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Bordeaux 2010 part three: The verdict

Liv-ex is opening the blog once again to Bordeaux grower and winemaker Gavin Quinney (@GavinQuinney). Having previously reported on the wines and weather of Bordeaux 2010, Gavin's latest contribution to the blog covers this year's en primeur tastings.

There was something different in the air this year, and it wasn’t just the constant tweeting of what the 2010s tasted like.
En primeur attendances were higher than ever at the top estates, according to Paul Pontallier of Chateau Margaux. Much in evidence there, and at all the Firsts, were the Chinese translations of the brochures, to add to the long-standing piles of English and French versions. Based on visits to the leading properties the week after the UGCs, these were still being snapped up by Bordeaux’s new best friends.

Perhaps that’s what’s changed. Opinions about many of the great wines no longer matter. For the top chateaux, even huge Parker points or double asterisks won’t be required to sell the iconic brands and for most of us, some of the tastings were academic.

A pity, because the First Growths made belters this year, with all four Médoc Firsts coming close to perfection. What is unusual is the varying levels of alcohol between these four Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated wines: Lafite and Margaux at 13.5%, Mouton at 14% and Latour at 14.5%. Note that Cabernet Sauvignon comes in at lower potential alcohol than Merlot, so it’s no wonder that second and third wines for many estates, with higher percentages of Merlot, pack quite a punch. Chateau Margaux is typical in this respect (13.5%, 14% and 14.5%). Refreshing acidity – much touted by all the chateaux – provides the balance.

Chinese brochure 

St-Julien and Pauillac: strong performances

Moving on, St-Julien and Pauillac were incredibly strong across the board. The Cabernet Sauvignons of the top appellations of the Médoc – for me, the best that Bordeaux has to offer in 2010 in any volume – are ‘über-classic’. The Bordelais prefer to use words like elegance, balance and freshness but I’m not sure that these words adequately convey the feeling of power that these wines have. And be prepared to be patient.

The two great spots of Pauillac and St-Julien have their fair share of ‘Parker hopefuls’ – those estates looking for an outstanding good score to maintain or improve their standing amongst their peers. If the prices are not pushed too far, these great 2010s will sell very easily. Pichon Longueville Baron (with arguably their best wine to date), Leoville Las Cases and Leoville Poyferre just edged it for me amongst the Super Seconds, with Pontet Canet once again right up there.

Pontet Canet 

And who wouldn’t want a cellar full of St-Juliens like Gruaud Larose, St-Pierre and Langoa Barton, the latter with much less Merlot than usual. A lot of Merlot on both banks – especially on older vines – suffered from coulure and millerandage, or ‘shatter’ and poor fruit set. This reduced the crop, as did the small berry size of all the grapes. But what the Merlot lacked in quantity (and sometimes quality), the Cabernet Sauvignon made up for in quality. We can pray that it doesn’t come at too high a price.

Rest of the Left

St-Estephe has to be viewed on a case-by-case basis. I might have caught Cos on a slightly off day, while Calon Segur showed a lovely wine, despite losing some of the crop to a localised hail storm in May: almost half the number of bottles from 2009 there. Nearby, Montrose, with 20 additional hectares bought from Phelan Segur, was untouched: 50% more bottles of the (brilliant) Grand Vin in 2010. Will it be cheaper than the 100 pointer in waiting, the 2009?

The appellation of Margaux, beyond the very top wines, is a source of values for drinking: 20 chateaux produced 90+ point wines in my book. Issan is right back on form after hail struck in 2008 and 2009, and I’m looking for value from the likes of du Tertre, Ferriere and Labegorce – the latter two not being RP favourites.

Nearby, there are some values from Moulis, Listrac and the southern end of the Haut-Médoc. The Haut-Médoc and the Médoc to the north of St-Estephe produced some very good wines – however, I don’t think it’s a case of fill yer boots with any old Cru Bourgeois. Amongst the winners are rather too many wines with a lack of ripeness and fairly coarse tannins.

South of Bordeaux, the evenly mixed Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends of Pessac-Léognan will provide sumptuous drinking. While the top chateaux – Haut-Brion, La Mission, Haut Bailly and Smith Haut Lafitte – made glorious wines, prices haven’t caught up yet for estates on the up like de Fieuzal and Haut-Bergey.

It’s a super vintage for the dry whites of Pessac-Léognan and the Graves, and I’m probably alone in preferring 2010 Sauternes and Barsac to 2009, with the possible exception of Yquem. But that’s another story.

On the Right Bank

It may be small but all eyes are usually on Pomerol. That little bit of rain at key moments in September really helped these precocious vineyards, which once again turned in some wonderful wines. Jacques Thienpont prefers 2010 Le Pin to his 2009 (like his brilliant 2001 to 2000) but I wouldn’t say that this was true across the board here. Mixed flowering in the Merlot, hydric stress and small berries certainly had an impact on the character of the wines, as well as the yields (just 31hl/ha at L’Evangile, compared to 38hl/ha average). Petrus, L’Evangile, L’Eglise Clinet, Vieux Chateau Certan, Clinet, Hosanna – no surprises, just not enough wine.

I tasted scores of St-Emilions and scored many of them very highly. But it was tough going, with many having rigorous tannic frames and a sense that the drought conditions contributed to the dryness of the wines. Still, plenty of super values to be had for those who choose well, with numerous 90+ pointers. Choose carefully: it’s a big place but not one for the faint hearted, with many super-concentrated wines topping 15.5% alcohol. At the top level, Clos Fourtet, Pavie Macquin and Beausejour Duffau impressed again. The Cabernet Franc excelled, not least at Cheval Blanc and Ausone, of course.

Bring on the campaign. And if you want to pick up a relative bargain sooner, take a look at some 2008s, right now.  

The table below shows Gavin's top-scoring 2010s.

GQ top 2010s