The Left Bank Bordeaux Cup is one of the world’s most important academic wine theory and blind tasting competitions. Open to student groups of graduate business and law institutions, the annual contest is hosted by the Commanderie du Bontemps of Bordeaux, Sauternes and Barsac. There are various regional and country runoffs throughout the world in the winter and spring, and the grand finale takes place in Bordeaux every June. The top two performing teams from each regional runoff ascend on the fabled wine region seeking “wino” immortality amidst a week-long trip of winery tours, culinary delights and wine-stained teeth.
The annual competition began in 2002 and was conducted solely within French borders for nine years. Looking to expand the competition beyond French borders, the Commanderie opened the registration to other schools throughout the world in 2011, and ever since, the intrigue and excitement have been waxing in university wine clubs and social groups throughout the world.
Like years past, the American finals recently took place at the French Consulate in Manhattan. The entrants included teams from nine universities throughout the country including NYU, Yale, UPenn, Columbia, Cornell, Stanford, Harvard, and MIT. Orated by the venerable Emmanuel Cruse, grand maître of the Commanderie du Bontemps and owner of Château d’Issan in Margaux, ten multiple-choice questions were followed by three flights of blind tastings covering all things Bordeaux such as the Classification of 1855, individual châteaux ownership and appellation rules and regs. While the competition is largely a recreational affair for amateur wine tasters, the tension inside the fresco and tapestry-laced room at the French consulate built as the questions unfolded.
Participating in its second consecutive year, Stern Business School of NYU took home the top honors and is headed to Bordeaux in June for the final round to compete against the yet-to-be named winners from the corners of the globe. I coached the student team, which is composed of current NYU Stern graduate students Adam Teeter (co-founder of VinePair), Michael Modisett, and Alex Reicherter. Given the time commitments required by full-time and part-time graduate students, the NYU team met just twice before the contest, including a tasting of nearly a dozen Bordeaux wines on the eve of the competition. As New York braced for the first snow storm of the year, the team swirled, sipped, and savored – conversing about the intricacies of Left Bank Bordeaux wines while analyzing tannin, acidity, body and fruit profile.
It’s oft said that Bordeaux is for intellectuals and men and women of patience and reason – the wines are precise and calculated, and develop complexity and grace over time. Understanding and interpreting Bordeaux are difficult skills, even for the most fervent wine connoisseur. The wines are rooted in history, tradition and precise calculation and although the main grape varieties are consistent year in year out, the percentages of each grape that compose the final blend change with each vintage, weather permitting.
When tasked with tasting Bordeaux blind, it’s important to remain humble and stay true to your instincts. On a blistery Tuesday night in January, the student trio from Stern NYU did just that and punched their ticket to Left Bank Bordeaux Cup finals at Château Lafite in June. The success and victory of the NYU team illustrates that an open mind and confidence are tantamount to wine appreciation. Carry these words with you as you embark on your own wine adventure; wherever it may take you.
Dan Amatuzzi is a wine and spirits professional and the beverage director at Eataly in NYC. His website, wineforthestudent.com, is a blog based on wine appreciation and education. He holds a MBA degree from the Leonard N. Stern School of Business at NYU and is an adjunct professor at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at NYU. His latest publication, How to Host a Wine Tasting Party: The Complete Kit (Race Point Publishing), is now available.