Bordeaux: 2007 to 2010
One – that much critical ink has been and will be spilt on this topic.
Two – that many people will make a lot of money off the back of it.
This is partly because the bordelais have devised one of the most ingenious commercial systems in the wine world.
Every year, the en primeur circus generates a self-perpetuating storm of publicity, whether the vintage is good or bad – not that there’s many of the latter any more in this era of high-tech winemaking.
Each successive spring the world’s press and wine trade descend on the Gironde, spilling their afore-mentioned ink liberally (be it in numbers or words, in print, cyberspace, videos or tweets). After initial tastings, prices are released, these days to a predictable and collective throwing-up-of-arms among wine merchants, given the huge price hikes since the 2009 releases.
Customers then buy – or attempt to buy, in the case of some of the top wines, which are often cannily allocated in various ‘tranches’ by merchants and châteaux alike.
The result of this grand transaction?
The customer owns nothing for around two years, having stumped up often substantial amounts of cash for a wine that is still in barrel, still not even in its final blended form. (Only individual barrels, or ‘samples’, are tasted en primeur in the spring after the vintage – the final blend may well differ from what is still a nascent approximation of the final wine).
The idea, of course, is that you get first access to, and something of a discount on, much sought-after wines. If you’re buying for investment, you may then be able to make a faster profit.
Any other wine region would gladly sell their grannies for such treatment. Contrast Brunello or Rioja, where some top wines legally have to be kept in the wineries’ cellars for up to 5-6 years, and the effect on cash flow is apparent even to the non-accountants among us. The bordelais effectively get a handsome cash payment in advance; the Spanish and Italians keep your wine for you until it’s ready to drink. The difference in payment time? Up to seven years.
Whatever the madness inherent in this system, it does just so happen that both the 2009 and 2010 vintages appear to have borne spectacular results in Bordeaux.
The talk is that 2010 is a more concentrated vintage – lots of tannin, acid and alcohol in some cases, a vintage for the long-term. The 2009s, while still excellent, will perhaps be slightly more accessible and earlier drinking in comparison.
Ten producers were on show – so only a limited snapshot – but all of these were of sound credentials: Pontet-Canet, Léoville-Poyferré, Branaire-Ducru, Rauzan Ségla, Canon, Angélus, Gazin, Canon La Gaffelière, Guiraud and Smith Haut Lafitte.
The 2010s were very, very young. Even the 2009s were still young – not even bottled yet, in most cases. Personally, while I have had some experience in tasting young wines like this (and attended the en primeurs in Bordeaux), I still think any verdict at this stage must at best be an approximation.
Nevertheless, the 2010 wines showed plenty of concentration, finesse and great promise in the best examples. It will certainly be instructive in time to put them up against the 2009s, which showed better on this occasion, almost certainly because they have had time to settle, but also perhaps because their style is slightly less intense and inscrutable than the 2010s.
The 2007 was generally the weakest vintage on show – plenty of open-knit wines, showing their age and somewhat watery on the finish. But this was most certainly not the case with the better properties – Léoville Poyferré, for example, was showing a delightfully intense, savoury 2007 which had plenty of life left in it yet.
The 2008s were in many cases still quite young, and certainly had a linearity and almost lean-ness to the style that tended to verge on the one-dimensional. In general they seemed to have more verve and grip to them than the 2007s – but still paled in comparison with the 2009s and 2010s, both of which were in a different league.
Below is a selection of highlights from the tasting. Wines are listed in alphabetical order.
