Well 2005 Lafite does have a contender. Judging wines at such a young age – five months since the last day of harvest on 8thOctober – is usually a tricky affair with a fair bit of filling in the gaps, but there is absolutely no doubt that Lafite has produced something truly extraordinary in 2009. Charles Chevallier was already describing the vintage as ‘truly great’ before Christmas, but tasting the wine is something else. It’s a blend of 82.5% Cabernet, 17% Merlot and 0.5% Petit Verdot and I imagine it’s around the 13.5 degree mark, if not more, yet the quality of the fruit and the ripeness of the tannins, alongside perfectly judged extraction and winemaking, mark this Lafite as magical.
The vintage began inauspiciously with the threat of disease in the vineyards until the warm weather arrived in June and pretty much continued all the way through the summer until the harvest giving an uninterrupted dry spell from June to October with only the odd patch of light rain. The excellent conditions and the warm weather, alongside cool nights, allowed for perfect ripening. Moreover the fine weather gave the winemakers flexibility and choice and enabled the vendange to occur in an unhurried manner. Merlot itself was harvested between 23-30th September and Cabernet between 1st and the 8thof October. Volumes were mixed with the Merlots pretty much as expected but Cabernet volumes were down slightly as the variety had thick skins in the vintage, reducing yields, but producing fruit with excellent ripeness and tannins. The following wines were tasted at Chateau Duhart-Milon’s Pauillac offices on Thursday 1st April, 2010.
Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Premier Grand Cru Classé, Pauillac, 2009
Deep, dense colour, tight to rim. Lovely nose; wonderful pent up blackcurrants; glossy; cassis and sublimated blackcurrants; graphite, minerals, incredibly deep, this nose is perfection. Palate of purity, brimming with blackcurrants; essence of wine here; sweet ripe fruit; velvety tannins – elegance and intensity. Perfectly balanced. Not the merest hint of over-extraction. 100/100
[Later] Essence of cassis, blackcurrant, very sublimated; layered and textured on the palate; very dense yet round withlovely balance. Terrific wine; perfect withamazing length on the palate 100/100
Lafite’s second wine, Carruades de Lafite is also very impressive. The blend favours more Merlot and so doesn’t quite have the blackcurrant intensity of the Grand Vin but the wine is nevertheless quite exceptional. A blend of 50.6% Cabernet, 42.2% Merlot, 2.2% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc.
Carruades de Lafite, Pauillac, 2009
Deep, intense, tight to rim, lovely depth, very fine and intense; blackcurrants, cassis, wonderful ripeness, excellent; very velvety palate, terrific lightness of touch; gentle extraction and great precision; soft ripe tannins, very round and quite profound. Good length. Excellent. 92-94/100
[Later] Very good, lots of extract but very soft extraction, very ripe tannins. Works very well. Excellent length on the palate.
The ever improving Chateau Duhart-Milon was also showing extremely well and seems to have enjoyed another excellent vintage to compare with the 2005. The 2009 is a wine that has more weight than usual and was also wonderfully ripe and flattering to taste at such a young age. It is a blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon and 37% Merlot. It is an extremely fine wine which I felt was showing well alongside Lafite and Carruades at the tasting. In 2009 Duhartis up there in quality with the finest Pauillacs tasted with the Union des Grand Crus – Chateaux Pichon Baron, Pichon Lalande and Lynch Bages [notes on these all shortly] – though obviously Duhart is different in style.
Chateau Duhart-Milon, Cru Classé, Pauillac 2009
Deep saturated black; legs and tight to the rim; very fresh and ripe wine; wonderfully lush blackcurrants; very open – density too and deep; graphite and lead pencils; slightly lighter than Carruades but only by degrees; very pure blackcurrant; wonderful purity of flavour on the palate; cassis, blackcurrants. This is great wine, lovely length; very round. Super Second in quality. In its way as nearly as good as Pichon Baron and Pichon Lalande 94+/100
[Later] Perfumed and creamy; lovely palate; with extraction but very soft and round; second time round slightly more tannic [may be a build up of tannin on the palate] but I still I think this is tremendous. 94/100
This year won’t be for the faint hearted. Despite the slow economic recovery and the sensible pricing of wines in 2008, 2009 will most probably be the most expensive Bordeaux vintage ever, at least in line with 2005 and most probably higher. Don’t expect opening prices to be released for the First Growths much before the beginning of May and demand will be phenomenal for Lafite. Whatever the first tranche prices, the wine will very rapidly trade higher. I hope I’m wrong but the economic mathematics make this seem pretty certain. Carruades, which now fetches higher prices than the most expensive super second Pauillacs on the market – which makes the super seconds seem positively good value – will inevitably go higher after being released. Duhart could be good buy for the keen consumer if it is released sensibly at around £300 [$450] or so a case but across the board this vintage will be expensive. If you want the wines, then it will be essential to secure them at the earliest possible opening prices en primeur to get the best deal. Get on the phone to your wine merchant and register your interest today…. and I’m not joking.