Day 1 – Sunday, Opening Night
The 2014 YPO Bordeaux Fantasy trip started off Sunday, June 22. The evening featured an unplanned extra event that was sprung on the group shortly after their arrival. With little rest from their flights, the group checked into their hotel, Sources de Caudalie. Located in the heart of the Pessac Leognan appellation, surrounded by vines, trees and rock -strewn soils, the property offers unparalleled views of the Bordeaux wine region. A few of the early arrivals managed to find the time for a light lunch in the vineyards, others unpacked, and one or two intrepid souls opened a bottle of wine before leaving on their first experience in Bordeaux.
Sunday is normally an impossible date to fill in Bordeaux. Yet the group was able to visit and dine at Chateau Malartic Lagraviere with the owner Severine Bonnie. The well-known and highly regarded estate provided a tour and tasting of several wines from multiple vintages from their Bordeaux estate. We were then invited to the owner’s personal family home for another tasting, which included an opportunity to sample wines they produce in Argentina’s Mendoza region. Dinner with the owner was the perfect introduction to Bordeaux and the trip. About the same time as the clock struck midnight, the group returned to the hotel for some much needed sleep. Tomorrow was going to be a busy day.
Day 2 Monday
The first full day began with a personal tour led by the Chateau Fieuzal’s estate red and white wines from 2005, 2009 and 2010.
Following the group’s debut visit to the region, they returned to the scene of the crime. The hotel, Sources de Caudalie is owned by the Cathaird family, who also own Smith Haut Lafitte one of the top estates in the Pessac Leognan appellation, Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte. Smith Haut Lafitte recently earned 100 points for their 2009 vintage from Robert Parker, and the 2010 is not far behind! While the group was already familiar with the red wine of Smith Haut Lafitte, they were not as experienced with the equally sublime white wine of Smith Haut Lafitte. The estate director hosted the members for an underground tour of the cellars and winemaking facilities before owner Daniel Cathiard joined us for a tasting in the new James Bond-esque hidden cellars. Following the tasting, the group enjoyed a special lunch with Daniel Cathiard. The group wasted no time asking a plethora of question about the estate; ranging from winemaking to tax planning and more. Since the hotel and winery are connected, it was an easy stroll to their rooms from lunch. Ready for more, the guests took advantage of their break using the time for a nap, espresso or to dress for dinner.
In every wine region, there are always fun, and occasionally blistering, debates and arguments as to which producer is the best in the appellation. Those discussions take place in every region, including Bordeaux, California, Italy, Burgundy, Australia and beyond. There is never going to be an agreement on who is the best producer—except when it comes to Sauternes. Sauternes, the home of Chateau d’Yquem, produces what many wine lovers consider the best sweet white wine in the world. Ask any Sauternes aficionado or winemaker to name the best chateau, and only one name is mentioned: Chateau d’Yquem! Not knowing where they were going for dinner, the group broke into an enthusiastic round of applause when the coach pulled up to the famous gates of the picturesque castle of d’Yquem. Once the doors opened, you could read a book by the whites of their smiles as they were welcomed to this legendary estate. Situated at the highest point in the appellation atop rolling, verdant hills, Yquem looks down on all the other estates, literally and figuratively!
The private visit took in the cellars, vineyards and famous courtyard. Following a detailed look at the inner workings of Yquem, the president of the chateau, the affable and charming Pierre Lurton, warmly greeted the group. After introductions, Lurton soon began pouring unlimited amounts of Yquem as an aperitif, which boasted an endless array of lush, sweet and bright honey-slathered fruits and silky foie gras. Pure decadence in a glass. Calligula would have been happy; the group certainly was.
Talk about location, location, location! We shared the moment on the historic private family balcony of Chateau d’Yquem. The veranda afforded us the identical view Thomas Jefferson admired when he visited the estate in 1784! If this was not enough, the group was invited into the private family-owned chateau for a unique guided tour and additional appetizers with—you guessed it—more Yquem before dinner!
