Looking back over the recent en primeur tastings, a number of things have become clear... The first and most obvious thing is that Bordeaux has another great vintage on its hands, albeit one which is very different from the remarkable preceding vintage of 2009. The success of 2010 is due to the near-perfect and unusual weather patterns which developed during the vintage. In particular, the weather was dry but not too hot, with many cool nights. Several appellations did experience drought conditions but fortunately rain came at the right time in September. This provided welcome relief just when the vines were at their most stressed.The result was grapes that were small, healthy and concentrated and wines which are high in alcohol, acidity and tannin. As Jean-Guillaume Prats of Cos d’Estournel pointed out – this was genuinely remarkable. ‘Most wine regions can produce one or two of these three components. Only Bordeaux has been able to do all three at the same time!’
Below: Jean-Guillaume Prats discusses the differences between 2009 and 2010
Once again, this was another great year for Left Bank Cabernet. Firstly, this was because the weather conditions suited Cabernet Sauvignon, which ripens a bit later than Merlot and generally has lower potential alcohol. Secondly, this was because some Merlot vineyards suffered from coulure (poor fruit set), which reduced the crop in certain areas. As with 2009, some of the Merlot-dominant wines have come in with very high alcohol levels – whether or not this happened depended on their individual terroirs and the time of picking. On the Left Bank, many chateaux used less Merlot this year and much more Cabernet. Mouton is a case in point. For the 2010, the blend is 94% Cabernet (up from around 80% in 2009). However, this is by no means an exclusively Left Bank vintage. The Right Bank had some notable successes, particularly in Pomerol and, to a lesser extent, in St Emilion. Equally, Graves did well with both their red and white wines. For instance, at both Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion, big, powerful, and concentrated reds have again been produced. However, the power of these wines is tempered by the excellent acidity so prevalent in this vintage. The same goes for the whites produced by both properties. They are particularly impressive in 2010.
Below: One of the stellar Sauternes of the vintage - Chateau Suduiraut. Notice the interesting thermometer collar below the label, ensuring that the wine is served at the correct temperature.
Sauternes was also a success. The chateaux were blessed with a big crop and the wines exhibit good botrytis character and an excellent balance between sweetness and acidity. However, the wines do lack the sheer intensity and power of the 2009s.
As a result, there is near universal acclaim for 2010. However, some caveats should be issued when it comes to buying the wines – both stylistically and by individual chateaux. Consumers need to realise that the wines from this vintage have a very different profile than that of the more opulent and easy-going 2009s. The difference is that in 2010 the best reds are beautifully balanced but have a much more tannic structure and much higher acidity levels. This means that many will take quite a bit longer to develop. Yet, it is important to understand that they will indeed develop and that the resulting wines will be absolutely stunning. In many ways, this is very much a ‘classical’ Bordeaux vintage that will appeal to traditional European palates.
This was a difficult and challenging vintage to taste - particularly coming on the heels of 2009. There are many gorgeous wines in 2010 but the most successful are unquestionably those which showed some restraint with regard to tannin/extraction levels and percentage of alcohol. Unfortunately, some properties have produced tannic, over-extracted and highly-alcoholic wines. These wines may come around at some point in their development and allow the underlying fruit to shine through. Equally however, they may not.
In 2010 there are some real vins de plaisir, as well as vins de garde. The First Growths and Super Seconds have once again produced some exceptional wines. However, this year, their second wines have also taken a massive step forward. Carruades de Lafite, Le Petit Mouton and Alter Ego de Palmer are all scintillating wines and we will be buying as many cases of them as we are able to secure.
Above: One of the vins de garde - Tasting at Chateau Pontet Canet. Brilliant balance.
Ultimately, the commercial success of the vintage will largely depend on price. My view is that the Bordelais will not price 2010 any lower than 2009 for several reasons. First of all, they know that they have produced another excellent vintage that is similar in quality to 2009. Secondly, they have made slightly less wine than last year – overall production is down. Finally, they need to price it at least at the same level as last year simply to protect the current 2009 prices. Equally, it seems that the chateaux cannot raise prices significantly either. The global economic recovery is far from assured or complete. It also remains to be seen whether the American market will return after a long En Primeur absence.
