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...