the wines. The 2008 vintage took a beating early on as it was the third consecutive vintage that was good to very good. In a decade that already saw four great vintages, “good” seemingly has become a disappointment. But these wines are far from disappointing.
The wines of 2007 and 2008 are very different, but according to Bill Blatch’s famed vintage report, the weather in both vintages was very similar, with monthly temperatures and rainfall nearly identical. The “2007 and 2008 are more like father and son vintages rather than twin vintages,” writes Blatch, with the weather in 2007 causing the vines to produce less fruit in 2008. The already low yields were further lowered by frost damage, poor flowering, mildew, green harvest and dehydration, which resulted in the lowest yields since 1991. But this “paid untold dividends on the quality of the harvest,” Blatch adds. Low yields, along with dry weather conditions in September and October, allowed the surviving grapes to fully ripen while retaining higher acidity due to cool nights.
I really enjoyed the wines on the whole. They showed fantastically fresh acidity and more tannic structure than I was expecting, along with nice dark fruit. I really liked the wines from Margaux, St-Julien the best, but I also enjoyed the wines of St-Emilion and Pomerol. The whites were elegant with bright acidity and fat fruit. I also thought the Sauternes showed the great acidity of the vintage, with sweet fruit. (Apparently the yields for the sweet wines were even lower than the reds, so jump on them when you have the chance.)
When I asked Steve Bearden, from our San Francisco store, what he thought of the vintage, this is what he wrote:
I thought the vintage was impressive. Most wines seemed to have rich mid-palates, decent length and ripe tannins. The Left Bank wines showed stronger tannins than the Right Bank, but they were very sweet. Were the St-Juliens a touch more elegant than usual? Kind of seemed so. I also thought the reds from Graves showed a bit more weight than they have in other vintages. St-Emilion continues to come on strong, and I thought many of those wines were quite complete within their respective styles.
A few standouts for me were:
Larrivet-Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan (Waiting List Only, PA $27.99) I always like this property.
Malescot-St-Exupéry, Margaux (PA $49.99) The Margaux as an appellation showed well.
Beychevelle, St-Julien (Not currently available.)
Beaumont, Haut-Médoc ($12.99) Always an amazing value.
I also reached out to David Rickenbaker, who also works at K&L San Francisco. He wrote:
As a vintage 2008 seems to be elegant and surprisingly drinkable. Two of my favorites were the Beychevelle, St-Julien, which I noted displayed red fruits, tobacco and earthy flavors with loads of finesse on the long finish. And I also really liked the Lascombes, Margaux (Wait List Only, PA $49.99), which was more tannic than the Beychevelle and had darker fruits, licorice and spice box notes. It could easily be put down for 15-plus years in the cellar.
A handful of 2008 Bordeaux are already in stock, and there are more arriving all the time. Shop our site for the newest arrivals, or get a jump on the wines from your favorite châteaux by buing Pre-Arrival 2008s. You will also be able to find more staff reviews of specific 2008s in the upcoming March issue of K&L’s newsletter.