One of the joys of coming to Bordeaux to taste the primeurs is that it is a voyage of discovery, an opportunity primarily to learn about the wines, but it is an experience that can also – like any extensive tasting I suppose – teach you much about your own palate. These two facets of the week are what fascinates me; how many tens of thousands of words you can churn out, whilst important to those who live by numbers and statistics, is irrelevant if you fail to take home a message about the vintage. I’ve only been here two days, and have focused almost exclusively on the left bank, but there is a strong message coming through here already.
That message began with the Haut-Brion properties two days ago, where the wines did not excite me in the way they did some others. And I found more disappointing wines yesterday which continued the tale. First though, a quick aside: did someone at the back say there was no point in travelling to Bordeaux when it was obviously such a great vintage and all the wines would be perfect anyway? Wrong! Wrong, wrong, wrong! Just as wrong as those who last year disregarded 2008 because the weather had been suboptimal (“why bother going” they said, “the wines will be crap”), and yet when I tasted here last year I found a wealth of fresh, crystalline and crisply fruited wines which were well priced. I was happy to snap up the obvious bargains when they were released, and of course anyone else who read my notes could have done the same.
This year it is the same – only this time the task at hand is to weed out the failures amongst a largely successful vintage. With this in mind, I have tasted a number of wines today with overt alcohol on the palate, wines which are disjointed, unbalanced and over-extracted. And occasionally quite volatile. These are the weak spots of the vintage. And the common thread running through all (all but one anyway – more on that later) of these wines? They are Merlot dominant, specifically left-bank Merlot. Unsure about Haut-Brion and Merlot? Well, Haut-Brion this year is 46% Merlot, La Mission 47% Merlot, and the two red second wines have similar percentages. And the other displeasing wines today and also from Merlot-dominant communes, specifically St Estèphe and the Médoc. Where the wine is (a) left bank and (b) based on Cabernet Sauvignon, it can be magnificent though, so there are indeed some truly great wines in this vintage.
One anomaly (the one in my ‘all but one’) in this half-time summation however is Cos d’Estournel. Not a total anomaly of course, because the grand vin is 33% Merlot this year, more than many more successful wines where the Merlot is more likely to be somewhere between a few percent and 20%. Big, bold, full of overt alcohol, with a prodigious wall of hard tannins alongside, I found this a very difficult wine to get along with. Others loved it of course, so clearly it is a matter of taste. It is not just the tannins that trouble me though, as Ducru yesterday had a similar wealth of tannin; but it also had a sense of vigour, of better precision, rather than the big ball of alcohol sitting in the mouth that Cos d’Estournel presented. It is not a wine I would enjoy drinking….and it will be fantastically expensive. Who wants to place bets on this wine being released at less than 1000 Euros?
Enough of this picking out the weak spots though. I will end this quick update with my wine of the vintage. Well, wine of the vintage so far, anyway. To give it some context, today as well as Cos I tasted at Calon-Ségur, Lafite (the wines were presented at Duhart-Milon for a change), Mouton, Sociando-Mallet, Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pontet-Canet (I managed to shoe-horn this into our group’s schedule), Léoville-Las-Cases (where I tasted the new second wine, Le Petit Lion – shown left – which wins the 2009 award for most fabulously naff label hands-down) and also the Médoc tasting at Batailley, taking in the likes of the two Pichons, the other two Léovilles, Gruaud and so on. The wine that beats them all hands down, however, is Latour. This is a wine that will move you to tears should you have the opportunity to taste it. I won’t present my full note here, but this had such a massively built composition, which never seemed to put a foot wrong, that it blew the competition – meaning the other first growths – straight out of the water. What an amazing, emotional rollercoaster of a wine. Let’s hope this sort of success can be repeated on the right bank where I suspect – from my very limited exposure to relevant wines – the Merlot has been handled better than on the left bank.
And so today, we have: the Moueix tasting, minus Petrus which is presented at the chateau from this year on, then Cheval-Blanc, Eglise-Clinet, Petrus, Pavie, Ausone and the generic St Emilion (always a big scrum) and Pomerol (discrete, with just a handful of wines shown) followed up by Yquem. I will report back, all being well, tomorrow.