Bordeaux. Hearing the name aloud, it sounds exactly like what it is: stately, elegant, and a little mysterious. Last Tuesday, after a month of training, I journeyed deep into the heart of Bordeaux without leaving the U.S. I participated in a wine tasting competition held at the French Consulate in NYC, known as the Left Bank Bordeaux Challenge. The competition featured 11 teams of MBA students from the top U.S. programs, and tested their knowledge of Bordeaux and its wines.
Bordeaux wine is considered to be one of the most luxurious wines in the world. The region's vineyards are ancient, dating back to the Roman times, and some of today’s chateaux produced wines that were consumed by Henry II, Napoleon, and countless other historical figures. How Bordeaux became the brand that it did is one of luck and deliberate branding efforts on behalf of its winemakers. Its soil and geography are perfectly suited to wine production, resulting large quantities of good-quality wine. To distinguish the superiority of some vineyards from others, a tiered classification system was created in 1855 to recognize excellence among the winemakers. Today, Bordeaux is regarded as the wine of patricians: it is sold at auction houses, available only at high-end restaurants, and admission to Bordeaux “drinking clubs” is more selective than it is for most luxury members clubs.
Although the Bordeaux’s reputation endures, the region has realized that it must connect with young wine drinkers in order to sustain its legacy going forward. The Left Bank Bordeaux Cup is one of a handful efforts to capture the attention of young winos with the potential to be loyal Bordeaux drinkers.
LBBC was my first time competing in a wine tasting, and I had a vague idea of what to expect. The event was held at the French Consulate in NYC, a beautiful building inside and out on Fifth Avenue. After checking in, the teams were seated at small tables facing the judges (who wore robes of various colors and styles). Part I was trivia, questions about the region and winemaking. Some of the questions about the region and its chateaux were expected; others were surprising (“what type of wood is wrapped around a wine barrel”) but my team did very well. The tasting followed, three flights of wine, two red and one dessert. While I knew this part would be hard, it proved to be much more challenging than expected. Our team did fairly well at guessing appellations and ordering the wines from youngest to oldest; we did less well at identifying the wines’ exact production years and chateaux.
The winners were announced during the dinner that followed, and while we didn’t win, I left the event knowing that the next time I looked over the Bordeaux selection on a wine list, I would be able to identify an appellation and year that I would likely enjoy. Plus, the methods for tasting and assessing wine that I learned while training will forever affect how I enjoy wine. I don’t ever want to be one of those people who swirls and gurgles wine in restaurants, but I will dive into a bottle with a newfound appreciation for a wine’s color, smell, and of course, taste.
While wine played a leading role in the LBBC event, the entire night was orchestrated to convey the spirit of the Bordeaux region. The room in which the tasting was held is reminiscent of the rooms I saw years ago in the chateaux of the Loire Valley. Twenty-foot ceilings; dusty rose wallpaper embossed with floral patterns; floor to ceiling windows with wrought iron balconies. It was beautiful and set the tone for the whole evening. Dinner was served in the same room, and the waiters had been trained to serve the plates and wine in a particular way. I felt glamorous to say that least, but not too glamorous to ask one of the waiters if there were any leftover bottles, which how I left the Consulate with four bottles of Margaux poking out of my purse.