Where to start with this early report on last week's total immersion in 2009 bordeaux? I'll be publishing my tasting notes from tomorrow morning, an overview of the wines on the left bank this Saturday in the Financial Times and in Free for all, and another on the right bank and white wines the following Saturday. But I am allowed to write only just over 1,000 words in the FT so can pick out only my principal observations on wine quality. Here is some more detailed background.
I have never given so many really high scores when tasting en primeur anywhere. I have not yet had a chance to do a final tally but I do know that I gave at least eight, very possibly more, wines a score of 19 out of 20 – unprecedented generosity and enthusiasm on my part. Mind you, Nature doled out unprecedented generosity and enthusiasm during the growing and ripening season too. Most crucially, the vines had finished their chief growth spurt by the time the long, fine summer came along so that all that sunshine went into ripening the grapes.
There are some truly stupendous wines, notably but not exclusively among the acknowledged first growths. In Sauternes this extraordinary quality is mainly the result of the exceptional natural conditions of the 2009 growing season, the details of which are so exhaustively chronicled in the Blatch report on this site (see also Bill Blatch's new Sauternes-specific site www.bordeauxgold.com). In red wines, however, I have the impression that exceptional quality was achieved, when it was achieved, not just by the long, fine, dry summer and, most importantly, autumn, but also by a huge degree of human will and skilful judgement.
The market has never been so competitive. The world is not awash with wine lovers desperate to buy futures in a luxurious commodity. All last week we kept being told about the many Chinese and other Asian buyers who had come to Bordeaux to buy. Presumably merely by coincidence, I saw hardly any. I am assured, however, that there are serious individual 2009 primeur buyers in Hong Kong (as there have been for many years), mainland China (for only the second year), Taiwan and Korea (South Korea, I may say, not the North Korea so improbably cited in Decanter.com's April fool).
In China recently I asked several well-placed sources how many potential buyers of first growths they thought there were in mainland China. The mean answer was that there are probably 5,000 potential Chinese buyers of first growths - a sobering thought for those of us who might in our wildest dreams like to get our hands on a case or two of first growth 2009. But I really cannot believe that such potential buyers will be prepared to lay out vast amounts of cash for wines that will not be delivered for at least two years unless those wines have the sanction of a really juicy high score or recommendation from a reputable source.
All of the UK fine-wine traders and merchants with an outpost in Kong Kong may have orders up to their armpits for 20 cases of Lafite from the Chinese, but this is not going to make the market. So where else will the great bulk of Bordeaux 2009 sell? I did meet a few, very cautious, American buyers. They know that classed-growth bordeaux is no easy sell in the once-buoyant US wine market. They will not be spending lavishly. Just on the blue-chip wines.
The Bordelais are no fools. They know all this. They know that, while it may be easy to sell the tiny top slice of wines recognised as great, the rest of the pack will have to be really, really good to stand a chance of commanding a decent price. They accordingly seem to have been straining every sinew to make wines as good as they possibly could from the 2009 vintage, even though it seemed to have handed them the most glorious natural bounty on a plate.
The 'problem', if such it can be called, is that red wine producers had an unusually free hand in deciding when to pick. After the short, sharp, revivifying rains of mid September there was a long, fine period with no stormy period predicted during which they could assess the state of their Cabernets in particular (many of the Merlots having been picked already) and work out the optimum moment for balancing sugars, acids, and the much slower-ripening phenolics. (See some of them recorded in the unsavoury illustration above, a leitmotif of last week's activity, the result of tooth-wiping between all those tastings. We all know that the toothbrush is verboten for fear of damaging enamel - see the teeth tag below. Feel free to comment on any bordeaux 2009-related topic in the box below, even if just to ask me to remove this offensive image.)
A few producers, alas, seem to have waited too long and their wines lack the freshness that is the vital spark of all wines. Some wines, from no particular appellation since this tends to be a human not natural fault, carry those traces of raisiny aromas that seem so particularly inappropriate in Bordeaux.
The perfect 2009 red bordeaux - and there are many of them, at all levels and from virtually all appellations - are exceptionally luscious and were an absolute delight to taste, but still have that quintessentially Girondin raciness, appetising quality, capacity to age and imprint of terroir that distinguishes the best of them from Cabernets, Merlots and Bordeaux blends produced elsewhere.
For us ordinary wine drinkers, as opposed to the doubtless terrifying number of potential investors, there should be many bargains in 2009 since there are so many delicious wines carrying appellations such as Bordeaux, the recently renamed Bordeaux Côtes and Fronsac, as well as hearteningly many seriously expressive less famous wines within the more famous appellations. These are, encouragingly, the wines below the radar of most fine-wine traders and the wine funds that have been polarising the fine-wine market. Although it may not always be easy to get your hands on them. (Thank heavens for the internet, which may eventually help us to track them down once they are in bottle.) I shall pick out a few obvious candidates on Saturday, but the tasting notes should indicate quite a few of them too.
