The week of en primeur tastings finished up today with UGC Pauillac, St Julien and St Estephe, then a wonderfully sunny lunch at Chateau Haut Bages Liberal.
The Bordelais must be feeling pretty happy tonight, having coincided the primeurs with easily the warmest and sunniest week of the year so far, giving it even more of a school field-trip feel than usual. Not only were there golf buggies at Mouton, but deck chairs at Branaire Ducru!
A lot has already been said about the quality of the wines (just how much is a story in itself, with Suckling and Bettane slugging it out over early publishing of scores http://www.decanter.com/bordeaux-2010/en-primeur-coverage/520777/michel-bettane-threatens-to-boycott-en-primeur-over-early-tasting), but I will just add in a few of my own personal impressions. I will be publishing notes in the South China Morning Post over the next few weeks, and also on my website www.newbordeaux.com
For now, I would say this has been an interesting, intellectually challenging year to taste. These are very physical wines, three dimensional in the best examples, and time and again I found myself writing about texture, angles, depth, length, width. It's an architect's vintage, where the winners managed to slowly construct their wines, letting the tannins come into play consistently from the first attack and through the mid palate, not in one instant hit. The star has been the acidity, which has saved many wines that would otherwise have been too tannic, and certainly too alcoholic in many cases.
On the whole, I have preferred the Left Bank, where Cabernet Sauvignon has made some truly fantastic wines. Its success is clear in the sheer percentages put in (90% at Margaux, equalled only in 2006, 94% at Mouton, the highest ever, 90% at the brilliant Ducru). Merlot has clearly had a tough time with the water stress, and the heat, and alcohol levels were dangerous, particularly in Saint Emilion. On the whole Pomerol seemed to cope better, probably because the clay soils regulated the rainfall when it arrived, and for many Vieux Chateau Certan seems to have made the wine of the vintage. Many young vines suffered so much (on both banks) that the best estates simply declassified them - one of the other reasons, besides coulure during flowering, and small berries because of water stress, that the quantities are between 10 and 30% down from last year. The most severe loss I heard of was at Calon Segur, which made 50% of last year's crop, so 80,000 bottles instead 160,000, a fact that is made even sadder because the wine was just gorgeous; very classic for the appellation, but full of vigour and rich fruits.
Almost all of the tastings have required time and thought to work through; this is definitely not a vintage for snap decisions, and last year's en primeurs seem easy in comparison (this feeling was underlined today by a tasting of Pichon Baron 2009 - full of generous fruit, utterly gorgeous even now. just before bottling). But the best ones have been hugely rewarding, and there is no doubt that 2010 is another excellent year for Bordeaux.
The hallmark for me has been the length of the wines. In many cases, this is a vintage for the boys; big tannins, big alcohol, big acidity, plus plenty of wines that are dividing opinion (always a mark of an interesting year). That can feel like a negative for me, and I certainly started off thinking that Bordeaux would lose typicity if all wines were going to push themselves to the limit. But I've been pleasantly surprised. Not all, but a lot of those wines have been rescued (for my palate) by acidity. Both Pape Clement and Pavie, two wines that I often wrestle with, showed their terroir this year, because the fresh finish gave them room to breathe, with a menthol send-off (most evident in the Medoc) that was enormously welcome. I have had the experience on numerous occasions where the wine has hit me on the attack, and I have been ready to dismiss it, but sitting back has revealed interest, elegance and real potential (again, this is why it has been such a physical year, you have to travel with the wines).
I haven't talked about the fruit - which is definitely there, although in the most disappointing wines it is hidden by the other elements, and those wines I feel sure will dry out before they ever reach their drinking window. The best wines deliver a rich palate of fruits, and there are some 'smaller' wines, who don't try too hard, that have enormous charm. The Cercle de Rive Droite tasting had a number of those, including Chateau Siaurac in Lalande de Pomerol and Clos Puy Arnaud from Cotes de Bordeaux Castillon.
Overall, this has been an excellent and instructive week. No wine tonight though; a barbeque, a glass of champagne and some beer!