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Olympics of Bordeaux

This past weekend, I traveled from Lot18’s young, bottle-filled offices in midtown Manhattan to one of the most ancient wine towns in the world, Bordeaux.

The French city sprawls along the shores of the Gironde, the muddy estuary that cuts the famous distinction between the “Left Bank” and the “Right Bank” of the river. I’d been consumed by (and consuming) the legendary wines of the Left Bank since January, when two teammates and I participated in the preliminary round of a blind-tasting competition for these wines called “Concours Vingt sur Vin.”

Miraculously, we made it to the final round, to be held in the cellars of Lafite-Rothschild in June. Our team of three would try to identify wines – both red and Sauternes – based on sight, smell, and taste alone.

When we returned in June for the finals, we spent two days warming up by visiting vineyards in different left bank appellations. Alongside us were two finalist teams from Asia, two from Europe, two from France, and another team from the US. It was the veritable “Olympics” of left bank Bordeaux.

We should have been nervous. After all, the Baron de Rothschild and judges of the prestigious “Commanderie du Bontemps de Médoc et des Graves Sauternes et Barsac” were seated before us and recording every answer.

But we couldn’t help ourselves. We had fun! We swirled our wines, rapidly discussed their vintage and village, and enjoyed them so much we forgot to spit.

To our astonishment, we won.

The question everyone asked after our victory was, how did you practice?

Yes, one of the country’s top sommeliers had led us in a component tasting with little cups of raspberries, truffles, mushrooms, and aloe to experience these different aromas. Yes, we had studied maps of left bank appellations, and (barely) memorized the famous 1855 classification.

Yet we only had one answer.

“Unite and conquer.”

While we had studied, more importantly, we spent the past five months enjoying wine with friends.

A 750 mL bottle is designed for sharing — it will pour four ample glasses — and that’s precisely what we did. We went to a friend’s country house to roast a chicken and raid his wine cellar. We spent time with a society of benevolent wine aficionados who were as generous with their wines as they were with stories, tasting notes, and wisdom. Sharing was as exciting as tasting!

And we enjoyed these glasses together as much as we analyzed them. I encourage you to do the same – taste, discuss, and enjoy wine with great company. It’s the best way to learn.

EDIT: The competition was featured in Bloomberg!

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