The wines were, in general, a huge pleasure to taste, with luscious ripeness but also in more cases quite enough acidity and heavily disguised, often record levels of tannin. Yes, there was over-extraction, generally in the usual quarters, particularly in St-Émilion and Margaux. But in both those appellations there were some truly gorgeous wines too. At the Cercle Rive Droite tasting (of what one might call right-bank also-rans), unusually, the Pomerols were overall a little more disappointing than the St-Émilions - perhaps because they lacked the freshening influence of enough Cabernet Franc.
But this is not a vintage for generalisations, depending as it did so strongly on human decision-making both in vineyard and cellar.
Bordeaux 2009 – Graves/Pessac
I tasted quite widely in this appellation, looking for the freshness that defines it - sometimes with success. The same names keep on performing well. Domaine de Chevalier was as distinctive in the blind red wine tasting as in the white counterpart. Smith is reliable, Pape Clément reliably attention-grabbing. Les Carmes charmed me this year. Haut-Bailly slightly less than usual but this may have been my fault. As usual, I tasted all the classed growths blind - apart from the stunning big guns from the Haut-Brion stable where records of ripeness were broken. Stéphane Derenoncourt's La Passion de Haut-Brion from a parcel of vines within the great first growth was also far from shabby.
Bordeaux 2009 – Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Moulis, Listrac
In this selection are some of the wines most likely to be the best buys among 2009 bordeaux. Some properties really seem to have made the most of the unusually luscious fruit ripened in 2009, without sacrificing the signature structure and ageability of the Médoc. I would urge you to research the prices and availability of my favourites here once offers are made. Ch La Tour Bonnet announced the first price of the 2009 campaign yesterday, according to London merchants OW Loeb, who are offering it at £84 a dozen in bond. Sorry not to have tasted it, though it has generally been a pretty modest performer... Mind you, so has Malescasse and I thought the 2009 showed really rather well.
Bordeaux 2009 – Margaux
In some ways there were disappointments here in that too many of these Margaux properties seemed to have decided to go for maximum alcohol and extraction, ditching any of Margaux's distinction, but there were some lovely wines too. Malescot stood out, Rauzan-Ségla was commendable, d'Issan did a good job showing proper Margaux delicacy, Palmer produced two quite different, very voluptuous but well-judged wines while Ch Margaux istelf, at least on the morning I tasted it, was absolutely stunning.
You have to feel extremely sorry for the likes of Ch d'Issan that was hit particularly badly by the hail in May and so could participate only to a reduced extent in the bounty available from the 2009 growing season. Fortunately, hail this early in the season affects quantity rather than quality.
Thomas Duroux of Palmer, I think it was, who pointed our that while 2005 was shaped by the sun, 2009 was shaped by the soil, in the sense that terroir played a huge part in determining how the vines would react to the drought. At Ch Margaux they were clearly absolutely thrilled by the stunning quality of their superripe Cabernet Sauvignon, whereas of course Palmer is always much more dependent on the fleshy Merlot.
Bordeaux 2009 – St-Julien
It could be argued that St-Julien is becoming rather less of a dependable guiding light in the Médoc landscape, not least thanks to Bruno Borie's exuberance at Ducru-Beaucaillou. Certainly the contrast between the stolid, chunky wines from the Barton stable and the rest seems to become more marked by the year. Gloria and St-Pierre keep on producing the goods though. The interesting newcomer is the third wine from Las Cases, Le Petit Lion. Jean-Hubert Delon was another prominent left banker who rather repudiated his Merlot in 2009.
Bordeaux 2009 – Pauillac
There certainly was no shortage of ambition in Pauillac in 2009 with lots of really polished, refined, concentrated, super-ripe wines - particularly at the top. Pichon Baron and Pontet-Canet performed particularly well in their two very different styles (indoor and outdoor, one might say, respectively) and both Lafite and Latour seemed to be going full tilt. The only slight puzzle was the Mouton stable, which has been performing so well of late under the able aegis of Philippe Dhalluin. The tannins in all four wines here were notably drier and a little more rustic than the polished pzazz evident elsewhere. There is no great disparity in picking dates. Were the samples less 'prepared' than elsewhere? Or could this have been a reaction to the accusations sometimes levelled of old that the wines here were too New Worldy with too many echoes of Opus One? Probably not. The wines are very good, but just not quite as good as I had been expecting.
The crucial decision was, even more than usual, when to pick. It was vital that the phenolics ripened fully, notably in the slower Cabernets, but this could not be at the expense of any overripe aromas and raisining. Latour, for exampe, picked its Cabernets in four days instead of the usual eight.
Fermentations were particularly tumultuous in 2009 with extraction notably early in these very alcoholic musts.
Bordeaux 2009 – St-Estèphe
There were some very successful wines here but, funnily enough, neither of the two most famous were glorious in 2009. Cos may have been trying too hard and Montrose may still be in too much transition. The day before I tasted Montrose, it was announced that the well-heeled new owner had acquired a massive parcel of vines from Phelan Ségur between the building site/château and the main road. Consultant Jean-Bernard Delmas told me that this parcel was part of the estate until the 1860s.
