Going into last week’s UGC Bordeaux tasting in New York, I was half prepared to reverse myself on a call I made after tasting some 2010s as barrel samples: that 2010 was almost as good as 2009, but not quite, unless you are a fan of classical vintages of Bordeaux instead of riper ones. As a fan of classical vintages, I thought that I may well love the 2010 Bordeaux in a way similar to how I adore 2010 Burgundies above their 2009 counterparts in almost every case. Today I can report that no reversal is necessary, but I can modify my statement with a bit more detail.
To sum up, I find 2010 to be a very good vintage in Bordeaux, roughly on par with 2009, but in a different style. While a number of chateaux made better wines in 2010 than in 2009, overall I find 2009 to be more consistent across the board. The most important point is the difference in style – where ’09s were lush, ripe and easy to like, I find the reds from ’10 to have a profile characterized by cool dark fruits, lots of structure and in a notable number of cases, a strong licorice note that is more than I care for, though I expect that will moderate in time. I found some of these wines very difficult to judge – moreso than any of the last four vintages at the same stage, or even the 2010s as barrel samples. As a result, there were a number of wines I didn’t assign a score range to, where I didn’t feel that I could make a call with confidence. I think the nature of the 2010 vintage means these wines are less likable early than the ’09s, but in time, 2009/2010 will be very comparable to the 1990 vs 1989 dynamic of pretty equal but stylistically different vintages.
To my surprise, despite reports from various critics about the freshness of the 2010s, based on my tasting I was a bit disappointed in this regard. While the pH numbers may indicate high acids, something about the overall balance of the 2010s, characterized by lots of tannin and high alcohol levels, left me feeling that most of the 2010s had adequate acid but not an impression of true freshness, at least at this young stage of their existence. There are of course exceptions – Carbonnieux and Dom. de Chevalier among whites, and the Pichons among the reds, to name a few – but the whites from 2010 can’t come close to matching the lively 2007s, for example.
Early reports have cited high alcohol levels in the 2010s, and my overall impression is that the wines indeed feel quite alcoholic, despite their balance. In St. Emilion some wines are a bit extracted; by comparison, the Pomerols and Graves reds seem to have an easy (rather than full-throttle) power – a certain charm without trying too hard. More on the other communes in my next post. For now, here are my notes on Graves blancs and reds from the Right Bank – St. Emilion and Pomerol.
Graves whites (Pessac Leognan)
2010 Haut Bergey blanc – honeyed sweetness on the nose, with a slightly stinky mineral funk. On the palate, decent with Graves typicity. 89-902010 De Fieuzal blanc – not as strong in the mineral funk as the Haut Bergey, this is a more pleasing and harmonious wine. I like this better than most vintages of de Fieuzal, this may be an outperformer at the right price in the value category. 91+
2010 Larrivet Haut Brion blanc – dewy, quality fruits on the nose. Palate shows a rich style as is typical for this house, with fruit that’s on the tropical side (pineapples etc), again of a high quality. A shade better than de Fieuzal if you like a richer style. 91-92
2010 Carbonnieux blanc* – first sample very shy and tight, only giving up a tiny bit of mineral impression that is more refined than any of the wines tasted thus far. On the palate, a citrusy acidity makes this wine fresh and portends longevity. Retasted after some of the other top whites, this was a bit more giving. Overall, like other recent vintages, this shows the most finesse and delicacy among the Graves whites. Very good, but doesn’t seem to excite me as much as the 2009. Considering price, this is again the runaway winner in this category if you like nuance over power. 92-93+
2010 La Tour Martillac blanc – very consistent with prior vintage – a slightly stinky mineral funk on the nose. Palate is competent but undistinguished. Lacks freshness or liveliness. 87-88.
2010 Pape Clement blanc – very pretty nose – a mix of mineral funk and tropical, dewy fruits. Feels alcoholic. Very good wine, but doesn’t touch the 2007 and the extraordinary lift of that vintage. 92-93
2010 Smith Haut Lafitte blanc – Has a racy acidity but the fruit is not as attractive as that in the Pape Clement and even the Larrivet Haut Brion. Still definitely in the top group of whites today but doesn’t quite move me. 91-92.
