A tasting of 2009 Bordeaux in Hong Kong
Tuesday, 5 June 2018 by Stephen Browett
Farr Vintners was the first UK merchant to establish a sales office in Hong Hong – over 20 years ago – which has been run ever since by Jo Purcell along with an excellent team of tri-lingual English/Cantonese/Mandarin speakers. When Jo arrived in what was, at the time, a British colony, the import tax on wine was 90% and sales were small. However, we always had customers here who were fanatical wine lovers and a massive breakthrough came when duty was completely scrapped in 2008. This resulted, not surprisingly, in an extraordinary boom in demand for wine which has continued to this day. Hong Kong is now very much the wine hub of Asia and arguably the world’s capital city of fine wine. Wine lovers enjoy wine at lower prices here than anywhere else in the world as there is no sales tax (VAT/GST) as well as zero duty. There is a vibrant restaurant culture with wonderful food and a great passion for the world’s finest wines.
Farr Vintners is one of the leading players in the Hong Kong wine market thanks to our huge network of customers that has been built up by word of mouth over the last quarter of a century. HK regularly provides (by value) 40% of our total turnover. We have a weekly air freight service that delivers direct to customers’ doors in our own temperature controlled lorry and offices in Causeway Bay near the Happy Valley racecourse.
Although Jo and her team need little help from me, I make sure to visit at least once a year. In 2017 I managed to combine that with a tour by Crystal Palace FC and in 2018 my visit coincided with the important “Vinexpo” wine trade fair during the last week of May. During Vinexpo there are countless tastings, dinners and events and we always like to do something special, so this year we decided to host a tasting of some of the great Chateaux of Bordeaux in the magnificent 2009 vintage. Whilst we all know about the fantastic quality of 2009, the big questions that we were hoping would be answered were – is it really as good as its reputation, and are the wines now ready to drink? Thanks to the generosity of our many friends in Bordeaux, we assembled a tasting of 33 wines ranging in price from £20 to over £200 per bottle - which included 100 point superstars and a couple of dry whites as well as a couple of Sauternes. Most of the châteaux also provided representatives to pour the wines and we were delighted to welcome proprietors such as Olivier Bernard, Lilian Barton, Henri Lurton and Jean-Jacques Bonnie. Guests included many of our best and most loyal customers from Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, Macau and Mainland China - as well as leading critic James Suckling.
Here are my notes from the tasting which was held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Wan Chai on May 30th:
2009 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc (served from Double Magnum) - A rich and complex nose of greengages, pear-drops, sherbert, lime and apples. On the palate there is impressive oily richness, it is full and thick with opulence from the Semillon cut with clean acidity and citric zest from the Sauvignon Blanc. There are notes of cream, lemon curd, custard, pear and greengages. Very intense and lingering. Drinking perfectly now. This impressed one customer so much that he bought 5 cases on the spot! 17+
2009 Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc - This has a soaring nose of tropical fruit, pineapple, prickly pears, grapefruit, acacia honey, creamy oak and lemons. Complex, both rich and mineral with an exotic edge. The palate offers notes of melon, honey, vanilla and tangy grapefruit. A real fruit salad with fine balance. Very impressive! Smith Haut Lafitte is now clearly established as one of the top dry white wines of Bordeaux. No wonder that this is now so hard to find. 17+
2009 Domaine de Chevalier Rouge – An enticing nose here of smoke, leather and cigar box. There is lovely richness of ripe black fruit with sweet cherries married with sexy Asian spices. Wonderfully smooth, supple and seductive . This wine is both silky textured and powerful. Youthful yet open-knit and inviting. Drink this now or in 20 years. Gorgeous! 17.5
2009 Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge – A sweet, sexy nose with charcoal, cigar box, gunflint and exotic Asian spices. Despite the exoticism, this is very much in the classic Graves style with lots of barbecue and smoky flavours, vanilla pods and white pepper. It is also incredibly hedonistic and decadent with a sweet, double cream texture and ripe black cherry fruit. Very impressive. Long and exotic. Wonderful and totally stunning. 18.5
