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Bordeaux 2009 Revisited: Pauillac

Written by JW. Posted in Bordeaux

IMG_5430There is little doubt that this appellation has succeeded more than any other in 2009. It’s here that Cabernet Sauvignon arguably reaches its apogee and in a vintage in which the ripeness of this variety was possibly unparalleled you’d expect great things. And great things there are here. In a pretty comprehensive line-up of wines from the appellation by the MW Institute last November [only really sans Château Latour] Château Lafite-Rothschild, Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Pontet-Canet were extraordinary. Château Lynch-Bages and Château Pichon-Longueville are a whisker off perfection. Château Duhart-Milon, Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste and Château Clerc Milon have made wonderful wines wines. The likes of Château Batailley, Château Haut-Batailley and Château Grand-Puy Ducasse have perhaps made their very best wine yet. There is simply so much to choose from here.

If Pauillac has produced some great wines in 2009, the appellation also demonstrates considerable homogeneity. The tremendous power and concentration in this vintage here does not come across as distorted and steroidal, but achieved through a profound ripeness achieved in the vineyard, not turbocharged and beefed-up in the cellar. Many, many wines display beautiful purity and the ripest of tannins. There is plenty of tannin of course – I record breaking levels I’d expect – though the extraordinary depth and sweetness of the fruit as well as the phenolic ripeness of the tannin disguises the scale and power beautifully.

There is something for everyone. If you like a bit of sap to your wines, then Château Haut-Bages-Libéral as produced something wonderful. It feels a little earlier picked than some and has more freshness for it with attractive bite and chew alongside the pure blackcurrant flavours. Château Haut-Batailley has more gloss and polish as befits this property on the St Julien border but it has an attractive elegance. It is ready to drink now though without a doubt it will last the course. I’d also put Château d’Armailhac in the same category. It has made very appealing wine in 2009.

Château Batailley deserves special mention. Has it produced its best ever wine in 2009? 2010 is no slouch here, or 2005 either, but the ripeness of the tannin and the beauty and purity of the blackcurrant Cabernet fruit is surely unrivalled at this property in this vintage. Likewise Château Grand-Puy-Ducasse has also made one of its best wines of recent years. There’s a bit more chunkiness to than tannins at ‘GPD’ and maybe not quite as much finesse and polish as Batailley but this is a very good effort from this property.

Even the more obscure [and often lacklustre] properties like Château Croizet-Bages and Château Pédesclaux have turned in reasonable wines in 2009. They wouldn’t be my first choices [they’d be my last in this line-up] but they don’t disappoint as they often do. Both have good enough fruit and body, if rather chunky, robust tannin profiles. Château Lynch-Moussass has also turned in a very attractive, early drinking effort.

But the top half dozen or so wines here are exhilarating. Château Clerc Milon is a beauty, a diminutive Mouton with great purity and depth. Likewise Château Duhart-Milon is a facsimile of sibling Lafite with extraordinary focus and laser-like precision. Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste is a real gem. It has all the blackcurrant and lead-pencil/graphite tones you could ever wish for in young Pauillac and a palate of terrific harmony and fabulous length. Château Pichon-Lalande has attractive blackcurrant aromatics as usual but there is a fair degree of sap and chew on the palate and the wine needs time to come together. It’s a very good wine but for me, but somewhat off the pace of the very best.

And the very best Pauillac 2009s are genuinely closing in on the stratosphere. In reverse order, but only just, we start the countdown with Château Lynch-Bages. This is a phenomenal effort. Aromatically this wine is packed to the brim with layer upon layer of creamy blackcurrant cassis and menthol fruit tones. It has tightened up a little since bottling. There is a frankly enormous amount of weight and extract on the palate and considerable tannin here. This is a wine that needs a decade of cellaring and will easily last fifty years. It may very well shut down further over the coming few years.

Next up is Château Pichon-Longueville. This has been a consistently fabulous since primeurs and every time I’ve subsequently tasted it. It must surely be one of the best ever wines made here, rivalled only by its fab 2010. It’s a wine nudging perfection and will probably achieve it down the track. It easily holds its own at the table of first growths in 2009. There is amazing purity and exceptional length here.

Then we come to the top three Pauillacs from my notes at the MW Institute tasting. I can’t see how these wines could be any better qualitatively. Château Pontet-Canet is thrilling in every department. Aromatically it is a beauty with fabulous blackcurrant cassis and espresso notes. On the palate there is remarkable purity and depth of fruit and very sweet and ripe tannins. Overall it is one of the most harmonious wines in the appellation. Direct neighbour Château Mouton-Rothschild shows amazing levels of extract and concentration, but the wine is not closed in the slightest. It’s the purity and exceptional quality of the Cabernet fruit that comes across here. It is a singular wine.

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Finally Lafite [pictured above]. This wine was knockout during primeurs week in April 2010. Whatever financial roller-coaster this wine has been on intervening years since [it has waxed and waned in price between £17,000 and £7500 a case] nothing much appears to have fluctuated that much in bottle. If anything it has become perhaps a little more serious but it remains almost magical. There is a seam of the brightest, freshest blackcurrant fruit on the nose, characters that move on in a seamless narrative through the palate to the finish. The tannins are more present now than I remember early on and the wine feels a bit weightier too. The overall impression though is magnificent. If you are an internet tycoon with an eye for a comparative bargain, with the wine now less than half the price it was three years ago, it may have reached rock-bottom. The only way is up, [maybe]!

In summary, hand-on-heart, you really can’t go wrong in Pauillac in 2009. In the affordable bracket Batailley, Haut-Batailley, Haut-Bages-Libéral and Grand-Puy Ducasse all remain very good value and close to their release prices, as are Grand-Puy-Lascoste and Clerc-Milon. Duhart-Milion has also fallen back in price to something more reasonable too. Pontet-Canet, Lynch-Bages and Pichon-Longueville remain expensive but their quality and high worldwide demand will probably ensure that they don’t fall much further, particularly when they are operating at the levels of the first growths in this vintage.

Below are the full tasting notes I took at the MW Institute tasting in London last November.

Château d’Armailhac

Mid depth; deep at centre; round with leafy blackcurrant, cream and apple tones; more elegant and akin to Haut-Batailley; cassis and blackcurrants on the palate with some earth. Very appealing. Drink 2016-2030. 91+

Château Batailley

Mid depth; deep at core; attractive pure blackcurrant aromatics, very composed with a certain restraint; very appealing blackcurrant flavours on the palate; supple but with concentration and finesse. Very pure and open. Excellent. Lots of finesse. Drink 2016-2030. 93+

Château Clerc-Milon

Deep and fresh looking; vibrant in the glass; blackcurrants, ripe fruit tones and wonderful freshness – real purity here; very clean blackcurrant fruit on the palate with great purity; needs time. Junior Mouton. Drink 2019-2030. 94+

Château Croizet-Bages

Mid depth; some leafy blackcurrant tones with some spices; pretty good effort; some dryness to the tannin; maybe a bit chunky but one of the more memorable bottles of Croizet-Bages in recent years. Drink 2016-2025. 88+

Château Duhart-Milon

Mid depth; dark core and healthy looking; attractive blackcurrant aromas; cedar tones, some spice and elegance – certainly focused on the nose; nicely layered palate with real clarity to the fruit; pure blackcurrant tones and nice concentration; tightness suggests this has much to offer down the line; overall harmonious and quite a lot of material on the finish with fresh acids too. Elegant and focused with excellent balance. Is to Lafite what Clerc Milon is to Mouton. Drink 2019-2035. 95+

Château Grand-Puy Ducasse

Mid depth; dark core; ripe blackcurrant aromas with spices; some earth and wet rock notes; wine gums on aeration; layers and depth obvious; good blackcurrant fruit on the palate; ripe but with grip; real freshness; lovely fruit but nice acid and round tannins. Finesse here too. Drink 2015-2030. 92+

Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste

Mid depth; dark centre; healthy looking; fresh blackcurrants and lift; some resin and ink; complex; pencil shavings – classic classed growth Pauillac; nicely done; forward on the palate with delicious blackcurrant tones and round and harmonious tannins; elegance and very top draw Bordeaux. Oh what a lovely vintage this is here! This wine epitomizes these best qualities. Drink now-2035. 95+

Château Haut-Bages Libéral

Mid depth; earthy blackcurrant tones; initially a little reductive; opens up; freshness and purity here; grippy palate compared with most; more ballsy and not the worse for it; clearly a lot of fruit in a slightly fresher [earlier picked?] style; lots of fresh blackcurrants and spices and more acidity here than some. Good value, fresh Pauillac. Drink 2015-2030. 91+

Château Haut-Batailley

Mid depth; dark core; ripe Cabernet tones [Franc and Sauvignon] with sweet blackcurrant aromas; fine; elegance here; attractive earthy blackcurrants and cereal tones; spicy and very attractive indeed. Drink now-2030. 92+

Château Lafite-Rothschild

Mid depth; deep centre; very precise and elegant aromatics: blackcurrants, lead pencils and tobacco leaf – very refined indeed; blackcurrant fruit with depth and extract; surprising power here – real density and chew; tannins very ripe and harmonious; lovely blackcurrant fruit – real purity. Great length. Very fine indeed. This is more controlled than the flamboyant primeurs offering but there remains something magnificent about this wine. Perfect for me. Now the Chinese appetite for the wine has abated somewhat it’s available at a Tesco-like discount [half price] on a few years ago. Drink 2016-2045. 100.

Château Lynch-Bages

Deep and saturated; very dark; this has tightened up considerably since bottling; brooding blackcurrant aromas, weighty; ripe blackcurrant and menthol notes; spices too; lots and lots of material and tannin [ripe] makes it a little chewy at present but this is a wine with an enormous amount of weight, extract and potential. Needs a decade I reckon. 2020-2040. 97+

Château Lynch-Moussas

Mid depth; forward blackcurrant aromas with spices and some leaf; spicy blackcurrant tones on the palate in a medium weight and forward format; some stalks; tannins ripe if a little chew here. This works very well in a forward, appealing and balanced style. Drink now-2025. 89+

Château Mouton-Rothschild

Deep, dense looking; opaque at core; saturated blackcurrant aromas, fresh [reminds me of the purity of Clerc Milon]; layers of fruit here; ripe and fresh; real purity; blackcurrants, wine gums, lots and lots of extract and material; fabulous depth of fruit here – surprisingly open on the palate – the most amazing fruit overlaying considerable structure and lots of ripe tannin. Not flashy and exotic as some vintages of Mouton are but this will develop over time, what you have currently is the most extraordinarily pure blackcurrant fruit. Drink 2019-2045. 100

Château Pédesclaux

Mid depth; deep and dark core; full blackcurrants, wine gums and wet stones; dense, perhaps a little obdurate but feels solid; chewy dense palate with plenty of spicy fruit and oomph to the tannins. Strong effort to my mind from this once obscure estate. Drink 2015-2025. 89+

Château Pichon-Longueville

Deep and saturated look; opaque core; blackcurrants, graphite and real depth – very Bordeaux with sweet blackcurrant fruit – spot on classy Pauillac; super palate with depth, fruit and ripe tannin [lots]; very pure fruit tones and layer upon layer of them; amazing length. Surely close to perfection here? Drink 2019-2040. 98+

Château Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

Mid depth; floral tones and soft blackcurrant notes; more open and delicate than Pichon Baron; stalky blackcurrant fruit on the palate with more sap and chew; plenty of fruit but the structure is there. Needs to integrate a little. Promising if a little off the pace of the very best. Drink 2019-2030. 93+

Château Pontet-Canet

Deep and saturated; lots of blackcurrant cassis on the nose; intense; some resin; graphite too; very strong and espresso-thick in consistency; blackcurrants and cassis again on the palate; wonderful purity here; ripe and round and more harmonious on the palate than the Pichons and Lynch Bages. Grip and lots of density. Simply wonderful fruit and balanced perfectly overall. Terrific length. A towering achievement. Drink 2019-2040 100

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