Accidentally skipped but tasted later before the Graves reds:
2010 Domaine de Chevalier blanc* – has a lightness and freshness on the nose with sweet, quality fruits – probably the prettiest of all the whites today. On the palate, a touch heavy, a bit more powerful and dewy than I prefer. Good acid here though, so this should age gracefully. 92-93
Right Bank/St. Emilion
2010 Canon – very dark-fruited, anisette profile. Tight, structured. If this is any indication, the 2010s are showing very differently from the 2009s, and even tighter than the 2010s in barrel. Can hardly get anything from this, not rating it.
2010 Canon La Gaffeliere – Much more expressive nose than the 2010 Canon tasted before it: perfumed, dark sweet fruits with some damp earth aromas. The palate is tasty but a touch bitter on the finish, but I think it will resolve; there is high quality fruit here. Modern but the oak is not overpowering, actually. 93-94; liked this even better than the very good 2009.
2010 Figeac* – [Notes on the nose lost due to technical glitch] The Figeac is very good on the palate, also showing the graphite notes apparent on the nose. Feels alcoholic, but the exuberant, rich and mineral-laden 2010 Figeac is showing way better than the 2009 did last year at the same stage yet stays in line with the historical style of this chateau. Probably the best Figeac I have tasted – this should be one for the ages. 93-95
2010 Clos Fourtet* – Excellent nose – perfumed, with a damp muddy earth that I really like. Tannic and dry on the palate, this is gorgeous: beautiful fruit, very balanced with the structure, earthy elements, graphite notes, etc. Again, better than the 2009. 93-95
2010 Grand Mayne – Notes lost, but from memory, this did not particularly impress me; rated it at the time 89-91. Don’t think it will reach the heights of the very good 2005, which showed well recently.
2010 La Couspaude – Quite good – graphite notes intermix with sweetish fruit, and a touch of exotic Indian spices. Peters out slightly on the finish. An overperformer for the price? 92-93
2010 La Gaffeliere – has a tightly wound nose, like the Canon. Has a touch of curry spice in there. Palate is dark and structured, very tightly wound at this point. Not rating this at this time, but my feeling is that this will be very good.
2010 Larcis Ducasse – Shows a little modern, opulent and open on the nose, with a nice perfume to the fruit. A little neutral on the palate; just didn’t seem to have much oomph. The fruit on the palate doesn’t have either power or much charm to distinguish this at this stage. 89-91
2010 Pavie Macquin – Powerful, perhaps a bit extracted, showing a touch of bitterness on the finish but there’s a lot of sweet fruit of definite quality here to balance it out. 92-94.
2010 Troplong Mondot A bit bitter on the finish, but should resolve okay considering the sweet underlying fruit. 92-94+
2010 Gazin – Nose is very dark-fruited and a little bit tight. Palate again shows a dark licorice character. This vintage is not really hitting me compared to other recent vintages. 91-92+
2010 Beauregard*- a value play in Pomerol? More red-fruited than most of wines today, plus a stoniness showing on the musky cologne nose as well. Smooth, pretty but should show nice delinieation someday. Refreshingly different in the context of this tasting filled with dense wines. 92-94.
2010 Clinet – has a balance between red- and purple-fruitedness that’s unusual in this tasting. Smooth on the palate, not overextracted. A very pretty wine. Will outlast the Beauregard, but the Beau may well show better young. 92-94+
2010 La Conseillante*- has a refined mineral rockiness, dark purple fruits, graphite. Shows licorice notes on the refined but slightly austere palate, with a lot of earthiness. True to the house style, this wine is not really about the fruit, but is exactly what it intends to be. Elegant, composed, regal. 93-95. A complete toss-up as to which is better between this and the 2009.
2010 La Pointe – A bit of dirt/earthiness on the nose. Good and smooth on the palate, red-to-purple fruited; profile a bit similar to Clinet, so this might be a good value alternative? 91-93
2010 Le Bon Pasteur – flavor profile is more cherry here than most of the other wines here, which tend toward dark plums. This is ok, but doesn’t particularly move me. 89-91+
Stay tuned in the coming days for reports on Graves reds, Margaux, St. Julien, Pauillac, the Medoc and Sauternes/Barsac! -Alan