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Bordeaux 2010: Embarrassingly good?

Written by JW. Posted in Bordeaux

Well that time is nearly upon us. Next week Bordeaux officially unveils the 2010 vintage in the primeur tastings for the wine trade and press. It’s a wonderfully crazy time as the Bordelais open their doors to thousands of men and women from across the world, each in a gigantic hurry to taste the hundreds of infant wines on offer. The crush last year at some of the events resembled the January sales, not ideal circumstances in which to taste wines maybe but it certainly reflects the insatiable worldwide demand for Bordeaux. [A glass of Chateau Léoville Poyferré’s 2010 left].

The spectacular 2009 vintage proved a huge success when showed last year. The young wines were simply delicious. So what will 2010 be like? I’ll be at the frontline next week and will report back. In the meantime from all the talk it looks like we’ve got another excellent vintage on our hands, almost embarrassingly so given the praise and hype that, by and large, rightly surrounded the 2009 en primeur campaign. It looks to be a case of chalk and cheese in terms of style though.

We’re told that the red wines have lots of concentration and comparable alcohol levels to 2009 but with much more noticeable tannin and higher acidity. Probably they won’t have the precociousness and sheer beauty of the wines shown last year. That makes sense given the vintage conditions, the chemistry of the grapes at harvest and the resultant wines in 2010. If 2009 really was the perfect vintage from a viticultural point of view, with everything in proportion and just at the right time, then 2010 was a much more see-sawing year of extremes. A big drought year and one in which temperatures soared in July, then cooled substantially in August, it was the reverse of what you would expect. This combination produced grapes high in tannin and also in acid, so stylistically we’re probably looking at a vintage closer to 2000 or 2005 than 2009. In the Médoc chateaux proprietors had to wait until mid October for the Cabernet Sauvignon to achieve proper phenolic ripeness, the month providing some much needed rain early on. This is harvest date is not necessarily much later than usual but consider that in alcohol terms the grapes had been sitting at 13 degrees since mid September. It was the ripeness of the skins and the tannins that determined picking dates. And with grapes high in tannin and acid careful winemaking in the cellar was needed in order not to over-extract the wines.

We’ve also been told to expect excellent dry white wines, full of flavour but with more race and life than 2009 because of that extra acidity. The sweet wines in Sauternes did get botrytis in the end, some estates picking into November so it should be a promising vintage there too. Nevertheless we won’t really know what the wines are like overall until they first land in our glasses next week.

One thing I’m particularly looking out for are wines of value, those over achieving cru classé and cru bourgeois wines that [hopefully] will represent value for money. This seems obvious but it is easy to lose sight of. I’m booked into pretty much all the top places and it is always interesting to see the heights to which the vintage can soar but if you’re anything like me as a consumer you probably forked out a hell of a lot on 2009 and are pretty much spent out for this year. So if you’re buying to drink, and not to invest, then value for money will be increasingly critical in 2010 and it will be exciting to see who’s producing the goods at the less exalted end of the spectrum and giving you a bang for your buck….

Certainly I think we can expect that the higher prices the leading chateaux established last year for their wines en primeur will be re-inforced again this year, not higher necessarily but you can’t see the top estates releasing 2010 a penny lower than last year. The best of the best will have no trouble selling their wines almost at any price given the huge demand worldwide, Asia especially and it will be very interesting to see what Chateau Lafite-Rothschild and the other first growths open up at of course.

There is still plenty of time for the market to fill with hot air, the late release system seems almost designed for this. First reviewed and ‘scored’ over the coming weeks, Bordeaux will not be offered for sale for months, and some wines not even until July probably, in what are becoming increasingly long and drawn out en primeur campaigns, each longer than the last. Don’t imagine that 2010 will be any exception. With that in mind, I’d be tempted to go back and look at the 2008s in the meantime as some wines are still undervalued, before the undoubted excitement of the 2010 campaign pulls up these ‘back catalogue’ prices.

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