Above: Will the chateaux embrace correct market pricing or will they burn the opportunity?
Another question is how much slack the Far East markets will take up this year. The Chinese are beginning to buy into the concept of purchasing En Primeur, and there was a notable presence of Chinese buyers in Bordeaux during our time there. Finally, what about Europe? After last year, some European collectors may feel less inclined to buy quite as much this season if the prices significantly increase. All of these factors lead me to expect prices to be released at similar levels to 2009.Of course, there will be exceptions to the rule. Those chateaux which have produced better wines in 2010 than in 2009 may be inclined to break ranks, particularly if Robert Parker endorses them with a big score later this month. In some instances, such price increases will be entirely justified. Against that, my inside information on Parker’s thinking is that he is likely to rate 2010 ‘a notch lower than 2009’.
Above: What will Robert Parker score the wines of Lafite-Rothschild?
At the Antique Wine Company, we will be offering specific advice to our clients as the campaign unfolds throughout May and June. Our counselling will be based heavily on our first-hand experience with each individual chateaux and the quality-to-price ratio of each wine. I believe that, no matter what, 2010 is a vintage that serious and knowledgeable collectors and consumers will want to include in their cellars. Prices are unlikely to fall in the near term and certainly over the long haul, the top wines will inevitably rise in value.Always remember, En Primeur is the best time to purchase top wines at their lowest market prices. It is also the only time consumers and collectors can obtain a substantial volume of their favourite wines and be unequivocally certain of provenance. Demand for the top wines from this vintage will be strong. As a merchant, it is always somewhat of a challenge to satisfy the many demands of the négociants, who require us to purchase vast quantities of their lesser wines, pro-rata to the First Growths and premium wines. The négociants decide which merchants are currently in favour and they like to see those merchants buying not only the First Growths but also promoting the less prominent and lower–hierarchy wines.In almost every vintage, market demand for the First Growths exceeds supply. Each year we find that we can easily sell our entire allocation of these wines. Therefore, we are constantly trying to increase the size of our allocations and 2010 is no exception. Thus, as we head into the 2010 En Primeur campaign, clients wishing to secure larger volumes of First Growths might also consider purchasing other classified wines. In good vintages - where the quality is more homogeneous - these lower hierarchy wines are perfect for many occasions and moments. It is a timely convenience that the 2009 vintage produced wines of this type – exceptional quality and ideal for early drinking.Therefore, clients should consider balancing their allocation requests for 2010 First Growths with a quantity of 2009 lower–classified growths. These 2009s can then be consumed and enjoyed while the 2010s continue to undergo élevage. This creates a win–win situation for everyone involved - including you, the client, The Antique Wine Company as your merchant, and both the châteaux and the négociants. Our Top Picks from the 2010 Bordeaux Vintage -LafitePalmerMargauxHaut-BrionHaut-Brion BlancVieux Chateau CertanLe PinLe Petit MoutonCarruades de LafiteCos d’EstournelAngelusCheval Blanc
Tags: En Primeur, Bordeaux, 2010 vintage, wine tasting, Stephen Williams, Chateau Lafite, Chateau Palmer, Haut-Brion, Vieux Chateau Certan, Le Pin, Chateau Mouton, Le Petit Mouton, Carruades de Lafite, Cos d'Estournel, 2010 pricing, 2010 versus 2009 Bordeaux, Angelus, Cheval Blanc, Saternes, Alter Ego de Palmer
By now we were in danger of running late for our next appointment at Mouton. So we quickly exited the UGC tasting and headed back up to Pauillac. In the bright sunshine, Mouton looked as magnificent as ever.
The only blot on its pristine appearance were the two cranes constructing Mouton’s brand new cellars. However, according to Mouton’s President Herve Berland the massive new facility should be finished in time for the 2011 harvest and will make Mouton even more haute couture than it is already. The main benefit will be 60 vats which will allow winemaker Philippe Dhalluin to select and vinify smaller parcels giving him more choice over the final assemblage.
