Bordeaux 2010 En Primeur - The Best Yet?
We thought 2005 to be a landmark wine vintage, unlikely to be matched for a generation, then along came 2009 to rival and in some cases surpass it. A week of wine tasting in Bordeaux leads me to believe that 2010 may well overtake them both, and I cannot recall a more thrilling week’s tasting in terms of the quality of the wines.
Red Bordeaux wines contain, principally, fruit, alcohol, tannin and acid. The Holy Grail for winemakers is to achieve a perfect harmony between these various elements, thus creating what we merchants call ‘balance’ in our sometimes arcane wine terminology.
So how does 2010 fare? Everything starts with the weather, and as ever I am deeply indebted to the comprehensive report prepared annually by négociant Bill Blatch which provides such an essential insight into why the wines turned out as they have. The growing season was extremely dry, in some cases the driest since 1949, so the grapes were small with thick skins. This created immense concentration of fruit, and also of tannins, which are found in the skins.
The summer was also warm, so sugar levels reached quite elevated levels, especially in the Médoc. Sugar determines the alcohol level, so the risk would be that the grapes produce wines which are very concentrated, very tannic and high in alcohol. In theory these would be heavy, ponderous wines, unless acidity can redress the balance, and this is where Nature came to the rescue. Cool nights in August and September helped to maintain a high level of acidity in the grapes; highly apparent in the finished wine, this acidity is the final piece of the jigsaw which has imbued the wines with amazing freshness, creating perfect balance.
Asked to name a similar past vintage I struggle, as did several proprietors, since the vintage breaks records in terms of the measurement of tannin, acidity and concentration. If pushed, I would say it has similarities to 2005 but with every element possessing greater intensity. Older heads speak of 1966, a classic year which has lasted very well, but it is such a unique vintage that it seems invidious to seek comparisons.
Summarising, we can be sure it is a great vintage, but not uniformly so. Some estates sought to extract more tannin and colour from the skins and created tannic, alcoholic monsters wholly lacking in charm and digestibility. With grapes so laden with all the ingredients needed to make fine wine there was no need for excessive intervention on the part of the winemaker, and the best producers maintained a very light touch on the tiller.
while at Ch. du Tertre the complete removal of Cabernet Franc from the blend in favour of a much higher percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon has yielded an extraordinary wine, comfortably the best of the modern era for this rejuvenated property.
St Julien wines are the epitome of effortless consistency; so many wines are outstanding that to pick out any seems unfair but:
St Emilion is a little more mixed; the tendency to seek to produce blockbuster wines persists amongst a few estates, and some of the most obvious examples of excessive, dry tannins occurred here. Nevertheless there are some glorious successes:
Ch. Ausone, including its junior wines, and Ch. Cheval Blanc are sumptuous,
Ch. la Mission Haut-Brion sits a touch ahead of Ch. Haut-Brion at this early stage in my estimation, and shows how a high degree (15.1%!) need not make the wine feel heavy if it is well balanced, as is eminently the case here.
Words can scarcely convey how much I admire the way in which the great terroirs of Domaine de Chevalier and Ch. Haut-Bailly express themselves in their wines. These are truly complex, majestic wines, the epitome of understated elegance, yet with enormous intensity and great length.