Bordeaux 2010 En Primeur - The Best Yet? St Julien wines
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.
Stylistically the vintage is totally different to 2009; the tannins, acidity and concentration will ensure great longevity, and it will not be as approachable in youth as the gorgeously seductive, opulent 2009s.
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.
Read the report on the white Bordeaux wines for the 2010 vintage here
2010 Bordeaux - Red Wines by Appellation
Volumes will be greatly reduced because of the drought, possibly by as much as 20% in places. So where are the best reds to be found?
are the epitome of effortless consistency; so many wines are outstanding that to pick out any seems unfair but: The Pauillac wine appellation
brought forth a cornucopia of superlatives;
- the 1st Growths are dazzling,
- Ch. Pontet-Canet close to that level of quality,
- while the naturally-induced extra concentration seems to have propelled Ch. Lynch Bages to a new pinnacle of quality.
In the St Estephe wine appellation
- Cos d’Estournel looks to be the clear pick,
- but at a more modest level a star buy will be Ch. le Crock, a Cru Bourgeois in the same ownership as Ch. Léoville-Poyferré.
Across the river Pomerol has produced an array of dazzling wines
- Vieux Château Certan, despite not using grapes from its old Cabernet Franc vines, has produced a real masterpiece,
- while La Conseillante, Nenin, Petit Village and Le Pin are all properties where the relatively high alcohol has been expertly handled so that the wines retain lovely balance and freshness.
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:
The Pessac-Léognan wine appellation
- Ch. Ausone, including its junior wines, and Ch. Cheval Blanc are sumptuous,
- Ch. Figeac a model of finesse and elegance,
- Ch. Angélus brilliantly harmonious and long,
- while Nicolas Thienpont has produced an outstanding Ch. Pavie Macquin
- and, one of our favourites of the entire vintage on the Right Bank, Ch. Beauséjour Duffau Lagarosse.
was, as usual our last port of call, and a source of some exceptional wines.
- 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.