But what of 2010? First, I have to say the Petit Mouton is the finest I have ever tasted at this estate. The attack, elegant sweet cassis fruit, tannin structure and length of this wine is really outstanding and is almost as good as Carruades – but not quite. 95 points.
I was less taken with the D’Armailhac or the Clerc Milon which rated 90 and 88 points respectively. And, sadly, I was disappointed too with Mouton itself after the promise of Petit Mouton. Although fresh, elegant and fine, it lacked the gravitas and depth I was expecting. In fact, I rate it alongside the second wine at 95 points.
Before we left Mouton, I did manage a quick word with Philippe Dhalluin about the weather patterns in Pauillac in 2010. Although 2010 is regarded as a warm dry vintage in fact the Meteo figures suggest that it was a relatively cool year with no summer heatwave. Indeed, August was actually cooler than average. For Dhalluin, the most important factors in the success of 2010 was the exceptional amount of sunshine rather than heat. Also key were the cool nights which locked in acidity and some much needed rainfall at key moments.
Above: Discussing the 2010 weather patterns and looking at historical context.
But as I have mentioned before such beneficial conditions do not invariably guarantee sublime wine. In 2010, there are winners and losers and some of the best estates have not necessarily made great wine. One of the disappointments for me was Montrose where the wine is simply too tough and extracted. Even allowing for St Estephe’s reputation for producing massively structured wines, there was just an almost insurmountable wall of tannin here which will take years to come round. 90 points.
If Montrose disappointed, Cos d’Estournel delighted. As ever, it was a pleasure to see Jean-Guillaume Prats holding court in the new tasting area which adjoins Cos’ 21st century, gravity fed winery.
In truth though, I was a little nervous about tasting his 2010. The main reason for this was because I was expecting the 2010 to be even bigger and broader than the sumptuous 2009 which caused such a stir this time last year.
However, I was immediately impressed by the property’s second wine, The 2010 Pagodes is deeply coloured and deeply flavoured with coffee and mocha flavours allied to creamy black fruit. It was powerful and dense but not overloaded or overdone. 92 points.
And I was considerably more impressed by Cos itself. Inkily opaque and impenetrably dark, this was much more limpid on the palate with bright sweet mulberry and kirsch fruit with notes of cream and chocolate. However, Jean-Guillaume has pulled back the throttle on the tannins and this was beautifully restrained. So there is power and elegance. The tannins are, of course, present and correct but they certainly don’t dominate the wine as at Montrose.
From memory, I recalled last year the tannin index at Cos was at a record 99 points. This year, Jean-Guillaume told me it was down to 91. Similarly, the alcohol was down a fraction too – levelling off at 14.5%, while the pH was up giving it a delicious lift of freshness. So this is, once again, another great effort at Cos. 97 points.
Above: The beautiful and ultra-modern new Cos d'Estournel barrel cellar
Interestingly, Jean-Guillaume told me that he did not adjust his winemaking in 2010. ‘In fact, we did exactly the same as we did in 2009. So the difference in what you taste is entirely down to what the weather imposed on us.’
He also went to say why 2010 is so special in Bordeaux. ‘I believe that it was another exceptional year because the acidity, alcohol and tannins are high but in such perfect balance. To me this is unique about Bordeaux these days and cannot really be replicated anywhere else in the world. Above all, it is what enables us to make the new style of wine in Bordeaux.’
Once again, it has been a long and intensive day of travelling and tasting on the left bank. But the vintage, on this side of the Gironde, is starting to come into sharper focus. Tomorrow, we venture over to St Emilion and Pomerol to see what they have achieved in 2010 and I look forward to reporting back on how the Right Bank wines have performed in this fascinating and exciting vintage.
Check back tomorrow for details of my visit to the Right Bank...
