John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for October 27th 2012
Bordeaux 2009; Top Ten Smart Buys; A Trio for Collectors
’09 Bordeaux: The Real and True Vintage of the Century
As early as Spring 2010, the 2009 vintage in Bordeaux was being heralded as yet another “vintage of the century”, after the same was said previously of 2000 and 2005 (and later of 2010) – it’s been quite a century so far. Within the wine trade, such Bordelaïc hyperbole (my invented word) has become an old and overused joke. But more alarmingly, it has required wine writers to resort to the thesaurus in search of new words to describe the ever-greater grandeur (splendor, magnificence, majesty…) of the real and true vintage of the century. It’s sort of like the problem one runs into after scoring a wine a perfect 100 points, only to come across an even better wine later on, an inconvenience that can only be resolved by arbitrarily raising the bar to 110 points. Perhaps in another 20 years we will all be scoring on James Halliday’s 200 point scale.
Read on for more industry commentary on the 2009 vintage, and my best bets of the 20-odd Bordeaux in the October 27th Vintages release. You’ll also find some cracking values in the Top Ten Smart Buys, and a trio of highly collectible reds for the cellar.
In Praise of 2009
You, and everyone else, can be forgiven for the largesse of praise heaped on 2009 Bordeaux. With comments such as the following from respected industry leader Paul Pontallier, speaking of his 2009 Château Margaux: “2009 combines qualities that I have never scene: power and concentration. Our ‘09 is the most powerful wine we have ever made, including the legendary 1961 and 1947. These are undoubtedly the best young reds in the Médoc ever tasted”
It would be hard not to get excited. Other towering figures from the Bordeaux wine scene like Christian Moueix, of Pétrus, among other châteaux, joined the rally with “I have never seen anything like it in my career”, while Thomas Dô-Chi-Nam, winemaker at Pichon-Lalande, one of my personal favorite châteaux, said more matter-of-factly: “It is my best harvest ever”. [The last two quotes lifted from the Wine Spectator’s 2009 harvest report; Pontallier’s quotes are from my interview with him in May of 2010].
So is 2009 all that special after all, or just a very good vintage that needed a little marketing hype to help inflate prices after the softening of 2007 and 2008?
This would be tempting to believe, were it not for an equal measure of outsider excitement. 2009 was rather unique in that the main wine critics on both sides of the Atlantic were unanimous in their praise of the vintage and seemed to agree on the top wines. This is in contrast to many previous vintages in which the wines were more polarizing, underscoring “Euro” and “American” palate differences. But Robert Parker, the only man who really matters on the subject, had this to say: “ may turn out to be the finest vintage I have tasted in 32 years of covering Bordeaux.” Not unequivocal words, but not particularly ambiguous, either. He was excited.
Scraping the Barrel for Value
One thing is certain: the 2009s are expensive. The prices of the top wines are well beyond the LCBO-Vintages price range, and mine too (for which I don’t blame the châteaux entirely; Bordeaux pricing is the most convoluted in the world of wine, and in some cases, a wine may pass through four hands or more from château to consumer). Even the futures [pre-release] prices were staggering; the first growths all hovered around $1300 per bottle (see the original Vintages Futures offer here)
So with your financial well being at heart, Vintages has selected a middling range of moderately priced 2nd labels, or second or third tier châteaux from appellations beyond the marquee names, to fill out the October 27th release. About twenty 2009 Bordeaux will be hitting the LCBO Vintages shelves, giving you a chance to decide for yourself whether the vintage really is all that. Though keep in mind that it’s not a full view of 2009; the top kit is most definitely not here. Yet in such great vintages, even the unheralded wines are supposed to shine, aren’t they? Admittedly, I saw little evidence of that in this release.
To give some benefit of the doubt, I’ll say that in general, despite the apparent immediate deliciousness of the 2009s out of barrel when all of the above comments were made, many wines seemed to have closed down, and are currently going through the ‘dumb phase’ that you often read about. But it’s not mere double talk to excuse poor wines; no one can adequately explain why, but certain wines unquestionably go through a period when they are less expressive and less pleasant to drink. In late September 2012, most of the 2009s offered little aromatic intensity or complexity, just an awkward amalgam of fruit and oak. Palates were often hard, tight and unyielding. It was not an enjoyable tasting. The best of even these relatively inexpensive wines need half a dozen years or more to fully knit together; I can only imagine the top wines are even more unruly at the moment. I suspect that tasting this same range in 2018 would yield much more pleasurable results (and probably higher scores, too).
But on the other hand, looking back at my notes, I’ve written time and again “a-typical Bordeaux” and “outside the box”. In fact, strip away the names of the wines and read only the tasting notes, and I could easily convince myself that I had been tasting a flight of California cabernet blends: “ultra ripe fruit”; “plum jam”; “raisined fruit”; “hot and harsh”; “thick, mouth-coating tannins”, and similar, turns of phrase rarely applied to “classic” Bordeaux. Or maybe I’m just behind the times, and this is what 21st century Bordeaux is all about. Whatever the case, I think it’s a shame. If I wanted California-style flavours and intensity, I’d rather buy California, since they do it better and more consistently. Where once California did everything possible to emulate Bordeaux (and failed, thankfully), now the reverse appears to be happening, and doomed to the same failure. Bring on the 2006 and 2008 Bordeaux, those were fun wines.