2009 Malartic Lagravière Rouge – This has a deep colour and is impressively concentrated, chewy and dense. Quite extracted and thick. Solid, and maybe seems a bit chewy in comparison to the previous two wines but there is good depth here. 16
2009 La Conseillante – A gorgeous floral nose with hints of black truffle and cherries with a touch of vanilla spice. There is a wonderful, velvety texture, good weight but it's the creamy, silky mouthfeel that is so impressive. Relatively forward so you could drink it tonight with a few hours decanting - but it will last for decades. Classic Conseillante. 17.5+
2009 L’Eglise Clinet – This has a really deep, black colour. There is real intensity here. Fabulous concentration of tarry black fruit. Ripe, dense and very long. Great power and persistence. Sweet and creamy with cassis, liquorice and truffle notes. This is no charming, easy-drinking Pomerol! A huge but balanced wine that certainly needs more time - but is a classic in the making. 18.5+
2009 Figeac – There is coconut on the nose here with a medley of exotic Asian spices. Thick and chewy on the palate with dark berry fruit. Very powerful. Concentrated and dense. A classic Figeac that needs a bit more time to develop smoothness and complexity. 17+
2009 Troplong Mondot – A dark black colour. There is a huge soaring nose of black fruit. Smells remarkably like Banyuls! Decadent and sweet, thick and very powerful. Super-extracted, figs and prunes. You have to admire the density and extraction but it is so over-blown that it almost has a hint of oxidation. Massively alcoholic (I would guess 16 degrees). Rather vulgar really but for those who like the style of Aussie Shiraz it’s a winner! This is the ultimate vintage for the extreme wine-making of the previous regime and I’m sure that Aymeric de Gironde and the new team will never make a wine like this again. Fascinating to taste this between Figeac and Canon. 16 for me but no doubt 20 for others.
2009 Canon – Medium-deep colour with quite a reserved nose. The palate is silky and smooth with a velvety texture. Lovely to drink already, supple and delicate but has strength and depth. This seems so refined after the Troplong Mondot, but it is no shrinking violet. Lovely balance because, although powerful, it is wrapped in a cloak of cashmere. An iron fist in a very velvety glove. 17.5
2009 Rauzan Segla – This is the vintage with the one-off Karl Lagerfeld label. On the nose it is ripe and sexy with black cherries and lots of oaky spice. Seductive and smooth, this combines beautifully ripe fruit with subtle vanilla and cream. A real charmer. A supple and polished wine that can be enjoyed in its youth or kept for a long future. Fine and classy. 17
2009 Brane Cantenac – Showing a little maturity at the rim. The nose is very alluring with milk chocolate, red cherries and exotic spice. On the palate, the wine is very smooth and soft with no hard edges. Polished to perfection. Totally ready. Ripe red and black fruits. The tannin is completely unnoticeable. Easy and charming. A simply lovely drink today. Why wait? Enjoy this hedonistic 2009 now. 16.5+
2009 Gloria – Solid colour. Ripe, roasted, classic cassis fruit with leather and spice. Sweet and opulent. Almost Napa style. Very sexy. This is drop dead gorgeous. Maybe a little sweet for purists but a fabulously delicious glass of wine that is of obvious classed growth quality. 16+
2009 Saint Pierre – There is serious concentration here of black Cabernet Sauvignon cassis fruit. Dark and inky. Powerful and intense. Needs time still. Sweet but structured. The essence of cassis and the modest intense St Pierre ever. A Léoville Las Cases lookalike. 17
2009 Beychevelle – Lots of Asian spice and vanilla on the nose. Sweet and creamy. Really smooth. Beautiful silk. Round and open-knit. Charming and easy drinking. No need to wait any longer to drink this lovely Beychevelle. Delicious! 16.5
2009 Langoa Barton – This is impressively stacked and chewy with dense black fruit. Backward and solid, albeit with a sexy veneer of ripeness. Behind the facade of opulence this is a serious and classic claret for the long-term. One of the best Langoas ever. A real left bank wine of intensity and richness with grip and control. Needs a bit more time but will be at its peak aged 20+ 16.5
2009 Leoville Barton – This is a big, bold, strapping black- fruited wine. Thick, serious, intense, more Léoville Barton than it is 2009 Bordeaux. Classic. In fact, you’d never guess that his was an ‘09. Proper claret. A modern-day old-school wine. There is tradition here married with a fabulously ripe vintage. The best of both worlds. Incredibly long. Serious stuff! Don’t think about drinking it yet. 17.5