Tags: En Primeur, Bordeaux, 2010 Vintage, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Cos d'Estournel, Left Bank
En primeur | Travel | Wine tasting
Once again a bright, beautiful Bordeaux morning beckons at Chateau de Sours where I am staying all week – in some luxury - with my chum Martin Krajewski. Today, our first en primeur appointment is some considerable distance away in Pauillac. So we are on the road by 8.00am to beat the inevitable traffic on Bordeaux’s ring-road or Rocade.
It might seem odd tasting six month old claret at 9.15am but there are worse places to do it than the magnificent Chateau Pichon Baron with its splendid mix of ancient and modern architecture and wonderfully manicured gardens. (The grass lawns here are as good as any golf course!)
Inside we are greeted warmly by Christian Seely, AXA Millesimes’ genial, multi-talented and perennially bow-tied, boss, who tells me that he is also about to launch his very own English sparkling wine in a few weeks – called Coates & Seely. But this was no social call and it was quickly down to Bordeaux business, beginning with Chateau Pibran - which was such a success in 2009. This year, the wine didn’t quite leap out of the glass to the same degree and merits 90 points. Equally, I couldn’t get quite so excited about Pichon Baron’s second wine Les Tourelles, but the Pichon Baron was reliably good and true to form. 93 points.
Above: Tasting at Pichon Baron with Christian Seely
Christian also kindly opened the two previous vintages for us to compare. The 2009 is still stunning, but has tightened up a fraction. However, the 2008 doesn’t really pass muster against its younger siblings. It seems insubstantial in comparison.
For me the best wine that Christian has produced in 2010 is unquestionably the Petit Villages from Pomerol which is really singing this year. The property has a very good terroir and some top notch neighbours so it is perhaps no surprise. The wine was ripe, juicy, fresh and full of plums and damsons. No harsh tannins here, just sweet sultry fruit and some fine acidity. Not having been to the Right Bank yet this year, I have heard that some Merlot wines are too big and alcoholic. That was clearly not the case here as the tannins and alcohol were firmly in check and balance. 97 points.
Less successful was AXA’s Sauternes, Chateau Suduiraut. It was perfectly correct and well made with nice sweetness, creamy fruit and acidity. But the wine lacked sufficient weight to merit a better score. 90 points.
Our next appointment was conveniently close and therefore required just a short stroll across the D2 to Pichon Lalande. There the first person we bumped into was none other than Pichon’s relatively new proprietor Frederic Rouzaud of Champagne Roederer. It is sad to think that the property is no longer owned by May Eliane de Lenquesaing, but one cannot help but think that Pichon Lalande is now in good hands - especially with the appointment of Sylvie Cazes to run this superb Second Growth.
Unfortunately, the first two wines I tasted were distinctly under par. The Bernadotte registered a lowly 87 points, barely exceeded by the St. Estephe, Chateau de Pez which tasted hollow and warranted 88 points. Similarly, the Pichon Lalande wasn’t entirely firing on all cylinders. It seemed altogether too light, delicate and out of place in this forthright vintage. However, in my experience, Pichon Lalande rarely shows well at en primeur and needs time in bottle. 2010 may be a case in point. 90 points.
From Pichon Lalande, our next appointment was at one of Pauillac’s rising starts – Pontet-Canet, owned by Alfred Tesseron. This large estate abutting Mouton has a very good terroir and a substantial are – 81 hectares which are now farmed entirely biodynamically. In fact, it is the only Grand Cru Classe in Bordeaux to be accredited as both organic and biodynamic.
This year, Pontet-Canet has produced a dense, muscular wine with 65% Cabernet, 30%, Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. The fruit and acidity are good, but they are completely overwhelmed at this early stage by the tannins. Consequently, this will take a long time in the cellar to come round. As a result, I marked it 92 points.
Above: AWC Client Account Manager Thomas Watson tasting at Pichon Lalande
Of course, there are plenty of very good Pontet-Canets to enjoy in the meantime and the chateau very generously poured one of them over a very good three course lunch. Tasting these tannic, unformed wines is hard work and it was a pleasure to drink the property’s wonderfully good 2000 vintage with some foie gras, followed by slow cooked beef in red wine with cheese to finish.