It’s possible to have too much of a good thing, but not for this group. The dinner at Chateau d’Yquem consisted of foods created to complement the unique flavor profile of Yquem. That was a perfect day for any wine lover. Time to sleep. Tomorrow promised to be a long day…with a surprise or two.
Day 2 Tuesday
At 9am sharp, the group, still wearing the glow from last night, made their way on to the bus bound for the Pessac portion of the appellation. Informed they were going to have a religious experience, the bus made its way to Chateau Pape Clement. The estate is now using drones to photograph the vineyards. These drones take images that capture the photosynthesis of the leaves and vines, letting the vineyard know what is taking place with the vines at all periods of the growth cycle. This affords more precise information about what each parcel of vines needs and the perfect moment to pick. After the presentation, the group visited the small family chapel and cellar (with bottles dating back to the late 1800s) and tasted several wines from the stable of owner Bernard Magrez before being ushered back to the bus.
The vineyards situated in Pessac are unique for their location in the heart of the city. It was a short drive before encountering another unnamed vineyard. Two minutes after that, the bus gently slid into its space at Chateau First Growth in 1855, Haut Brion has been considered one of the best wines in the world for centuries. It is the wine of kings and wealthy enthusiasts alike, and even Thomas Jefferson raved about its unique qualities.
Following their introduction and tour of the property, the group was introduced to estate president Jean-Philippe Delmas, who invited everyone into the private chateau and home of the Dillon family for a long, luxurious lunch. While most people are familiar with the red wine of Haut Brion, the estate’s white wine, Haut Brion Blanc, is even more expensive and much harder to find. Tasting multiple vintages of Haut Brion with the president of the chateau again brought smiles to the group. They headed home for a bit of rest and leisure, but the day was not over yet.
Before the trip, the group was aware of Chateau Haut Bailly, even if it was more for their reputation than their wine. This quickly changed once they began experiencing the wines of the estate. Upon arrival, the group was greeted by the previous owner of the property, the lovely Veronique Sanders. After selling to an American in 1998, Veronique remained with the property, which only continued to improve with each passing vintage. Today, it is difficult to find a better wine from this appellation that continues to earn extremely high scores from Robert Parker in almost every vintage. Following a quick tour and tasting, she invited the group for Champagne and small bites in the garden. Surrounded by lush vines, flower gardens, mature trees and neighboring chateaux in every direction, it would be difficult to find a more beautiful scene. For most of the group, this was more than enough. But belonging to the school of thought that more is better, Veronique invited us into the private home for dinner.
Most people are not going to be invited to private homes and and their chateau for dinner. Sadly, they are not going to experience this chef’s cooking, which is a shame because he has the talent to manage a multi-starred restaurant. The previous chef at Haut Bailly was extraordinary. He left a few months ago to open his own restaurant in Bordeaux. Having dined with Veronique Sanders multiple times over the years at Haut Bailly. I was dubious when she told me the new chef was even better. This was my second time in just as many months visiting at Haut Bailly. He really is that good! With everyone in the group savoring each bite, they seemed to be in complete agreement!
In Bordeaux, of course there is wine at dinner. And what better way to get to know wine than by a blind tasting? By this time, the group had already experienced a few small blind tastings to help train their palate. At Haut Bailly, we were treated to a flight of 5 wines, all served blind. Keeping things fun, guests were only asked to declare their favorite wine. I was asked to name the vintages in order. Much to my relief, I scored 4 out of 5 correctly. Following coffee on the patio, we made our way back happy and satiated. Tomorrow was another day, and the group was ready.
Day 3 – Wednesday
Fully packed and with luggage in tow, the group made their way to the Medoc. The best hotel in the Left Bank of Bordeaux is Cordeillan Bages, where the group stayed for the remainder of the trip. The day started off with a surprise visit to Chateau Latour which was closed for construction. The group experienced an insider’s view of the bottling line in action, followed by a visit to the owner’s private cellars. With wines dating back to the 1800s, this was a treat for everyone. The highlight of the visit was, of course, a tasting of Latour!
To say the next visit was not far would be quite the understatement. Following our time at Latour, we easily moved next door to Chateau Pichon Lalande. The vineyards of