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2009 Red Bordeaux

Bordeaux 2009 is a brilliant vintage in which certain châteaux have crafted truly exceptional wines that match, and in a few cases eclipse, their amazing 2005s.

In a nutshell they are simply gorgeous to taste, and may well remain so throughout their lives, such is the ripeness of both fruit and tannin.  One can imagine drinking them young to enjoy the exuberance of the fruit, but much greater pleasure will be obtained through the exercise of patience. Above all, one of the most surprising facts about the vintage is the way in which the massive concentration is offset by a beguiling freshness in the best wines.
The Weather
As ever, any such assessment starts with the weather, for which I am greatly indebted to the observations of Bill Blatch of Vintex, a negociant of 30 years experience, and an acknowledged expert in the world of Sauternes, whose annual weather report yields such a deep insight into the eventual style of the vintage. Broadly speaking the weather was exceptionally benign through most of the growing season.

Flowering generally took place in perfect conditions, and then followed a long period of very dry, sunny weather, but without the excesses of heat which marked 2003. By August some well-drained vineyards were beginning to show signs of hydric stress, while the sugar levels in the grapes approached hitherto unseen levels.

Localised rain in the third week of September proved very welcome as it helped maintain the vegetative cycle; in some areas, by September 21st, roughly when the Merlot harvest began on the Left Bank and in the later-picking Right Bank estates, the grapes displayed very high sugar levels but the tannins remained largely unripe.

Some growers panicked at this point and rushed to pick, fearful of seeing potential alcohol levels go through the roof. They then sought to compensate with longer- than-usual maceration to extract more fruit, only to find their wines over-burdened with dry, austere tannins. Those who held their nerve were rewarded, as a further week of dry weather helped to ripen the tannins fully, while cool nights helped to preserve important balancing acidity and, crucially, to maintain freshness in the eventual wine.

The long, drawn-out dry weather in September, continuing into early October, enabled the Cabernets to ripen fully and to develop immense complexity, and it is no surprise to see some extraordinary wines on the Left Bank, and in those estates on the Right Bank where there is a good percentage of Cabernet grapes. The drought has reduced yields generally, as did some violent hailstorms in May, particularly in St. Emilion, and the small size of the berries has led to a high solids-liquid ratio in the vats, with record levels of tannins in many of the wines we tasted.

High tannin alone is, of course, not an indication of quality, nor is an elevated alcoholic percentage necessarily a negative; what is important is the quality of the tannins, and how they fit into the structure of the wine. Time after time we noted fantastically ripe tannins, providing the basis for great longevity while making no unwelcome, aggressive intrusion into the perception of the wine on the palate.

The Wines

As a result the overriding impression is of a seamless, rich texture in the mouth, preceded by glorious opulent aromas of ripe, black fruits, and, in the best examples, a refreshing minerality and terroir expression on the palate, with enough acidity to provide balance on the finish.

Alcohol levels on the Left Bank are well above 13%, unusually high, but rarely did I find any wines unbalanced as a result, such is the depth of their concentration and completeness of harmony.

On the Right Bank, where alcohol levels frequently exceeded 14%, there is more of a problem, with some wines exhibiting heady aromas and elements of heat on the finish. Those properties in St. Emilion and Pomerol which have avoided this pitfall deserve enormous credit for producing wine of freshness and balance in the prevailing conditions. Far too many, however, are disjointed, with harsh tannins out of harmony with the rest of the wine, for 2009 to be considered uniformly great on this side of the river.

2009 lacks the homogeneity and consistency of 2005, but it is nevertheless clear that some estates, notably in Pauillac, Margaux and St. Julien, have made dazzling wines which are marginally superior even to their justly-lauded 2005s

Alun Griffiths MW (12.04.2010)

Read on here for the 2009 vintage assessment of White Bordeaux wines

Read further reports on the vintage:

2009 Red Bordeaux