A dinner last year with the Commanderie de Bordeaux, a wine club devoted to the wines produced in the Bordeaux region of France, began with a toast.
“To the president of France!” an attendee shouted at the dinner, hosted by Michael’s Wine Cellar last February. “Vive la France!” Others in the room raised their glasses, added a lusty, “Hear! Hear!” and took a sip of the evening’s first pour—a 2014 white bottled by Clos Floridene.
The Sarasota group was founded in 2004 and is one of 37 American chapters of an international organization that promotes the appreciation of wines from Bordeaux. You must be invited to join the group, and if you’re one of the lucky few, you’ll be awarded the title of “commandeur” and be given a patch to wear to the group’s gatherings.
The Sarasota club counts around 30 members, who typically gather several times a year for formal dinners. Over the past year, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the club has hosted several virtual tastings, but a handful of in-person events are planned for the coming months.
Together, the group buys cases of wine at wholesale prices directly from winemakers in Bordeaux and stocks them in a group cellar. For the dinners, a member will come up with a theme and then select five or so types to try. As they eat and drink, members pass a mic to share stories about visiting Bordeaux and to offer their critiques of the wines.
Mark Esbeck, the current “maître” (or president) of the Sarasota chapter, says the appeal of wines from Bordeaux lies in their subtlety and complexity. They often have a below-average alcohol content, are made to be aged for decades and take time to be appreciated. “It’s very nuanced,” Esbeck says. The appeal of the Commanderie, meanwhile, is more immediate. According to Esbeck, new members must be people that other members want to drink Bordeaux with for the rest of their lives.