Calon Ségur did a great job and Capbern Gasqueton, under the same ownership, may well turn out to be the bargain of the vintage. Other relatively minor properties also made delicious wines in 2009, presumably helped by the natural dampness of the soils here.
Bordeaux 2009 - Bordeaux and Côtes
This is the first of today's three sets of tasting notes on wines from the right bank, most of these wines having been grown on the right bank of the Gironde, or at least of the Garonne. Some of the best buys of 2009 may lurk here (and in the collection of notes on Médoc wines).
There are a couple of exciting newcomers - Montlandrie from the Église-Clinet stable and G from the producers of Lafleur - as well as many an old favourite. Hardly anyone seems to have forced the grapes into overripeness and almost all the wines are quite luscious and refreshing enough. How many of them will be available en primeur is a moot point, but I for one would really like to taste them again once they're in bottle.
Bordeaux 2009 - Pomerol, Lalande, Fronsac
A very interesting and pretty varied group of wines from Pomerol here. It seems as though generally speaking the wines from the top terroirs have really triumphed whereas many of the Pomerols from lowlier vineyards seem to be lacking freshness or concentration. There are some unexpected styles such as VCC's being almost Le Pin-like and Le Pin, made for the first time in the new chai, livelier than usual. Pétrus is now very much the product of the new regime there with Jean-Claude Berrouet's son Olivier in charge day to day.
It was not always the case that the super-ripe fleshy Merlot needed the freshness and spine of Cabernet Franc. See VCC for an exception to this general rule.
I was most impressed by the Fronsacs. Not that any are superstars but they generally represent a very attractive and reliable group with a lovely combination of ripeness and freshness. They should represent good value.
Notes on the very few wines I was able to taste from the Lalande-de-Pomerol appellation are listed under Pomerol.
Bordeaux 2009 – St-Émilion
As usual, these wines are all over the place stylistically but, hearteningly, the proportion that are made in overblown caricature style or so extracted that they are physically painful on the finish with seriously drying tannins continues to fall.
In fact there are remarkably few real failures here. And those few I have given a score of less than 15 to would probably be relished by some palates raised on strapping New World wines. Most of these wines were tasted blind, either thanks to the Cercle Rive Droite, or in the UGC right-bank tasting or thanks to the group of grands crus classés who kindly give us a chance to see the top wines, including Pavie but annoyingly excluding Angélus, blind. Please note now impressed I was by Pavie 2009, both blind and sighted!
Bordeaux 2009 – sweet whites
Last year seems to have been yet another great vintage for serious sweet white bordeaux, even if it tends to be ignored by far too high a proportion of the thousands of trade tasters who flock to Bordeaux every spring. When will the producers be suitably rewarded for all their pains? It must be all the more galling in view of the obvious superlative quality of the 2009 vintage. As Yquem's technical manager Francis Mayeur put it to Bordeaux négociant Bill Blatch for his new site www.bordeauxgold.com, '2007 was great botrytis on good grapes whereas 2009 is great botrytis on great grapes'.
See also Top whites fight off flab for an outline of the way in which Yquem's style has evolved towards something with a bit more tension, without seeming to lose any of its majesty and potential longevity. But unclassified Raymond Lafon has also done the most wonderful job in 2009. I did not have a chance to taste many other sweet whites outside the UGC collection, but very much hope to as I'm sure there are some superb less famous examples out there. (This is a hint to anyone who thinks they may have produced one...)
Bordeaux 2009 – dry whites
If the sweet whites seemed superlative in 2009, the dry whites were not quite as outstanding. Certainly they seemed generally to lack a bit intensity and nerve. Many were downright fat and I often came across the rather unsubtle smell of a glucose tablet or something akin to the sticks of coloured sugar known as Edinburgh rock. The Sauvignon aromas seems particularly feline in 2009, and some producers seemed to have increased their Sauvignon proportion in an effort to inject some zip into the blends. That said, there were some quite luscious wines, but I suspect there will not be many really long-lived dry white 2009s, even if the likes of the team at Ch Margaux have determinedly refashioned the style of their Pavillon Blanc. See Top whites fight off flab. As usual, Domaine de Chevalier was exceptional.
Jancis Robinson MW
One of a handful of wine communicators with an international reputation, Jancis Robinson writes daily for JancisRobinson.com, weekly for The Financial Times, and bi-monthly for a column that is syndicated around the world. She is also editor of The Oxford Companion to Wine and co-author with Hugh Johnson of The World Atlas of Wine, each of these books recognised as a standard reference worldwide.
An award-winning tv presenter, she is invited all over the world to conduct wine events and act as a wine judge. In 1984 she was the first person outside the wine trade to pass the rigorous Master of Wine exams and in 2003 she was awarded an OBE by Her Majesty the Queen, on whose cellar she now advises.
She loves and lives for wine in all its glorious diversity, generally favouring balance and subtlety over sheer mass.
This extract is from - http://www.jancisrobinson.com/
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