Expensive Competition at the 2014 Left Bank Bordeaux Cup

Posted by | Posted in Wine Events | Posted on 03-03-2014

Photo Credit: Coline Rohart – Consulate General of France in NYC

Contenders show their responses at the 2014 Left Bank Bordeaux Cup in NYC. Photo Credit: Coline Rohart, Consulate General of France.

With over 40 teams competing, the Left Bank Bordeaux Cup is one of the largest amateur wine competitions in the world. The event itself is a rather smart marketing ploy run by the Commanderie du Bontemps, “one of the oldest and largest wine brotherhoods in France.”

The competition pits teams of three students from top graduate schools against one another in major cities, then brings the regional winners together to vie in the Final Cup held at Château Lafite Rothschild in June. Contenders prepare for the Bordeaux battle by memorizing all things 1855 Classification, studying current events in Bordeaux, and tasting various classified and unclassified wines from the Left Bank . This year’s U.S. winners were the teams from Yale Law School and NYU Stern Business School.

While the concept itself is a pompous ordeal – I participated last year and was all too aware of the pretension – an event that encourages deliberate study of a wine region and inspires a new generation to explore it deserves support.

That said, I take a couple issues with the LBBC.

First, the Commanderie cloaks the logic behind its scoring system. Participants have no idea how questions are weighted or how the blind tasting portion is scored. This is a problem, especially for a region that’s already viewed as cryptic and aloof.

Second, graduate students rarely have the resources to purchase pricey, classified growth Bordeaux. Rumors are circulating about how teams in other countries are being heavily sponsored and showered with classified growth wines. Securing similar support has been a struggle for teams in the United States.

Photo Credit: Coline Rohart – Consulate General of France in NYC

The Yale Law School team at the 2014 Left Bank Bordeaux Cup. Photo Credit: Coline Rohart.

I recently had a chance to talk to the winning team at Yale Law School, which is comprised of Laura Femino, Joseph Pomianowski, Webb Lyons, and Albert Pak. The group hopes that they can bring more awareness (and sponsorship) to the competition moving forward. In listening to them, I was  surprised at how much support they’ve already received. Kudos to the group for hustling and making it happen.

They were able to get a sponsorship last year from Sotheby’s Wine and they’ve retained their coach from Sotheby’s, Nicholas Jackson. Nick competed in the event a few years ago and was keen to “live vicariously through them” and help them train. Lisa Granik, a Yale alum and MW, has also been a critical mentor for the group. And finally, Mory’s, the Yale Club in New Haven, generously provided space and wine glasses for the team tastings.

When I asked specifically how the team financed tastings and how much they spent on wines. They said they “try to keep tastings to between $10-20 per person, so that no one is excluded for financial reasons.” They’ll attempt to split a bottle among 20 people with 1-ounce pours if necessary, which makes tasting the expensive wines a bit more feasible. However, getting 20 people together regularly is a challenge and often they’ll end up with just 10 people and only taste three wines at a time.

They work with their own limited budgets and the wine tastings that visiting Chateaux hold for students on campus. Of course, for the Yale team, the Sotheby’s sponsorship was also key to sourcing hard-to-find and finance wines, in addition to frequenting other New Haven wine shops.

When I asked  team members how they think their preparation stacks up to other competing schools, they were a bit envious of their British counterparts. “Our impression is that the teams from England have a real edge in their access to College wine cellars, and a more storied tradition to their teams, but we’re not complaining. We still like our chances.”


UPDATE (07/07/2014): Two months after posting this article, the Commanderie has since released a document, which explains how the competition is scored, to all schools participating in the LBBC. Great news.

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