Bordeaux 2010: Yet Another Vintage of the Century?
Bordeaux 2010 – A joint report by Sara d’Amato and Julian Hitner
Classic, timeless, elegant and powerful are adjectives that spring to mind immediately at the thought of the great wines of Bordeaux. So, however, do expensive, austere and snobby. The multi-faceted wines of this most revered wine region engender both respect and awe but also intimidation and distrust. Notably this skepticism is felt at the onset of another “vintage of the century” – as the 2010s have been hailed – and soaring prices reflective of this fact have left many collectors uncertain about whether the prices are worth the purchase again this year.
The yearly UGC (Union des Grands Crus) tasting finally touched down in Toronto last week, affording collectors a chance to taste for themselves this highly touted vintage on the back of a vintage of similar praiseworthiness. The Union des Grands Cru is a collective of 134 Châteaux across seven of the most prestigious and highly valued appellations of Bordeaux. Worldwide sales of this collective of producers are valued at $415 million per annum and represent over 5,000 hectares of planted vine. The wines of the upcoming vintage release are showcased every year in major cities across the US, Canada, Asia and Europe and tend to be quite representative of the overall quality of the vintage. Here in Toronto, the event is organized through VINTAGES and is set up as a “taste and buy” experience. Of course, the wines are not yet available in the market, so this is a preview for buyers and critics alike and a chance to purchase “futures”. (For details on how to purchase these futures in Ontario, click on this link to VINTAGES.com)
Julian Hitner and I were both present at this year’s “en primeur” tasting and are pleased to share our impressions. Julian has a true passion for Bordeaux and was able to taste many of the wines in London prior to our tasting here in Toronto. His notes are extremely comprehensive, well-informed, and have been uploaded with mine under 2010 Bordeaux on WineAlign. Following my comments are Julian’s recommended best values, which show distinctive and important differences throughout the left and right bank.
My personal interest in Bordeaux stems from time spent as an oenology stagière on the right bank in 2004. Having had the chance to visit many of the properties and develop a greater understanding of winemaking culture and politics, I continue to be enthralled by the powerful and deep-rooted heritage of this most influential of wine regions.
This year’s tasting featured an undeniably outstanding vintage whose praise is well justified, although price remains a contentious issue. Sandrine Bégaud, Public Relations Manager of Château Rauzan-Ségla, says that the market was not ready for another great vintage, as people had invested a great deal already in the 2009s. Prices might have better reflected this reality in order to avoid a ‘lag’ in the 2010 sales, as we are seeing now in comparison to other great vintages. Nonetheless, the idea that “quality has no price” is being touted by many of the estates prideful of this vintage. In a subsequent article, Julian will further explore pricing in Bordeaux.
Climate and the Human Factor
So, why does the 2010 vintage of Bordeaux deserve your admiration and respect, and what is responsible for this vintage that Patrick Maroteaux, President of Château Branaire Ducru, calls the “top vintage of the last 30 years”? Influential Robert Parker is extolling the 2010s along with 2009s and 2005s as the “three greatest Bordeaux vintages I have tasted in my career.” In part, this has to do with conditions – a mix of factors such as a wet winter and spring helped the vines manage a dry summer, along with classically typical cool nights and warm days that were responsible for a great level of acidic structure development. In addition, heat was not as extreme as it could have been, resulting in many producers allowing grapes to hang just a little longer on the vines, developing better phenolic ripeness while preserving balance and structure. Although the climate played a big role, producers learned from the 2009 vintage in creating the 2010s, says Caroline Ruffié, Public Relations Director of Château Ferrière, and were able to achieve better tannic extraction resulting in more complex and age-worthy wines in 2010.
What to Expect
In 2010, we see an impressive homogeneity between the styles and execution in terms of preservation of structure and elegance across the important regions, although more notably in the left bank. As we will explore further below, there appears to be more stylistic variability in the wines of the right bank that often show more lushness than those of the left. Generally speaking, though, the wines of 2010 are tight as a drum with firm, ripe tannins, vibrant acidity and richly concentrated fruit. This is a vintage to last the test of time. Stylistically quite different from the more overt, approachable 2009s, many producers intentionally took a more classic approach to this balanced and condition-favored vintage.
A truly classic Bordeaux vintage such as this should be difficult to appreciate at this point in its evolution. Its tannic structure, most notably, should be tight and firm, but not drying (despite the fact that when tasting a large number of these wines, the cumulative effect of the tannins can be perceived as such). Some examples appeared closed, others merely restrained. Generally speaking, colours were dark and stable, acidity was solidly present and the fruit was concentrated and tightly wound. Most definitely a challenging and heady tasting for all. However, perhaps the more impressive challenge is that Bordeaux seems to be able to have pulled off another stellar vintage on the back of one that was also exquisite.