Whilst enjoying this excellent spread, I also couldn’t help noticing that the large room was literally half-full with Chinese and Asian buyers.
If day two had been a bit mixed in terms of quality, it was about to get a whole lot better. Not least because our next appointment was Lafite which as we all know is on such fabulous form these days. As ever, expectations were sky high.
On the way in, we met Lafite’s oenologist Charles Chevallier who looked his usual confident and relaxed self. And well he might, having pulled yet another magical vintage out of the hat.
We began with the now famous second wine - Carruades de Lafite. For me this was right up there with the 2009, which I loved. This had the most stunning, creamy cassis fruit that mingled effortlessly with ripe, elegant tannins and fresh acidity. A beautifully accessible, sure-footed Carruades. 98 points.
The Duhart was delicious but seemed a touch heavier than the Carruades. Again it was wonderfully polished and precise but the tannins seemed not quite so refined. Nevertheless, it is still a great 2010 in its own right and merits 97 points.
Then came Lafite itself - the Grand Vin and the grand finale. Make no mistake, this was unquestionably the wine of the vintage – thus far – at least in my tasting book.
The nose was divine with a floral, perfumed flourish. On the palate it was cream, leather and vanilla with voluptuous plum and damson fruit. There’s cedar and lead pencil too plus a bit of mocha for good measure. The tannins are so well constructed that you barely notice them. But they are there in abundance, silkily coating your mouth. If the tannins are soft and fine grained, the acidity is juicy and fresh and is what brings the wine to life. The finish was long; very long.
Though not perhaps as immediately delicious and voluptuous as 2009 was this time last year, this wine is not far behind. It’s also a vin de garde which has an enormous life span ahead of it. 99 points.
Charles Chevallier explained the secret of its success. ‘It’s a great vintage because everything was so perfectly balanced.’ He also suggested that the key to the tannins was not to extract too much. Here, less is more – without a shadow of a doubt.
Above: Discussing the vintage and market pricing of Lafite-Rothschild with Charles Chevallier
Naturally, any wine that came immediately after Lafite was going to have a hard time. But in point of fact, both the Grand Puy Lacoste and the Lynch-Bages both showed extremely well at the nearby UGC tasting, held this year at Patrick Maroteaux’s Branaire-Ducru. Under Jean-Charles Cazes (Jean-Michel’s son) Lynch-Bages is on cracking form and this vintage rates 93 points. Grand Puy Lacoste which has also produced another classical claret weighing in at 13.5%. It was harmonious and elegant, showing fine cassis fruit, deft tannins aided and abetted by some nice acidity. 93 points.
I also took the opportunity to try the Pichon Lalande again. Sometimes, a second look can make a difference. And the second bottle definitely seemed to have more to it than the one I tried at the chateau. 92 points.
A feature of this annual gathering is that one can’t help being diverted away from serious tasting by running into so many familiar faces including John Salvi , MW and Eric Vogt of eProvenance, which has some very exciting technological solutions to shipping wine in good condition. Someone else I chanced upon was the US importer and negociant Jeffrey Davies who told me that he had tasted the vintage with Robert Parker before the official en primeur week.
Jeffrey told me that Parker is excited and impressed by the 2010s but is likely to rate it a notch below the 2009s. We will wait and see. His report will no doubt provide interesting and influential reading.
Check back later today for Part 2 of Day 2...
Tags: En Primeur, Bordeaux, 2010 Vintage, Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Pichon Baron, Left Bank
After a lunch at Le Savoie in Margaux, our next appointment was conveniently close and our very first Premier Cru of 2010. As ever at Chateau Margaux, Paul Pontallier and Corinne Mentzelopoulos were there to welcome us, not forgetting Corinne’s faithful hound, Zorba who was clearly enjoying the spring sunshine and a considerable amount of attention from the international visitors.