The Best Bets of the Lot
There are nonetheless a few ‘09s in this release worth buying, if only to later prove myself wrong. Funnily enough one of my favorite wines of the release was a white, the Château de Cruzeau Blanc, Pessac-Léognan ($27.95). Cruzeau is a familiar label for LCBO customers, a wine from the Lurton stable that has been in the province for years. I loved the marvelously perfumed nose, a textbook example of the region, with its basil and tarragon-inflected lemon/citrus fruit, bees’ wax and soft pear and nectarine notes. A classy wine all around, for fans of classic Bordeaux blanc.
At the upper end of the price scale, my pick goes to the La Dame de Malescot, Margaux ($49.95), the 2nd Wine of Château Malescot St-Exupéry. There’s little to go by on the nose – all wood and black cherry notes for now – but the palate is obviously densely packed with flavour, abundant tannins and balanced acidity and alcohol. It has the stuffing to improve significantly over the next 3-5 years and beyond, though will likely never attain the finesse for which Margaux is known I suspect.
Better value overall is the Château Larose Trintaudon, Haut-Médoc ($24.95), a rare ’09 Bordeaux with a little more freshness and refinement than many, without excessive oak or concentration. Tannins and acid work in harmony on the palate to create a pleasant, grippy but appealing texture; a refined, stylish wine all around, better in 2-4 years.
And very nearly as good value is the Christian Moueix Pomerol ($29.95). This wine has rarely excited in the past; it’s always solid but never remarkable. But in this obviously high-potential vintage it seems the Moueix family was too busy trying to stuff as much as possible into their other more expensive wines, and simply left this moderately priced Pomerol to do its thing. Fruit is ripe to be sure, but stays on the right side of the ripeness continuum, while wood supports rather than dominates – a prime example of how a wine aimed at a modest end of the market can over-deliver in a vintage such as 2009. Drink now or hold for a decade – such is the nature of well-balanced wines. (See the rest of the Best Bets from 2009 Bordeaux here.)
Top Ten Smart Buys: Highlights
Fans of bone-dry, slightly idiosyncratic champagne will want to pick up some of the Tarlant Zéro Brut Nature Champagne ($44.95). It has a terrific nose chalk full of minerality with a well-measured mix of citrus, floral, wet hay, honey, and nutty-almond character. Zéro means no dosage (no sugar added) and the palate is indeed bone dry as advertised, though the wine is anything but lean and shrill. There’s a fine, vinous quality, with sufficient richness and flavour intensity to soften the edges while retaining the riveting tightness of the un-dosed style. A wine lover’s champagne, at a great price for the quality on offer.
Prosecco drinkers will rejoice with the Bisol Crede Brut Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore ($19.95). Bisol is always a step above the mean, and this, their “entry level”, has marvelous perfume, classic for the variety, full of fragrant pear and green apple, lemon blossom and fresh, sweet green herbs. The palate is fullish, creamy yet fresh, with excellent intensity and vinosity. This is certainly priced in the premium range for the category, but well worth it in my view; when I was purchasing this on consignment for restaurant clients it was several dollars more; it appears the LCBO effectively squeezed the producer and agent.
New Zealand Reds
New Zealand delivers are pair of fine values: 2010 Alpha Domus The Barnstormer Syrah, Hawkes Bay, ($22.95) and 2010 Hunter’s Pinot Noir, Wairau Valley ($21.95). The former is classic cool climate syrah with smoky character, and no small measure of black pepper, cassis and fresh black berry fruit flavours, while the latter is a clearly ripe and substantial example, meaty and succulent, though with recognizable kiwi pinot noir character.
Old World Duo
There are two fine, mid-week priced reds to watch out for: the soft, fruity, highly pleasant, easy-drinking modern Rioja from Palacios Remondo 2011 La Vendimia, ($14.95), and the wild, savoury, southern France 2010 Domaine Puig-Parahy Cuvee Georges, Côtes du Roussillon ($15.95), quite a ride for $16. Think fall/winter braised dishes. (See the full Top Ten here.)
For the Cellar
And finally, collectors with some disposable income should consider these three highly cellar-worthy reds (with my estimated prime drinking window):
2008 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($144.95, drink 2018-2030)
2009 Antinori Solaia, Tuscany ($251.95, drink 2018-2034)
2007 Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley (375ml $39.95, drink 2015-2025)
Gourmet Food & Wine Show
Don’t miss the annual Szabo vs Szabo no holds barred jiyu kumite (with wine, not swords) at the Gourmet Food and Wine Show on Friday, November 16th, 7:30-9pm.
Cutting Edge Wines
John Szabo MS & Zoltan Szabo
$95 | 7:30 – 9:00 Friday November 16th, 2012
The dynamic duo of master tasters returns for what promises to be another sold-out seminar. John and Zoltan both currently work with the famed Trump Hotel in Toronto while they continue to consult, write, judge and travel. As leading sommeliers for over a decade, they are in tune with the most progressive winemakers, interesting grapes and dynamic new wine regions. Learn from Canada’s foremost wine experts as they present eight cutting-edge wines. Order Tickets here.
John Szabo, Master Sommelier
From the October 27, 2012 Vintages release: