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Bordeaux 2009 Revisited: Pessac-Léognan

Written by JW. Posted in Bordeaux

IMG_5428There’s so much to sink your teeth into in Pessac-Léognan in 2009. The wines have plenty of structure, weight and tannin, all disguised by the sheer gloss and abundance of sweet fruit in this vintage. There seems to be a bit more chew to the tannin here though than in the left bank appellations further north. Opulent wines have been made at Domaine de Chevalier, Château Malartic-Lagravière and Château Smith Haut Lafitte. Château Haut-Brion is a giant and will require considerable time. Château La Mission Haut-Brion has surprising freshness alongside the weight and alcohol while Chateau Bouscaut, Chateau de Fieuzal and Chateau Carbonnieux have made some of the best reds I’ve yet tasted from these properties.

Pessac-Léognan succeeds very well in most years but remains a little over-looked compared to the top spots up in the Médoc. There is something fairytale about the properties here in this historic and ancient wine growing district of Bordeaux. Chateau Haut-Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion lie within the low-rise urban sprawl of southern Bordeaux and climatically this probably adds a degree or two to temperatures here and an extra bit of ripeness, not that ripeness is something to worry about in 2009. Climatically the vintage was just about perfect. It was dry and warm but not exceptionally hot and coolish nights in the run up to harvest helped preserve acidity in grapes coming in at exceptional alcoholic and phenolic ripeness. It’s been described as a ‘deckchair’ vintage, unfair in some respects as even in the most generous of growing seasons a fiendish amount of effort is required to coax the best from a vineyard, and it’s easy to stuff up the best ingredients in the cellar. Still after particularly difficult growing seasons in 2011, 2012 and most recently 2013, the vignerons of Bordeaux must now look back wistfully at 2009 [and 2010] as the halcyon days.

I tasted Pessac-Léognan’s wines during primeurs in April 2010 and later on again after they were bottled. Early on, outside of St Emilion, I found Pessac-Léognan comparatively more disjointed than their counterparts up in St Estèphe, Pauillac, St Julien and Margaux. There was a lot of material evident, lots of extract but also pretty formidable tannin. As you’d hope during elevage the gloss of the fruit enveloped the structure of many of the wines and the tannins rounded out. Now in bottle the wines preserve their bite and chew but the rich velvety quality of fruit more than balances this. Given a few hours in a decanter you can probably tuck into some of these wines already, though you may live to regret that down the line when your stocks are dwindling. Still given the current availability of the wines at or below their primeur prices, availability isn’t much of a problem at present.

Nine wines from Pessac-Léognan were shown by the MW Institute, a reasonable enough guide as to how the vintage looks here. As mentioned at the top, Chateau Haut-Brion has extraordinary power and depth. Amongst the first growths, all shown at the tasting sans Latour, Haut-Brion seemed the most backward. It’s also the largest in frame, weight and alcohol too. This is one wine you really don’t want to drink now. It needs ten years minimum and will age fifty. Given the concentration here I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a 2009 that creeps into its shell for some years. Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion was fractionally less well endowed, more an impression really as I’d be amazed if the analyses [phenolic and alcoholic] differ much between the two. La Mission has appealing freshness that balances the weight and maybe accounts for this.


Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte is almost too much of a good thing – lashings of fruit here, the very considerable structure saturated in blackcurrant extract. Maybe it’s verging on the exaggerated but I think this will settle down as it ages. There is considerable, ripe tannin too. Chateau Malartic-Lagravière is in a similar category. There’s lots of thick, ripe black fruit on the palate and toasty aromatics. This is equally saturated in style and ripe in tannin. It too feels like it needs a little while in bottle yet.

