While Bordeaux stands shell-shocked in the wake of one of the most difficult (and lowest yielding) vintages in recent history, it was instructive to hark back to brighter times with a comprehensive tasting of the 2009 vintage.
This was roundly championed as one of the greatest vintages ever. That is, before 2010 came along. Two such high-quality years back-to-back gave pause for thought, and an opportunity to reflect on what exactly we want from Bordeaux.
2010 offered denser, tauter, sturdier wines – while 2009 was more opulent, fruit-forward, easy-going. The latter saw a warm summer and long, dry, healthy harvest – the trick being to prove disciplined and harvest not too late, where lush fruit and high alcohols made for unbalanced, fiery wines. The late-ripening, naturally fresh Cabernet Sauvignon proved to be the winner in this context – something clearly reflected in these wines, with far too many Merlot-dominated clarets too hot and hollow (both from Graves as well as Pomerol and St Emilion).
There was generally good quality on show. Just a couple of inexcusably lean/green wines, and some which proved more tedious than actively bad. In general, 2009 offers some pretty decent value at the lower-to-mid end (a point I make in my Decanter article on Bordeaux out this month) so well worth seeking out some wines that punch above their weight.
In summary, 2009 is a vintage of ripe tannin, plump-fruited reds with plenty of natural generosity and energy. Cabernet Sauvignon, especially in Pauillac, St Julien and Margaux, fared the best in terms of balance and longevity, with some truly great wines. Alcohols can be on the high side, especially on the right bank and in Graves and St Estephe. But the self-styled blockbusters are already, just four years on, proving simplistic and, frankly, dull.
Below is a very brief summary of some of my top wines from the tasting, with a condensed note and score out of 10. Wines are listed in order of preference. Notable duds for me included Palmer, Cos d’Estournel, Montrose, Léoville-Las-Cases and Haut Brion.
Standout 2009 clarets (tasted 7.11.13 by peter)
Château Lafite-Rothschild 2009, Pauillac, 13.5% – lovely inviting aromas, youthful but with autumnal hints of woodsmoke and ripe hedgerow fruit. Very fine, very fresh, taut, lucid and with a gorgeous focus. Needs to unfurl but this is sensational wine. (9-)9.5/10
Château Margaux 2009, Margaux, 13.5% – classic Margaux style, smoky, floral, peppery with an invigorating and uplifting palate. Such finesse, with a plump and spicy edge but also a serious mineral grounding. 9(-9.5)/10
Château Mouton Rothschild 2009, Pauillac, 13% – perhaps more open and opulent than the Lafite or Margaux (one to drink while the others warm up..?!) But this is fabulous, benchmark Mouton, cedar, tobacco-scented and with a sensationally layered, replete, resonant palate. Hedonistic but grounded. 9/10
Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste 2009, Pauillac, 13.5% – lovely smoky, complex and layered style. Vigorous but very fine textured and with savoury, mineral depths. Delightful. 8.5/10
Château Lynch-Bages 2009, Pauillac, 13.5% – slightly weird aromas but the palate is gorgeous: muscular, tense and rippling. Huge potential. 8.5/10
Château Pichon-Longueville 2009, Pauillac, 13.5% – beautiful stuff. Lovely gravelly creamy plummy scent and a cogent, dense, energetic flavour profile. 8-8.5/10
Château Gruaud Larose 2009, St Julien, 13.5% – elegant savoury smoky defined fruit flavours with a lifted, precise finish. Focused, grounded, mineral and savoury, a star. 8-8.5/10
Château Kirwan 2009, Margaux, 13.5% – elegant toasty savoury nose with a harmonious, layered flavour profile. Very impressive. 8(-8.5)/10
Château Angelus 2009, St Emilion, 14.5% – not my favourite style, floral and high-toned, with plush fruit and spicy breadth. Fleshy, but with decent grounding. 8/10
Château Cheval-Blanc 2009, St Emilion, 14% – fleshy, chalky and broad. It’s not my favourite style, though it may come round with time. 8/10
Château Duhart-Milon 2009, Pauillac, 13.5% – carnal and vigorous, punches above its weight. Spicy, intense, still needs some time to settle down but plenty of incipient complexity here. 8/10
Château Batailley 2009, Pauillac, 13% – spicy, smoky, sappy and energetic – but definitely in the right proportions. Really good. 7.5-8/10
Château Desmirail 2009, Margaux, 13% – toasty, sappy aromas with an elegant, gravelly, long palate. A sleeper. 7.5-8/10
Château Giscours 2009, Margaux, 13% – super fragrant in a leafy, smoky style. Vigorous, punchy, needs time to flesh out but it has the tangy concentration to do so. (7.5-8)/10
Château Haut-Brion 2009, Péssac-Léognan, 14.5% – aromas are somewhat muddled and soupy, in the context. The palate is better: fine, mineral, impressive. But a bit hollow at the level, lacking in focus. 8-7.5/10
Château Brane-Cantenac 2009, Margaux, 13.5% – earthy, leafy aromas with a classic, refreshing, four-square flavour profile. 7.5/10
Château d’Armailhac 2009, Pauillac, 13.5% – classic open savoury elegant style. Give it a couple of years yet. 7.5/10
Château Climens 2009, Barsac, 13.5% – doesn’t seem hugely botrytis but it’s classic, lithe, lusch and cogent. Wonderful balance and poise. 7.5/10
Château Clinet 2009, Pomerol, 14% – plush, nicely judged, super correct. Lacks thrill and edge but this will have broad appeal. 7.5/10
Château Figeac 2009, St Emilion, 13.5% – a rare case of restraint on the Right Bank, the slightly sulfurous, waxy, nutty aromas are validated by a spicy, savoury, balanced flavour profile. Impressive in the context. 7.5/10
Château Haut-Batailley 2009. Pauillac, 13.5% – understated, well grounded style, young but with elegantly defined smoky dark fruit. 7.5/10
Château Langoa-Barton 2009, St Julien, 13% – creamy tobacco and roasted pepper come together with a firm, dense, fine fruited palate profile. Young but cogent. 7.5/10
Château Lascombes 2009, Margaux, 14% – OK so it’s a bigger, plusher style that lapses slightly into excess but it also has a lovely tobacco-scented elegance to it. 7.5/10
Château Léoville-Barton 2009, St Julien, 13% – classic stuff, super fine, tense, young and yet winning. 7.5/10
Château Prieuré-Lichine 2009, Margaux, 14% – smoky, elegantly drying, focused. 7.5/10
Domaine de Chevalier 2009, Graves, 13.5% – smoky, layered, plush but energetic, needs to settle. 7.5/10
Château Beauregard 2009, Pomerol, 13.5% – cassis, plum, cedar and tobacco aromas lead into a fine, dense palate. Appetizing. 7-7.5/10
Château Rauzan-Gassies 2009, margaux, 13.5% – complex, floral and savoury aromas lead into a slightly rustic but engaging palate presence. 7-7.5/10
Château Dassault 2009, St Emilion, 14.5% – its rich plumminess is kept in check by a juicy, fine-grained foundation. 7/10
Château du Tertre 2009, Margaux, 13% – perfumed yet sinewy, refreshing. 7/10