Sara’s Top Recommendations for Overall Value:
Although there were many praiseworthy wines at this year’s UGC, I will keep my recommendations, in this article, to five wines spread over five prestigious regions represented by the Union. (All of my reviews have been posted on WineAlign under this tag: 2010 Bordeaux)
Pessac-Leognan: Château Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc
Although, arguably, there has been some inconsistency in quality over the last decade in the wines of Smith Haut Lafitte, I have been more often wholeheartedly impressed by the whites. From a region just south of the important red regions of the Médoc, the gravelly soils of Pessac-Léognan produce both reds and stunning dry whites that are highly structured and boast intensely heady aromatics. Stylish and refined, the 2010 Blanc presents lush minerality and gorgeous wild herbal and floral aromatics with just a kiss of oak – a real standout in this tasting with complex, highly intriguing flavours built around a structure meant to last the test of time.
Sauternes: Château de Fargues
Remarkably, the Lur Saluces family has been the sole owners of this property since 1586. I had the opportunity recently to spend some time with the charismatic and passionate heir of Château de Fargues and its current ambassador in Asia, Philippe de Lur Saluces, along with the current CEO of the estate Eudes d’Orleans. Balance is key for Château de Fargues, insisted Philippe, and this is notably and consistently so in the wines of this property. Never cloying, always willing to sacrifice sugary opulence for structural acidity and purity of fruit, these wines have remarkable depth and impressive ageabillity. In fact, in many vintages, the wines of Fargues have surprised me by matching or even exceeding the quality of the infamous Yquem. The Château’s CEO has as his mission to broaden the consumers’ horizon as to the enjoyment of Sauternes outside of the dessert wine realm. He suggests pairing with salads, fish, pork and even sushi. Expectedly, Château de Fargues stole the show even among the outstanding Sauternes available for tasting at the UGC, but the 2010s will not even be bottled until the fall as Fargues ages their Sauternes for 3 years prior to release. What was sampled was prematurely bottled for the tour.
Saint-Emilion: Château Troplong-Mondot
Recently (in 2006) the Château Troplong-Mondot was elevated to the status of 1er Grand Cru Classé in St. Emilion. Christine Valette, who has been widely praised for her improvement in the quality of the wine since the 1980s, oversees the winemaking. Although she has strong vision of her own, she did benefit from some consultation with the infamous Michel Rolland. I am constantly seduced by the wine of this Château, which, generally speaking, is modern in style, captivating, bold, perfumed and accessible. Despite the sometimes-criticized power and showy appeal of this stylistic approach, the wines are solidly crafted, richly textured and their appeal, in my view, is well-deserved. The sensual lure of the wine of this estate was abundantly demonstrated, despite the tightness of the 2010 vintage.
Saint-Julien: Château Gruaud Larose
This second growth classified estate, which has recently switched hands to the Merlaut family in 1997, has since established organic and sustainable vineyard practices. The vines average about 50 years in age and are planted in deep gravel soils with a distribution featuring high percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The estate is considered by many to be a “super second” rivaling the quality and reputation of the first growths. What struck me most about the 2010 were the wildly compelling aromatics that were apparent despite the restraint and classical structure typical to the vintage. The dynamic nature of this wine and its complexity was surprisingly apparent even at this youthful stage.
Margaux: Château Giscours
This third growth classified estate and neoclassical palace dates back to the 14th century. Giscours has come in and out of favor and repute mostly due to various owners and levels of interest over the past century. Post the 1940s, its quality notably improved. Although the estate was embroiled in the Bordelaise oak chip scandal of 1998, its top tier label was cleared. I have had my eye on this property since the early 2000s and have found the quality to be quite consistent and classic in style – a reliable producer since I began tasting in 2003. The heady perfumed style of Margaux and its elegance is very well demonstrated in this well-structured example.
Julian’s Take: One of the best Vintages ever
As back-to-back vintages go, 2009 and 2010 may very well turn out to be the greatest twin vintages Bordeaux has ever experienced. Of the latter, never in my career have I tasted so many top-notch, effortlessly dazzling wines from one vintage. And while this doesn’t excuse the skyrocketing prices of many once-affordable estates, collectors may rest assured that, with very few exceptions, no matter what they procure their wines will likely be of impeccable, in some cases unprecedented quality. (For comparison, access 2009 Bordeaux Reviews here.)
