Wine Society: Bordeaux and Burgundy

French Wine Explorers | Monday, Jun 6th 2011

Wine Society: Bordeaux and Burgundy

How To Gain Entrée Into a Wine Society

San Diego is home to chapters of several world-renowned wine societies where swirling, sniffing, sipping and slurping are practiced with aplomb. Members regularly gather celebrating the vine in all its gustatory and intellectual glory. It’s the perfect place to develop one’s palate and learn … if you can get in, that is.

The Commanderie de Bordeaux and the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin are two storied wine societies boasting chapters from New York to San Diego, Hong Kong to Sydney, and beyond.  The Chevaliers—who focus on French Burgundies—admit only men. (Although in Burgundy, one of our lady guides has been granted membership.) Legend dating back to Thomas Jefferson’s days in France has it that the fairer sex just smell too good, and that interferes with serious wine tasting.

Take note: A good friend went to a $1,000 per head vertical tasting of old and rare Château Margaux, with bottles to be poured dating back to the 1920s. She was more than a little dismayed to smell a big floral fragrance emanating from the date of a fellow oenophile. Following the effusive blossom into the powder room, she handed her a wet hand towel saying, “I paid a thousand bucks for this once-in-a-lifetime tasting and your perfume is not going to ruin it for me—either you wipe that off or I will.”

Well, now, how is the uninitiated to know that smell accounts for a greater percentage of taste perception than do the taste buds? In the world of wine, smelling like nothing smells best of all. You are hereby on notice: no perfume, no mint, no day-old brie breath. And that goes for aftershave, as well, gents.

The application process for each wine society varies.  For Commanderie de Bordeaux and Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, one must be proposed, vetted (members will casually suss you out while plying you with alcohol) and approved by multiple members. And even when the outcome appears favorable, an invitation to join may remain mysteriously elusive. If invited, initiation and cellar fees are not for the faint of heart. So, here’s the skinny:

1. Be a guy, if you love French Burgundies, though women are welcome in the Bordeaux group
2. Be connected and recommended, i.e., proposed, seconded and sponsored by an additional two members.
3. Know a significant amount about wine, particularly about the region in question.
4. Have a fat wallet, as these are, generally speaking, pricey wines, especially the best vintages
5. Own a nice cellar with a significant amount of Burgundy or Bordeaux. That’s always pleasing to the powers that be.

Last but not least, these are not democratic organizations—at least not in the American understanding of the term. The Commanderie and the Chevaliers are more akin to a “limited Republic,” or even perhaps a benevolent dictatorship wine society, with the Maître or Grand Sénéchal holding ultimate veto power over membership.

In vino veritas, indeed.

L.D. Lathrop (French Wine Explorers’ Bordeaux Prestige guest)

Written for SanDiegoMagazine.com

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