Château d’Aiguilhe 2009, Côtes de Castillon – glossy dark fruit with notes of graphite and herbs. On the palate, it’s fleshy and charged with minerality. Young but structured – a completely different wine from the tired and lacklustre 2007. Stuffed with dense dark savoury fruit and minerality. Lovely at the level. 7.5/10
Château Angélus 2007, St Emilion 1er Grand Cru Classé, 13.5% – elegant meaty, inky nose, hints of leather and fern. Palate is fluid and savoury, complex, spicy. Rich but not OTT, very elegant, if quite broad in style. 7.5-8/10
Château Angélus 2008, St Emilion 1er Grand Cru Classé – similar aromatics to the 2007, with roasted plum and hints of meat and leather. Dense and elegant on the palate, with gentle hints of spice. Lovely stuff; a top wine. Doesn’t seem like a wine from a supposedly lesser vintage. 8/10
Château Angélus 2009, St Emilion 1er Grand Cru Classé – very young, dense, tight, but showing huge promise – much like the 2010. (8/10)
Château Branaire-Ducru 2008, St Julien 4ème Cru Classé – elegant tobacco and cassis nose with subtle hints of warm earth and fern. Fluid, juicy and dense palate, much better than the slightly drying, ashen 2007. Still a bit linear but lovely purity and drive. 7-7.5/10
Château Branaire-Ducru 2009, St Julien 4ème Cru Classé – creamy, very young, plush black fruit. Mineral, easy-drinking style but with savoury depths. Very good, needs time, will be good. Not at all overdone. 7.5-8/10
Château Branaire-Ducru 2010, St Julien 4ème Cru Classé – plush creamy dark fruit, very impressive and engaging. On the palate it’s lovely, with dense minerality and savoury depths, a hint of spice. Maybe a bit big on the finish but it’s very self-assured. (8/10)
Château Canon la Gaffelière 2008, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé – elegant palate, midweight and quite linear but a lovely smooth texture, refined flavour profile and refined finish. A very good 2008. 7/10
Château Léoville Poyferré 2009, St Julien 2ème Cru Classé – very young, toasty and creamy on the nose. Dense, elegant, savoury finish. Needs to unfurl but it looks very graceful, very dense, very impressive. (8.5/10)
Château Léoville Poyferré 2007, St Julien 2ème Cru Classé – lovely toasty dark fruit nose, with meaty notes. Fine textured, savoury and dense. Still young! Lots here – delish for this vintage. Will age well yet – at least another 5-10 years. Wonderful claret. Outstanding. 8.5/10
La Mondotte 2009, St Emilion – creamy ripe dark fruit nose. Dense, brooding, spicy palate. Very impressive in a big Right Bank style. 8/10
Hauts de Pontet-Canet 2008, Pauillac – leafy plummy fruit on the nose. Fluid, juicy palate, with very good density and weight for a second wine. Still young. Lovely stuff – mineral and refreshing. Top drawer. 7.5/10
Château Pontet-Canet 2008, Pauillac – plush dark fruit, creamy oak, all well melded and fused. Dense, mineral palate, well rounded and still very young. Good, much better balance of constituent parts than the 2007, and in a more focused style. Seems easy in its skin. 8-8.5/10
Château Pontet-Canet 2009, Pauillac – young, nutty nose with lots of dark fruit. Dense, savoury palate, super fine texture and very impressive indeed. So young but not at all aggressive. Refined, layered, self-contained and self-assured. What a wine. 9/10
Château Pontet-Canet 2010, Pauillac – young but sleek and tempting. Elegantly drying, very fine. Nascent, inky, yet with signs of greatness. (9/10)
Château Rauzan-Ségla 2009, Margaux 2ème Cru Classé – creamy plush fruit, very young nose. ON the palate, it’s taut and tight but not at all aggressive, super fine, very impressive. 8/10
Château Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc 2008, Péssac-Léognan, 13.5% – lovely nutty nose with lemon rind and orange blossom hints. The palate is lovely in age: dense, savoury and with flavours of creamy lemons. Long, layered and delicious. I preferred this to the richer style of 2010, which incidentally comes in at 14% – Daniel Cathiard said he preferred the latter style, whilst gracefully acknowledging it was a matter of personal taste, and that the high alcohol was an issue. It reminded me why we need to drink more white Bordeaux – a much-overlooked style. 8/10
Château Guiraud 2009, Sauternes, Premier Grand Cru Classé – I preferred this to both the soft, easy 2007 and the richer 2008 because it had both tightness and richness, with an intensity and harmony that boded well. 7-7.5/10