Above: Discussing the vintage with Paul Pontallier
However, it was Aurelian Valance who lead us through the wines that we had come to taste. This year, Margaux has just announced that it is to make a third wine for the very first time so the Pavillon Rouge has benefited from even stricter selection than usual. According to Aurelian it is the best that Margaux has ever been made – better even than 2009 and I tended to agree. The wine is made up of two thirds Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and a sprinkling (4%) of Petit Verdot for seasoning.
This was certainly an exquisite Pavillon Rouge – chock full of red and black fruit, seamlessly bound up in a cloak of fine tannins. The length and texture was remarkable and it was a pleasure to taste – even now. 96 points.
Clearly, one of the keys to success in 2010 was to tame the off-the-charts tannin levels. Pontallier has done this brilliantly with the 2010 Grand Vin by not over-extracting the wines. Similarly, he has kept the alcohol in check too. The Pavillon Rouge comes in at 14% while the Margaux has a cool and balanced 13.5%. This is largely due to the high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon in the final blend – just over 90%, with 7% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot.
As a result, the Grand Vin is more tannic and structured that the Pavillon Rouge – and therefore harder to taste at this impressionable age. It was also a much more classical Margaux than the hedonistic, voluptuous 2009. To me this was elegant, refined and not at all showy. The cassis fruit was pure and precise but perhaps a bit too restrained. There was a minerality here too and though not as generous as the 2009, this wine may well put on more fat as it ages. 96 points.
The Pavillon Blanc made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc and fermented in oak never fails to impress. Clearly 2010 is a serious vintage for white Bordeaux too. This was concentrated, complex, long and beautifully balanced. Sadly though, not enough wine is ever made. 92 points.
As we left, Margaux I caught up with Paul who told me that he had surprisingly received even more requests to taste at the chateau this year than in 2009. The same was true at Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion where owner Prince Robert of Luxembourg and winemaker Jean-Philippe Delmas were waiting on hand as we hurtled from one end of Bordeaux to the other to make our 5.30pm appointment.
It was also a record year in the vineyard at both Haut-Brion and La Mission. According to Jean-Philippe 2010 was the driest year there since 1949. Both he and Prince Robert were clearly delighted with the results. ‘The grapes were incredibly concentrated – particularly the Cabernets. The wines are much more structured than 2009.’
What appeared to save the day in 2010 was the counterbalancing acidity. However the drought did reduce yields. In the case of Haut Brion, it made just 7,200 cases compared to 10,500 last year. La Mission made 5,200 down from 6,000. We naturally wonder if this will have an impact on prices.
But perhaps the most significant numbers which were quoted in connection with these wines related to their alcoholic content. And once again, they were extremely high. For instance, La Mission weighed in at a massive 15,1% while Haut-Brion was up at 14.6%
Personally, I particularly liked the latter which had wonderful sweet black cherry fruit, liquorice and damsons. The tannins are dense but ripe and are matched by some fine acidity. Similarly, the finish was powerful and long. The wine was in total harmony and as a result, you simply don’t notice the alcohol. 98 points.
The La Mission has perhaps even more ripe, supercharged fruit, but because of its higher Merlot content (37% vs 23%), it tips the scales at the aforementioned weight of 15,1%. The tannin structure was also a bit looser and fleshier so the acidity seemed softer on the palate. In turn, this leaves the finish feeling just a little bit warm for my liking. This is still a great wine, but the Haut-Brion shades it for me. 97 points.
Above: Post Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion tasting. Visiting with HRH Prince Robert of Luxembourg
Once again, the whites from these two Pessac properties were magnificent and will provide wonderful pleasure to those lucky enough to secure an allocation. Only 500 cases of La Mission was made and just 450 of the Haut Brion Blanc. Both are blindingly good this year and it was impossible to rate one above the other.
La Mission Blanc is richer, denser and riper than its neighbour not least because of its assemblage – 81% Semillon and 19% Sauvignon. This has a wonderful life ahead of it thanks to its freshness, complexity and balance. 98 points.