The Left Bank
Along with Pessac-Léognan and Pomerol, the Left Bank played host to some of the most profound wines of 2010. In Margaux, wines from the finest estates gleamed with exemplary fragrance, texture, and body; while many of the lesser known properties seem to have utilized 2010 as an opportunity to distinguish themselves. In St-Julien, some of the most balanced, most polished wines of the vintage may be found. In Pauillac, 2010 may very well turn out to be one of the most long-lived, ‘classically’ concentrated vintages ever recorded, the finest properties realizing masterpiece after masterpiece; with less eminent operations showing remarkable improvement over previous years. In St-Estèphe, heightened concentration was a hallmark of many wines, though this hardly served to detract. As elsewhere, ripe tannins, immense structure, and unsurpassed elegance were the orders of the day.
At the same time, one cannot help but be awestruck at how well the less prestigious appellations acquitted themselves, particularly in Listrac and Moulis, where some of the best bargains are found. The same applies to more ‘blanket’ appellations like Haut-Médoc and Médoc, where most estates pulled out all the stops to craft unusually full-bodied, sometimes luxurious clarets, several of which even matched the Classed Growths. In short, wine lovers are spoiled for choice, with countless Left Bankers of considerable concentration, ample structure, and long-term ageability.
Top Recommendations for Overall Value:
Margaux: Cantenac-Brown, Dauzac, Marquis de Terme, du Tertre, and Ferrière
St-Julien: Léoville Barton, Branaire-Ducru, Saint-Pierre, Langoa Barton, and Gloria
Pauillac: Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Batailley, and Haut-Bages Libéral
St-Estèphe: Lafon-Rochet, Phélan-Ségur, and Cos Labory
Moulis-en-Médoc and Listrac-Médoc: Poujeaux, Chasse-Spleen, and Fourcas Hosten
Haut-Médoc: Sociando-Mallet, Cantemerle, and La Tour Carnet
In Pessac-Léognan, 2010 will likely go down as a watershed vintage, featuring a cornucopia of spectacular whites and some of the best reds to which this part of Bordeaux has ever laid claim. Of whites, many seemed superior to the ‘09s, with just that extra level of concentration and vibrancy that went such a long way in other recent vintages like 2007 and 2005. Of reds, never before have I come across so many delicious, brilliantly textured wines from this appellation. Hard to fathom the sheer number of estates that have improved in such a short period of time. As in the Left Bank, there are many overachievers.
Top Recommendations for Overall Value:
Pessac-Léognan Rouge: Malartic-Lagravière, Carbonnieux, du Fieuzal, and Bouscaut
Pessac-Léognan Blanc: Domaine de Chevalier, Carbonnieux, and Malartic-Lagravière
The Right Bank:
Without question, 2010 was an extraordinary vintage throughout the Right Bank, particularly in Pomerol, where some of the most temptingly concentrated, flattering wines were produced. In St-Emilion, on the other hand, many examples were simply too ‘Parkerized’ for their own good; and while many North American collectors will probably appreciate their prodigious, blockbuster-like concentration and unprecedented levels of alcohol, such wines will not appeal to everybody. Regardless, there’s no question both Pomerol and St-Emilion produced many fabulous wines for the long haul, with plenty of choices to go around.
Top Recommendations for Overall Value:
Pomerol: Gazin, Beauregard, Le Bon Pasteur, La Cabanne, and La Croix de Gay
St-Emilion: La Gaffelière, La Couspaude, and Rol Valentin
Sauternes and Barsac:
At time of publication, I have no formal notes from Sauternes or Barsac, though the dozen-or-so wines I quickly examined suggest a magnificent vintage. Indeed, 2010 may very well turn out to be an even finer year than 2009 or even 2007, the latter largely panned for its reds, but not for the quality of its dry whites or dessert wines. Estates that particularly stood out were Climens, de Fargues, Guiraud, Suduiraut, and La Tour Blanche.
More Affordability Down the Road
As stupendous as the 2010s are, one mustn’t forget that not all Bordeaux is as expensive as the estates listed here. Over the next several years, dozens of more affordable 2010s shall be released at much more palatable prices. For everyday drinking, these are the wines to watch out for, though many of them will probably easily keep over the medium term. Like many serious wine collectors and general enthusiasts, I await them with relish. Stay tuned for my February column on Bordeaux prices.
In the meantime, we have posted over 100 reviews to help you with your 2010 selections: Go to 2010 Bordeaux, then be sure to click ‘show wines with zero inventory’, as these wines have not been released yet.