Last November Paul Pontallier was expressing embarrassment at the potential quality of the 2010 vintage he had just put in vat. Just how could the estate follow on from the 2009? Again it’s a case of a different year rather than a better one, but 2010 is a beauty here. In terms of the harvest itself the vintage was more homogenous across the plots than in 2009, a year in which some of the younger Merlots did struggle a bit with the heat and the drought. That wasn’t the case in 2010 and there was more consistency to the harvest. This has had a knock on effect more for Pavillon Rouge which is terrific. As for the grand vin, it is exceptional, with remarkable purity and freshness. In the line up of first growths this year it is the most beautiful and seductive. For the first time the proportions of the grand vin and Pavillon Rouge are the same, at 38%, down 15% on 2009, with the remainder of the harvest going into the estate’s new third wine [as yet to be christened – or to be tasted…].
Across the board though there is terrific freshness in 2010. There is certainly more grip than 2009 but it balances a similar weight in alcohol to it makes the wines feel pretty nimble. Perhaps the major change on last year in the line-up is the outstanding quality of the Pavillon Blanc. It is looking wonderful in 2010. There is lots of minerality and freshness to the wine and for me it is much more grand cru in feel than last year. It reflects the concentration and acidity in this vintage, caused by the dry conditions rather than excessive heat.
So what was the growing season like here at Margaux in 2010? Again cold and dry conditions in the winter and spring delayed budding, but warm weather in April spurred things on. Cool and wet weather during flowering caused a bit of coulure in the older Merlot plots. Then from the end of June until October conditions were very dry, but the clay soils faired will, and had been replenished with winter rain the year before. Nor were temperatures as hot as 2009. Pontallier believes that this combination of drought without excessive heat, including cool nights, allowed the grapes to reach new heights in quality – wonderful freshness provided by the acidity alongside the ripeness and the phenolic density. The vintage was between September 23 and October 15, identical dates to 2009 interestingly. The Cabernet and Merlot’s that were planted on the clay soils attained quite high alcohols which affected their finesse and they were blended to the third wine. Pavillon Rouge has 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot. Pontallier believes it is superior to his 2009 and I’d agree. The grand vin is 90% Cabernet, 7% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc and 1.5% Petit Verdot.
For Pavillon Blanc there has been a very deliberate effort to harvest the Sauvignon Blanc a little sooner, to get that minerality and freshness. They only use 100% first run juice and there is a three day settling period in vat before fermentation in oak, only twenty percent of which is new. The 2010 is terrific, up there with Haut-Brion Blanc and La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc but in a completely different style, as different as grand cru Chablis is from grand cru Burgundy.
I have to add here that a visit to Chateau Margaux is a treat. They are probably the most welcoming of all the first growths. Interestingly, though I met up briefly with Paul Pontallier, I tasted the wines with Philippe Bascaules, Margaux’s estate director and Pontallier’s second in command. Congratulations to him as I read this morning that he’s taking a job at Rubicon in the Napa Valley working for Francis Ford Coppola. He kept quiet about that last Friday. I’m sure they’ll miss him at Chateau Margaux. Good luck Philippe.
The following wines were tasted on Friday, 8th April 2011 at Chateau Margaux:
Deep and dense but a very polished look; real vibrancy in the glass; blackcurrants, perfume, violets, layers to the nose and wonderfully cool; extremely seductive, the most beautiful aroma of all the first growths in 2010; palate very precise and deep; layered; lots of power here, hidden by the nimble acidity; intensity in the acid not the tannin; very long and elegant finish. Pure. Superb. 98-100/100
Lovely density in the glass; creamy and blackcurrant notes; very open; cherry too, freshness; very focused and layered; nice entry, very pure and attractive; really sublimated but in equilibrium in its parts; harmonious and not at all forced. Great length. Amazing quality here this year. 94-96+/100
Pale straw; mineral, fresh and wonderful purity; real grand cru quality here this year; very precise and focused nose; some wax; quite taut but with soft edges; candy and freshness; lovely finish; real concentration and life; not a trace of oil. Wonderful. 93-95+/100