Equally, the Haut-Brion Blanc is also a wine for the long haul. With just 46% Semillon it was clearly fresher, more mineral - more citrus than La Mission. But both are unformed at this adolescent stage. It will be exciting to taste them side-by-side when they have some serious bottle age. Right now, I give the Haut-Brion Blanc an equal 98 points.
So here ended our first day. It was already evident to me that Bordeaux has delivered another great vintage – albeit very different from the opulent, generous year of 2009.
Of course, some people may be sceptical that Bordeaux has produced two successive vintages of such scale and calibre. However, there are several precedents to this phenomenon; 1899 and 1900, 1928 and 1929 (I clearly remember debating at our Three Centuries of Lafite event whether the ‘28 Lafite is better than the ‘29!) A further duo occurred again in 1989 and 1990 and once more in 1995 and 1996.
Tags: En Primeur, Bordeaux, 2010 Vintage, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion
Life is rarely dull in the fine wine business. After spending the weekend tasting nineteenth century Ports in the depths of the Douro Valley, today I’m in Bordeaux to taste wines almost 200 years younger, as the chateaux open their doors to the world in advance of the 2010 En Primeur campaign. For the next few days, I will be writing from the annual series of trade tastings as we get a first impression of what 2010 has to offer. If all the excitement that is starting to build around this vintage proves to be true, it promises to be quite a week!
This year my load is lightened because I am assisted by nine of my colleagues from our offices in London, Hong Kong, and the Cote d’Azur. I think it is vital that the wine experts who will be directly advising our clients have the chance to taste these wines at the earliest opportunity available. This enables them to provide authoritative advice from their own personal experience. For me, that is what being a good wine merchant is all about.
Our first tasting today was at the St. Julien Second Growth Chateau Leoville-Barton, owned of course by the legendary Anthony Barton. As ever, the property was looking immaculate and resplendent in the warm spring sunshine as we turned off the D2. However, we immediately stepped out of the bright light and into the cool dark cellar. Surrounded by barrels of the still-maturing 2009, upon tasting the first wine in the line-up this morning (the 2010 edition of Third Growth Chateau Langoa-Barton), my initial impression was that this was indeed a very different vintage from the fabulous 2009.
Above: Spring is in the air!
For a start, you could taste the intense tannic structure on both the Langoa and the Leoville-Barton that followed it. These wines were much more assertive than the 2009s. True to form, the Leoville was much broader and more serious than the Langoa, with classical cassis fruit. Both wines also weighed in at 13.2% alcohol, thereby contradicting advance reports of high alcohol wines across Bordeaux. These wines were anything but. I was very taken with the Leoville (92 points) but less so with the Langoa (86 points), which seemed to me to lack attack.
Below: Cellar room at Leoville-Barton
From St. Julien we headed to Chateau Belgrave, the Fifth Growth property belonging to the Dourthe group that is part of the Bordeaux negociants CVGB. We were ushered into the very bright and modern tasting room adjoining the barrel hall. This estate has just been impressively (and expensively) renovated. In fact, our visit today meant that we were among the first to taste there. This was also our first opportunity to taste across a broad swath of appellations. However, I resisted the temptation to stray too far afield. I limited myself to tasting a single Margaux flight of eight wines in order to get a better handle on how the vintage performed in that particular region.
First up was the lesser-known Fifth Growth Chateau Desmirail. It had good colour, fruit and structure. While not a stunning wine, it was certainly solid and worth 90 points. The Durfort-Vivens came next and was a bit closed and disappointing, despite being a Second Growth. I rated it alongside the Desmirail at 90 points. Sadly, The Marquis d’Alesme Becker was faulty and, unfortunately, no second bottle was forthcoming.
I felt that the 2010 Prieure-Lichine had a touch of Margaux perfume on the nose, but I was let down on the palate. To me it was austere and tough. The tannins had overtaken the fruit and now dominated the wine. I rated it 89 points.
The next wine, Cantenac-Brown, was a much needed step-up in quality. Deeply coloured with a classic Margaux nose, this was full of tobacco and cassis-blueberry fruit. The acidity was fresh and the tannins were ripe. All in all, it was an elegant 2010 and was definitely worthy of 94 points.
