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Bordeaux 2010: In bottle

Written by JW. Posted in Bordeaux

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Great vintages are consistent from cask, to bottle, to glass, and so it is proving with Bordeaux 2010. Tasting this vintage at the Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux’s annual horizontal at Covent Garden last November there is no doubt that 2010, now in bottle, is delivering on the exceptional promise it showed during the Bordeaux primeurs week in April 2011. It remains a fascinating vintage and a wonderful partner to 2009. If the precocious and deceptively easy charms of the extraordinary 2009 vintage appeal to the heart, then 2010 is definitely a vintage for the head.

2010 reds are bold, more classically styled maybe than 2009, with levels of concentration, density and acidity that are unusual and, most probably, unique. For me there is no discussion about which is the better vintage. That misses the point.  Stylistically 2010 and 2009 are poles apart. That’s what makes it fascinating. We are clearly looking at a pair of vintages that will hold their own in the pantheon, evoking the fabled [for me at least] rivalry between 1928 and 1929, 1945 and 1947 or 1959 and 1961. I’m not familiar with these vintages [though I’ve had a bit of ‘61] so a comparison with say 1989 and 1990 or, to a far lesser extent, 1995 and 1996, and possibly even 2000 and 2001, now that the latter vintage is being reconsidered, is more relevant to me. Having tasted all these vintages young and mature I’d have to say 2009 and 2010 trump the lot, in many cases by a considerable margin.

Whether you prefer 2010 to 2009 comes down to a question of taste.  As the unique, if often irritating, Quentin Tarantino might say, either you’re an Elvis or a Beatles person. I think Bordeaux 2009 v 2010 comes down to just that – simply a question of taste. I’m probably a 2009 man, most definitely in terms of the fortune I lavished on that vintage en primeur. 2009 also has one obvious advantage on 2010. It’s window of drinkability, from top to bottom, is more immediate than 2010’s will ever be. That said I was surprised how relatively ‘open’ the 2010’s were in November, but I think this is probably a last hurrah, a bow to the crowd, before the best disappear behind the curtain for a decade or so.

Of course there are 2010s to drink immediately. The whites from Graves and Pessac-Léognan are a real pleasure – strong and firm, so they will last the distance but they are very more-ish already with lots of limes, citrus and grapefruit tones and the structure of great white Burgundy in a number of cases. There’s more apparent acid than in 2009 whites too, which was overall a hotter summer. Remember that 2010 was more a drought vintage than a hot one, which has a great bearing on the density, tannins and acidity of the reds too. If there are concerns here at all, then it’s whether the densest and most overtly structured will come into balance. They probably will, but there were a few, just a few, where there is that concern.

Other wines that are already drinking superbly are the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac in 2010. There is great race, texture and plenty of botrytis on pretty much all the wines. These will last very well but most are already full of peaches and double cream joy and the sugar is matched by lively and refreshing acidity. Along with 2009 and 2011, 2010 makes up what has been a trio of superlative vintages for this under-appreciated region. It looks like the Gods have not been so kind to the region in 2012, but let’s wait and see. I’ll be out in April for a full assessment of the new vintage, red and white, in early April.

More detailed notes by appellation follow. Suffice to say 2010 is a Cabernet year again [as in 2009] and the wines of the Left Bank and Pessac-Léognan are a real treat. St Estèphe, Pauillac, St Julien have had a great year producing wines with lots of structure, density and tannin. Margaux looks a bit more consistent than in 2009 but it is always the most varied appellation in terms of style and quality. In the four vintages 2007-2010 everytime I leave a Bordeaux horizontal tasting I always come away wondering why on earth I don’t buy more Pessac-Léognan and Graves. 2011 wasn’t such a good year here for the reds [it was for the whites] but if you’re looking for value [once again] then there are many well priced reds here that you should consider 2010.

St Emilion has produced very good wines. At the time of the primeurs in April 2011 I considered this vintage even better here in 2010. Now that the wines are in bottle I’m not entirely sure about this. For me, as usual, those with the Cabernet Franc alongside the Merlot in the blends look the most impressive. On the basis of the half dozen wines shown from Pomerol who are current members of the UGCB, the wines look very, very good indeed. Detailed tasting notes by appellation on the various chateaux will follow in the coming days.

A final word on value. Bordeaux 2010 was released, at the top level, at the most eye-watering price. Interestingly these wines haven’t shifted as much downwards as 2009 has by comparison. This may be partly because the vintage hasn’t yet been physically available for trading. If anything, and again depending on your taste, that makes ’09 a more attractive bet to buy than ’10. I think the market has already figured this out. The Liv-Ex fine wine index has shot up 3% since January. 2009 is back on the move upwards [it over-shot the bottom if you ask me] so there is a relative correction happening already. So if you’re interested in great Bordeaux to drink now and over twenty years then 2009 is your best bet. 2010 is equally great Bordeaux – but more likely in five, ten or possibly more years time.

From a purely speculative point of view, I guess if Robert Parker ultimately marks this vintage less favourably than 2009 [his in-bottle scores are released this spring I think] then the market will surely see the 2010s as over-valued. So if 2009 prices don’t rise sufficiently in the intervening weeks to overtake 2010 then you’d probably expect to see 2010 prices fall. I’m talking top reds and first growths here. The opposite could happen of course! Take this all with a huge pinch of salt and for sure don’t quote me. Wine investment’s a risky business…


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