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January 11, 2017

With big Bordeaux event, Philly to showcase world's top-quality wines

This wine-as-art extravaganza is 'a pretty big deal'

What do New York, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco and Philadelphia all have in common? They've all been billed as premier wine cities, by way of playing hosts to this year's Union des Grand's Crus de Bordeaux.

"This is a nationally renowned opportunity -- the first time [the tasting has] ever been in Pennsylvania. There’s a limited number of these tastings in the U.S., and it worked out that this is a great event to bring here," Elizabeth Brassell, director of communications for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, told PhillyVoice

"And I think Philly is a cultural hub, an entertainment hub, a dining hub, and a population center that leads into much of the northeast, so it all sort of worked out over the few months of planning, and we’re glad to be hosting it."

Crus de Bordeaux is the staple annual tasting event organized by the Union des Grand activity club in France. This year's event in Philly, located at The Rittenhouse on Jan. 22, will draw about 400 attendees -- about a third of Los Angeles' size, at 1,500 attendees, but larger than tastings held in the past in places like Switzerland, where 150 palate-sensitive wine aficionados showed up. Notably, representatives from 70 chateauxs from the Bordeaux region will be on hand to answer questions about the wines and, more importantly, show off Bordeaux's 2014 vintage for the first time. (For Bordeaux bargain binners: 30 past vintages will be on sale at an on-site Fine Wine and Good Spirits store for 25 percent off.)

France's Bordeaux region, of course, located in the western region of the country, has long been a hotbed for red wines you'll typically find on the top shelf at the liquor store. It's also the birthplace of immensely popular wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Bordeaux was once the top producer in the world of fine wines.

"This event has never been in Philadelphia, so it’s a pretty big deal," Adrienne Hall, assistant professor of Hospitality Management at Widener University, told PhillyVoice

"The people purchasing the wines have the opportunity to speak to the winemakers one-on-one, and learn about the specific vintage, the growing regions, and speak to the winemakers to talk about their blending."

Hall further explained the Bordeaux region has long been especially well-known for its blending of grapes, its knowledge of the best soils to grow those grapes in and their business savvy -- particularly their early participation in wine regulation, and, significantly, their ability to attract the once-upon-a-time high society of Great Britan. Bordeaux's casual name of "Claret" can be sourced to lingo among British upper class.

"They’re very strategic with [their wines]. When I think of France and winemaking, I think of things being very artistic -- and of course, it is, because the region is very special with their terroir and the soil, but what they did as a business strategy is they planted different varieties of grapes, and what they do is they basically rely on blending grapes to produce fine wine. 

"So, even in the case of not having a great year with weather, they'll still be able to produce something really good."

And, in truth, that wine-as-art spiel is a big part of why the tasting event is coming to Philly in the first place. Upon joining the board of the PLCB in late 2014, Mike Negra knew he wanted to get to work on drawing the Bordeaux and its thoughtful approach to wine to Pennsylvania.

"Just as an artist’s work evolves over time as the product of environment, influence and personal tastes and expressions, great wines are an art form themselves," said Negra. 

"Each vintage develops its own complexity, character and style dependent upon any number of factors including terroir, weather, grape composition, blending, aging and a winemaker’s own personal style and preferences. Then, throw a little luck in, too. As with art, wine is all about trying new things, discovering your preferences and seeking out that next great experience."

Fittingly, PLCB and co-organizer Philadelphia magazine, agreed to donate a portion of the tasting's proceeds to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Crus de Bordeaux tickets run approximately $250, before fees. 

A full list of wines being showcased -- mostly reds, but with a few whites as well -- can be found here.