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 -
Vieux Chateau Certan
Le Petit Mouton
Carruades de Lafite