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.