Last week was hectic. I tasted over 1000 wines throughout the Bordeaux region. I was there to assess the 2009 wines, which were picked last September and October. This is an annual event, which takes place in early April. The wines are real 'babies' as they are still in early development stages. The wines have fully fermented and are at the stage when they are being aged in barrels. Many wines will age for another 12 or 14 months, so they will change and develop again. But this tasting of Primeur (or as the Americans like to say 'Futures') is a good indication of the future quality of the vintage.
2009 Viticultural Year
The Spring was quite late in 2009, with cooler temperatures and threat of disease in the vines until early June. However the Summer from mid June was great. A long dry spell, interspersed with occasional, but necessary, rain during July, August and September. High day time temperatures were complemented by cool nights (which are just as important for flavor and tannin development).
There were problems with two hail storms that effected vineyards in parts of Saint Emilion (Chateau Trottevieille in particular), extensively in the Entre Deux Mers and also in the southern part of the Margaux appellation. Hail is a very precise and frustrating enemy of a vineyard owner.
Generally the growing season was near perfect. The day time heat and the cool nights were the key factors.
At harvest time the grapes were abundant and in extremely good health. The only issue as Bruno Borie (at Ch. Ducru Beaucaillou) said:
'The grapes were analytically ripe at the beginning of September. They were healthy and full. But the pips were not fully ripe. We were helped by a light shower of rain in mid September, which washed the grapes, but did not effect the alcohol level. This purely held us back from the vineyard for a few days. When we started picking, we could not believe the quality and freshness of the grapes.'
Some people may say that is when the hype began for this vintage!!
But paraphrasing a top chef....you can only make good wine from good grapes.
From the first day of tasting the quality was exceptional. There is one thing looking for deep spicey concentration, but another matter is working out the current balance of fruit and tannin versus the acidity. Tasting very young wines one is really not looking for immediate enjoyment. One is looking for potential charm in 5, 10, 15 or 30 years time. Will the fruit last? Are the fruits too stewed? Is the acidity balanced with the fruit intensity?
There were undoubtedly a few 'over the top' styles with high alcohol levels (sometimes up to 15 degrees). And there were a few stewed fruits styles. But these were very few and far between. I see no value in trying sweeping statements such as 'this is a right bank or left bank vintage', as the quality of the grapes was good throughout Bordeaux.
I will write more detailed tasting notes at a later stage. However here are a selection of 15 of my top wines:
Margaux.......sublime balance and concentration. Ripe and voluptuous, but only 13.1 degrees alc.
Lafite.........darker, more brooding but fantastic.
Vieux Chateau Certan.......elegant and layers of fruit.
Grand Puy Lacoste.......a forward purple fruit style, delicious.
Montrose.........a bit of a monster, but fun.
Ducru Beaucaillou..........BIG wine, but also balanced. A wine for the long haul.
Pontet Canet.........smaller yield due to biodynamics and also small grapes, but great charm.
Lynch Bages........deep excellent Cabernet.
Smith Haut Lafite........well balanced and delicate mineral structure.
Talbot.........loved the balance and layers of fruit.
Figeac......a surprise as this Chateaux does not always show well early, but classy wine.
La Gaffeliere.....light, elegant terroir style rather than overblown. Very classy.
Lascombes....this Chateaux is back on track. Great balance and deep spicey crimson dark cherry.
du Tertre.....Prefered this to its stable mate Giscours. Perhaps the 15% Cab Franc adds charm?
I also tasted a broad selection of over 50 Graves dry whites and sweeter Sauternes and Barsac wines. I visited Chateau Climens, Suduiraut and Chateau d'Yquem. The botrytis cinerea seemed to work very well in 2009 in order to get the deep sweeter flavours. The harvest was condensed into a frenetic 8 day period of picking in mid October. Again there is a fresh quality aspect to the wines. I adored the Chateau Yquem. I could easily enjoy the intense orange peel, toasty brioche characters early as well as leaving it to age for another 50-100 years!
These are initial notes/thoughts. I would be happy to provide more detailed notes. I will also write soon about the current market and the potential release prices.
I will be trading many of these wines (and more) as soon as the prices are released from the Chateaux. Drop me an email if you would like further information.