Chateau Bouscaut’s red in 2009 is rich and deep. There is so much flesh and flavour on offer here. It makes it feel very joyful. Chateau Carbonnieux, more famed for its white, usually makes solid, well made red. Their 2009 is the best here I’ve had in the past six vintages. There are plenty of attractive earthy blackcurrant flavours and there is nice chew on the finish. It’s medium weight and very well balanced. Chateau de Fieuzal has made a very ambitious red in ’09. It is attractive and open. The palate has lots of ripe fruit and the tannins, though considerable, and round and ripe. You can almost drink this now.

Chateau Olivier was a comparative disappointment. It’s not produced a bad wine but it felt chunky and simple when tasted against its peers. Domaine de Chevalier however has excelled. For me this was the red wine to queue up for in terms of balance and seduction – a 2009 you can tuck into with relish now. There is so much to it but it’s the freshness and delicacy that makes it irresistible. This property’s red winemaking seems to go from strength to strength. For me Domaine de Chevalier came up trumps in the appellation in 2007 and 2008 too. Still their 2009 is in a different league altogether.

The following wines were tasted last November at Vintners Hall as part of the MW Institute’s Annual Claret tasting. Chateau Pape-Clément and Chateau Haut-Bailly were the major omissions.

Château Bouscaut

Deep and saturated; toast, plums, spices, pretty deep and saturated; some earth; big and saturated palate; thick and deep; very ripe and fleshy with toasty finish and some chew to the tannins. Saturated style but plenty of joy. Needs a few years to settle. Drink 2016-2030. 92+

Château Carbonnieux

Deep and dark at centre; ripe red fruits, some leaf and blackcurrants; attractive; easy palate; ripe, stone fruits and blackcurrants; lots of material and some chew. Very good effort. Drink now – 2025 90+

Château de Fieuzal

Deep and saturated look; lifted blackcurrants and leaf; attractive and open; lots of flesh on the palate; very good effort this; ripe blackcurrants and earth tones; lots and lots of material but lovely ripeness to the fruit and roundness to the considerable tannins. Great effort! Drink 2016-2030+ 93+

Château Haut-Brion

Deep and dark looking; stones; minerals; blackcurrants and spices; menthol tones too; lots of weight and extract on the palate with meaty fruit tones and ripe but considerable tannin. Lots of tannin here in fact and thick extract. Quite closed down. Needs a considerable period of time I reckon. Close to perfection. Drink 2020-2040. 98+

Château Malartic-Lagravière

Deep and dark; black fruits, very ripe with toasty oak; some liqourice; ripe, rich and extracted on the palate but oodles of fruit and not at all dry in feel; lots of flesh; needs time to settle; lots of structure hidden by lashings of black fruit; chew to the tannin but plenty of ripeness to them. Big. 2016-2035 94

Château La Mission Haut-Brion

Deep and saturated; round and spicy on the nose with fresh sawn wood and blackcurrant notes; ripe fruit; real blackcurrant cassis; weight good and lots of extract and material evident here. Extremely well done overall. Tannic but with lots of fruit and extract. Surprising freshness too. Real length and class. Drink 2019-2040 97+

Château Olivier

Deep; tea, some stalky blackcurrant notes; wet stones; little fruit a chunky; tannic finish. Plenty of decent fruit and chew here but little rustic compared to the rest. Not one the best ‘09s. Drink 2016-2025. 88

Château Smith Haut Lafitte

Deep and saturated colour; very ripe, lifted fruit tones; red fruits; rich and big with toasty oak and espresso notes; full and ripe with lots and lots of fruit and saturation. Plenty of blackcurrant fruit on the palate; layers here. Chew on the finish. Exceptional if slightly exaggerated effort that still needs a few years to come together. 2016-2035. 95

Domaine de Chevalier

Deep and saturated but still vibrant and healthy looking; very attractive lifted leafy blackcurrant nose with genuine complexity; blackcurrants, mocha and spices; full palate with plenty of spicy blackcurrant fruit; nice sap and freshness too; depth here. Very enjoyable already. This is deceptive – and seductive – stuff! Drink now – 2030+ 95+

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