Tuesday, 11 May 2010

John Avery's 2009 Bordeaux Vintage Report

I have now returned from Bordeaux where Emma Roberts, Matthew Hemming, Aaron Rice and I tasted about 300 wines from the 2009 vintage which were on show at the various 'En Primeur' tastings.

Following the weather reports which I have already written about and my first impressions from the visit we made in January I was expecting to fine big, rich wines with great ripe fruit flavours and quite high alcohol levels. I remember when I first tasted the 1982 vintage in 1983 the comment I wrote following my first tasting was:
'California has come to Bordeaux' 
and I was expecting to have the same reaction when I tasted the full range of wines at the 'En Primeur' tastings. I was not alone in this expectation and in conversation with other tasters during the visit they frequently made comparisons with 1982. Some Chateaux - notably Ch Montrose - have produced wines which have full ripe fruit richness in the middle palate and some even show evidence of 'over extraction' but on the whole I was surprised by the underlying elegance and finesse of many of the wines and with a fresh finish . 

Many of the wines do have a high alcoholic strength but one does not notice this on tasting. In the Medoc the Merlot grown on gravel soils got very ripe and produced a very high level of alcohol and as a result most of the 'Grand Vins ' (Top wine) produced by the Chateaux contain a much lower proportion of Merlot than usual but the situation on the 'Right bank' is different.

The other significant  thing is the level of tannins in the wines and IPT readings are very high but surprisingly most of the wines do not taste especially tannic. My note at Ch Palmer includes 'lovely soft tannin' yet we were told that the IPT level was 88 which is higher than ever recorded before (the previous highest was about 80!) and one of the striking things about many of the wines was how easy and enjoyable were a pleasure to taste even at this early stage. The entire weeks tasting was really quite a pleasure!

As I have mentioned above much of the Merlot was often excluded from the top blend in the Medoc but on the other hand most Chateaux used all the Petit Verdot they could find. This grape ripens late but the ideal ripening period right through to mid October was ideal for this variety and will have given those wines where it has been used the typical extra length and complexity which this variety can supply - I often think of it a Bordeaux's secret weapon!  

The fact that in the Medoc much of the Merlot has been put in the 'Second wines' has resulted in these often being completely different in style to the 'Grand Vins'. 

One of the most extreme examples of this was at Ch Latour where the Forts de Latour had loads of ripe fruit and was almost drinkable already while the Ch Latour itself was so strong and massive that it was very 'closed' and difficult to assess (one needed to know it was Ch Latour!) .

A region which has produced an unusually consistent level of quality is Margaux and here there are several Chateaux  which in the past have frequently not made very exciting wines but this year have made something exceptional - I think that there will be some good value wines from this region.

The Graves region has also produced many excellent wines which follow the pattern of the Medoc and tend to have a lower proportion of Merlot than usual. It is worth mentioning that I feel Ch Haut Brion has produced a remarkable wine and from my notes is equal to Ch Lafite as the best wine of the vintage but we will see! 

The tastings on the Right Bank provided interesting differences. I was worried about what we were going to find following the questionable quality of the Merlot in the Medoc but after tasting the top Pomerols I was convinced that the Merlot grown on the colder, heavier clay soils had avoided the over ripe problems of the Medoc and  great wines have been produced by many Châteaux. This paradox is well illustrated at Vieux Chateau Certan which I had already been told had produced a remarkable wine and I assumed that this would be because of the high proportion ( by Pomerol standards ) of Cabernets in the vineyard but my friend Alexandre Thienpont rapidly corrected me when I advanced this theory and told us that in his time of running the Chateaux he had never used such a high proportion of Merlot - 84% with only 8 % of each of the Cabernets! (the actual percentages in the vineyard are only 60% Merlot with 30% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon so a lot of Cabernet Franc has been rejected which perhaps explains why I was disappointed with Ch Cheval Blanc!). Ch L'Evangile and even its 'Second wine - Blason du Evangile has produced a remarkable wine.

St Emilion was a little erratic and there were some big differences between the wines but the best are very good. 

Inevitably people are trying to compare 2009 with earlier vintages and as I have mentioned above 1982 is one of the popular choices but I feel the wines have more elegance and a years like 1959 or 1989 and 1990 are perhaps better comparisons. They are certainly more approachable than 2005 was at the same stage and I feel will be more enjoyable as they mature - the good news is that they may develop quickly enough for me to be able to enjoy them during my lifetime!

I have, on the whole, avoided mentioning name of wines I liked but you have my list of scores and tasting notes can be provided if required. It is, however, worth recording that out of the 300 odd wines tasted I gave 40 wines -  18 points or more out of 20 and I do not think that I have ever given such a high proportion of wines such top scores!

John Avery, MW

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