Tasting the best of Bordeaux 2009
Chateau Prieure Lichine.
Yet another ‘Vintage of the Century’ – 27 to come THE SCHUSTER REPORT – AN EXCLUSIVE TASTING.
T An en primeur primer This is a method for purchasing wine early – effectively ‘wine futures’. Essentially, the wines are offered for sale before they have been bottled and punters agree to hand over their cash in advance of receiving the wine, (for Bordeaux about 12 months from the harvest). Why? En primeur is potentially the best opportunity to obtain wines from a great vintage, (that’s why we get the hype) such as Bordeaux 2000 and now 2009. Crucially wines may be considerably cheaper during the en primeur period than they will be once bottled and released on the market. For example, the 1982 vintage of Château Latour was sold at $600 a case en primeur in 1983, while valued in 2007 at $21,000. When it works well it can provide a means for the restaurateur to obtain fine wines at a less extortionate price. Unfortunately it doesn’t always work, there is no guarantee and some wines can and do lose value over time. And beware there are also con men out there. Therefore always deal with a reputable well-established merchant or better still, stick with just one or two famous names.
he ‘en primeur’ campaign for the ’09 Bordeaux vintage in the summer of 2010 appears to bear similarities to those of 2006 for the ’05 vintage or 2001 summer for the wine of 2000. All have been hailed as the “vintage of the century”. The wines of each of the three vintages were backed by high scores and praise by the wine press on both sides of the Atlantic. But aside from the euphoria of the growers, makers and marketers, wine collectors could be forgiven for feeling just a little jaded. On closer inspection, despite the arguable quality of these fine vintages, the wines themselves and the economic climate (in all key markets) for fine Bordeaux could not be more different. The famous trio of the vintages in question all produced superbly ripened grapes expressed in generously flavoured, full bodied tannic wines. But three once-ina-century events in 10 years – yeah right. The ’05s, perhaps the most robust and opulent, came closest to Californian models from Napa, the 2000, whilst robust and tannic, retained more of the typical classical Bordeaux style and structure. The ’09 seems to stay within the Bordeaux frame, combining the firm tannins
of the ’82 with the aromatic quality and sensuous texture of the 2000s. Deceptively supple in generous fruit texture, the ’09s are structured with massive tannins and flavour concentration reminiscent of the great past vintages of 1959 or even 1947 in their youth. The wines tasted certainly appear fresher than the ’05s did at same age, even though the ’09s seem to have less acidity. Their apparent early drinkability may well be the result of their remarkable concentration of aroma and flavour, as well as their high levels of super-ripe, fine grain tannins. Time will tell, but they may well age into great, (and I mean great), bottles of wine with age. So is the ’09 the vintage of the century? Who knows, wait another 90 years and find out. But is the ’09 the vintage of the decade? Very likely. So for what it is worth, and they will be worth a lot, these are the ’09 wines (ex barrel tasted – this European summer 2010) that show the greatest early potential. They are listed by commune but in no specific order. ST. ESTEPHE: Cos D’Estournel, CalonSegur, Montrose, Phelan-Segur, Les
Photos: Paul Treacher - Ballande New Zealand Limited
The 2009 Bordeaux Season
Chateau Prieure Lichine barrel cellar during fermentation.
Ormes de Pez and Tronquoy-Lalande, Margaux, Margaux palmer, BraneCantenac, D’Angludet, Malescot St Exupery, Rauzan-Segla and Siran. PAUILLAC: The big three – Lafite, Latour and Mouton, plus Grand Puy Lacoste, Lynch-Bages, Pichon-Baron, Pichon-Lalande, Clerc-Milon and Pontet-Canet. ST. JULIEN: Ducru-Beacaillou, GruaudLarose, Lagrange, Leoville-Barton, Leoville-Lascases and Leoville-Poyferre. GRAVES (white): Carbonieux, HautBrion, La Mission Haut-Brion, Domaine de Chevalier and Smith Haut-Lafitte. GRAVES (red): Haut-Brion, La Mission Haut-Brion, Haut-Bailly, Pape-Clement, Smith Haut-Lafitte and Domaine de Chevalier. SAUTERNES/ BARSAC: This was another fine vintage for the sweet wines in both areas. ’09 appears richer textured than the ’07 or ’08, and perhaps less opulent but more aromatic than the excellent ’05. Reminiscent of 2001 and due to good yields should be well priced. Doisy-Daene, Doisy-Vedrines,
Guiraud, Coutet, Suduiraut and LatourBlanche are all very good. POMEROL: Clos L’Englise, FeytitClinet, Gazin, Petrus, Lafleur-Petrus, La Pointe, Lafleur Pomerol, Le Gay, La Violette, Nenin and Trotanoy. ST. EMILION: Canon-LaGaffeliere, Pavie-Decesse, Ausone, Cheval Blanc, La Mondotte, Madelaine, Angelus, Beausejour, Canon, Figeac, Clos Fourtet, Pavie, Larcis-Ducasse, L’Arosee, PavieMacquin and Troplong-Mondot. From the point of view of hedonistic wine drinkers, the ’09 will deliver quality at a high price. For those looking for value in the ’09s, seek out the second labels of the top growths or, at a fraction of the cost of the three superstar years of the past decade, enjoy the wines from the earlier developing ’01, ’06 or ’08 vintages. But for those seeking value amongst the fine ’09s, (if there is one to be found amongst bottles on the shelves), seek out: Cantemerle, Latour de By, De Gironville, La Lagune, Chasse-Spleen, Palmer’s Alter Ego, Pavillon Rouge of Margaux, Croix du Beaucaillou, Clos du Marquis de Leoville Lascases, Le Forts de Latour, Pagodes de Cos D’Estournell or Chapelle de Auson.
The weather in 2009, unlike the super hot 2003 or hot and dry 2005, was balanced to perfection without the extremes of either. The cold winter with ample rainfall, an average timing of bud-burst, followed by sunny but moderate conditions prior to flowering gave little indication of what was to come. For many the flowering/set proved fine, for others hailstorms in mid-May dropped the yield by half or more, with the most affected of fine wine areas being a section of Margaux, northern Graves and eastern parts of St. Emilion. From end of June on the sunny and dry conditions prevailed leading to a long and trouble-free harvest period in September to end of October. Yields throughout were low to moderate with the minimal green harvest required by most growers, harvest condition for both white and red were as good as any in the past 20 years. The vintage was a little late, stretching for reds to end of October on the left bank (Medoc) and a little earlier for the right bank where merlot and cabernet franc dominate. The downside in ‘09, apart from the crop losses to hail for some, proved to be the timing of the harvest with some slightly under-ripe (green) early harvested cabernets seen in Medoc and overripe, even jammy merlots in the wines of the right bank. High alcohol apart, the best wines of the ’09 vintage have the balance, concentration and ample tannins to achieve longevity and eventual greatness with their terroir-specific typicality being an added bonus.
Danny Schuster looks at the 2009 Bordeaux vintage and takes an opportunity to taste the wines from the great labels’ pre-release.