Two other wines which greatly impressed me were Chateau Lascombes and Chateau Rauzan-Segla. The former was a dark, sweet, generous and well-structured wine with both good acidity and polished tannins. Another 94 pointer.At Rauzan-Segla, John Kolassa has fashioned a really impressive 2010 that delivers elegance and finesse. The tannins were firm but ripe and were held in check by some very impressive acidity and gorgeous plum fruit flavours supported by notes of plum, blackcurrant, tobacco and minerals. 95 points.
What this first snapshot suggested to me was that this is a vintage that we need to approach with careful attention to selection. Perhaps there is a lack of consistency?
Our next appointment was at the Third Growth (yet generally considered to be “Super Second”) Chateau Palmer. It is always a pleasure to visit Palmer during En Primeur week and today’s tasting was no exception. In 2009, Palmer produced one of the top wines of the vintage, meaning winemaker Thomas Duroux had a tough act to follow. However, I think Duroux may have done it again thanks to the estate’s magnificent terroir, the low yields, strict selection and skilled winemaking. The estate’s second wine – Alter Ego - was outstanding once again and was surprisingly approachable. Palmer has a high percentage of Merlot in its vineyards and the rumour that Merlot had done exceptionally well in 2010 was backed-up by the way this wine performed.
The wine was bright, full, rich and sweet, with just a hint of eucalyptus on the finish – classic Palmer. It was also surprisingly big at 14.4%. However, it also has a very low pH at 3.35 which means that it retains a wonderfully fresh acidity. Great fruit, freshness and structure - easily 94 points.Although the Alter Ego was easier to taste, it was no hardship to sample the Grand Vin either. Surprisingly, the 2010 Palmer had even more Merlot in the blend than the Alter Ego! However, this also meant that the resulting wine was simply breathtaking. This had leather, cream, oodles of black fruit, chocolate, spice, mint and the most fabulous tannin structure balanced by pinpoint acidity. Again, the wine was big and generous (14.5%), but the way it was structured meant that it carried the alcohol quite effortlessly. My thoughts are that this is a 99 point wine and is a definite contender for wine of the vintage.According to Thomas, he believes that the acidity in these wines was the key to their success. ‘It’s the freshness and the acidity which counterbalances the tannin. There’s no question this will definitely be a very long-lived vintage.’ Interestingly, Duroux also said that 2009 was much more voluptuous than 2010, which I would certainly agree with. He also observed that 2010 was actually more like 2000 rather than 2005. ‘Except that, to me, 2010 is a much more concentrated version.’ Make no mistake; this is clearly a “vin de garde”.
Above: Tasting at Chateau Palmer
After our Palmer visit a spot of lunch was urgently required, so we stopped off for a much needed pit-stop at Le Savoie restaurant in the village of Margaux. In the afternoon, we stepped it up a gear or two when we visited both Chateau Margaux and Chateau Haut-Brion. These two estates told us even more about the vintage and the promise of 2010 Bordeaux. I will share my thoughts on them shortly, so check back here soon...
Tags: En Primeur, Bordeaux, 2010 vintage, wine tasting, Stephen Williams, Alter Ego, Chateau Palmer, Leoville Barton, Langoa Barton, Chateau Lascombes, Chateau Rauzan-Segla
Stephen Williams, Founder and CEO
Stephen Williams began trading as a wine merchant in 1982 and wishes he had stocked his cellar with Château Pétrus on day one. Since founding The Antique Wine Company, Stephen has built The Antique Wine Group into an organisation with clients in 63 countries and a global network of offices, representatives and business groups. Regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in fine and rare wines, he has created some of the greatest wine cellars and collections in existence – in châteaux, palaces, wineries, hotels and private residences across Europe, Asia and North America. As a popular commentator on the wine industry, fine wine investment and the global wine market, Stephen is frequently quoted by both the UK and international press corps. Along with his regular lectures at AWC Wine Academy, this blog offers a behind-the-scenes view into the world of fine wine.
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