Assessing Bordeaux’s 2009 Vintage, Part 2: A Tale of Two Styles
November 24, 2010, by: Stephen George
In Part 1 of this post, we argued that you can’t rely on scores to assessing individual wines or a vintage as a whole – instead, you should listen to the qualitative judgment of people whose palates you know and trust.
So what do we at Montesquieu think of 2009 Bordeaux? Based on our tastings at Primeurs, here is a list of some of our favorites:
- St. Emilion: Pavie-Macquin, Clos Fourtet, Figeac
- St. Julien: Gruaud-Larose, Léoville-Barton
- Pessac-Leognan: Smith-Haut-Lafitte
- Margaux: Brane-Cantenac, Prieuré-Lichine
- Pauillac: Pichon-Longueville, Lynch-Bages
But the far more interesting assessment, especially at this early stage, is of the vintage as a whole rather than individual wines. Stated briefly, Bordeaux 2009 is a tale of two styles. Both have richness and power, but the first style – which we prefer – remains fresh, vibrant, and elegant; the other is extracted, thick, and loaded with alcohol. Thanks to plentiful sun, warm temperatures and a perfect harvest season, in 09 almost every producer was blessed with fully ripe grapes. And therefore, almost every wine is powerful and intense with ample tannins and sugars.
But as our team tasted through the wines of each appellation, it was clear again and again that those chateaux that managed to retain the acidity and freshness in their grapes by picking judiciously and handling them gently got balanced and lively wines. Whereas those chateaux that picked late and/or over-extracted their grapes got cocktails of oak, tannin, and alcohol that were more obvious and brutish than delicate or refined. Among this latter group are a number of very famous houses, including many in the commune of St. Estèphe.
Not surprisingly, many in the industry loved these loaded wines, while we rather disliked them. Call us crazy, but we prefer Bordeaux to taste, well, like Bordeaux (rather than, say, Aussie Shiraz or Napa Cab).
All of this means that especially with 2009 Bordeaux, consumers must be wary of trusting a score or any single critic when making purchasing decisions. The vintage produced some sublime wines that will become legendary; but it also produced some bizarrely ripe and overwrought wines that, although impressive now to some critics, may not age well at all.
So unlike 2000 or 2005 where the quality level was quite even across producers, 2009 is a “buyer-beware” vintage, which could result in massive disappointment for consumers who invest in wines with big scores that turn out not to be to their taste.
The best solution to this sticky situation for wine enthusiasts is to have a personal relationship with a merchant who knows their palates and preferences. Apart from futures, 2009 red Bordeaux isn’t yet on the market – but when it is, the happiest consumers will be those who have a trusted guide to help them navigate the minefield with aplomb.