2009 Tronquoy Lalande – This is the very much “under the radar” St Estèphe from the same owners as Montrose. Impressive depth and concentration. Lovely black fruit. Good structure and balance. More than a touch of Montrose here. This is both seductive and serious. Ripe cassis here and certainly of classed growth quality. An excellent effort that is not at all embarrassed in this company. 16+
2009 Dame de Montrose – The second wine of Montrose, made from mainly Merlot apparently. This is forward and open knit but still has some grip. Initially attractive and open but finishes slightly firm and short for the vintage. I marginally prefer the Tronquoy today but would very happily drink this tonight. 16
2009 Montrose – This is as black as a moonless night. There is real power here with intense, grippy cassis fruit. Huge but balanced. This is a really impressive wine of immense concentration and control. Liquorice, black olives, black pepper and truffles. A long distance runner. Needs a bit more time to be ready but will last for ever. First Growth quality. 19
2009 Pagodes de Cos - Ripe and roasted, creamy and very sexy. Hard to resist this hedonistic fruit bomb that is full of crème de cassis fruit and exotic spice. 16.5
2009 Cos d’Estournel – A real spice box nose here with wafts of intense black fruit. Inky and powerful, with notes of cassis, coffee and leather. Even a bit of structure. This is a wine that has always been controversial for its jam-packed density but despite the hedonistic decadence, it does have balance. Ripe tannins control the exuberance and richness of sensationally ripe fruit. I think that time will bring out the terroir more and the wine is definitely less outrageously sexy than it was in its early youth. Give it another 5 years but it will last for 50. 18++
2009 Les Ormes de Pez – A little light in comparison to the big boys here (of course). This is attractively mature. Easy-going. Lovely balance. Drink this now and over the next 5-10 years. A bargain at the current price. 16
2009 Lynch Bages – This black wine has a nose of pure cassis. Strapping, sweet and ripe. Dense fruit with an iron grip. Can just be drunk now but will get better and better. A half-full bottle the next day was fantastic! Very serious and classic Pauillac. This will become the new Lynch Bages 1989. It’s that good, maybe better! Magnificent Pauillac. 18.5
2009 Forts de Latour – There is a hint of coconut cream and dark cassis fruit on the nose with toasty oak. There is serious intensity on the palate with ripe, black Medocaine fruit - yet it is beautifully polished and seductive. This is a sexier, less backward, less powerful version of the grand vin of Chateau Latour but is a wine of real super-second quality. Drink it or keep it. Sumptuous stuff, beautifully made. 17.5
2009 Pontet Canet – This is chewy and powerful. Black and bold with a huge concentration of dark cassis with a touch of liquorice. Super-ripe but it still has grip at the finish. Heady stuff. Certainly not ready. A real knock-out powerhouse of a wine. 17.5
2009 Duhart Milon – This is quite a contrast to the Pontet Canet and Lynch Bages and more like the Forts de Latour in style. Extremely well-polished, creamy and round. Pauillac style but very seductive and silky. Milk chocolate and cashmere notes. Can de drunk now or kept. Lovely silky tannins. Smooth. 16.5
2009 Grand Puy Lacoste – There is lots of sweet cassis here. This is a really seductive version of GPL with lovely ripe fruit. Structurally it is half-way between the classic control of Lynch and the creaminess of Pichon Lalande. This is all set to be the successor to the wonderful 1990 vintage here. On the one hand it seems forward and ready to drink, but I think that there is hidden depth behind and it needs a few more years. 17.5
2009 Réserve de la Comtesse – Showing a maturing colour and an inviting ripe, spicy nose. This is very open-knit for a Pauillac. Soft and sweet. Very up-front. No hard edges, this easy drinker is already fully mature and should be enjoyed over the next few years. There must be a lot of Merlot in the blind. Ripe and smooth. 16
2009 Pichon Lalande – This has a lovely milk chocolate character. It is a serious left bank claret yet it is ripe, smoky and soft. Charm personified. So easy to drink. Smooth as silk. I’m sure that it will age well but it’s hard to resist it now. 17.5
2009 Pichon Baron – A deep colour with cassis and raisin notes on the nose. Super-ripe but finely balanced. Opulent yet controlled. Very classy. Obviously more grip than the Comtesse, but this is not your typical tightly structured Baron either. Relatively approachable for this property. A wine that combines the best attributes of Pauillac with the ripeness of the vintage. 17.5
2009 Guiraud - A golden colour. Apricots and tinned peaches. Candied orange peel. Seville oranges. Cinnamon spice. Rich, full and luscious. Christmas pudding mix. Chocolate orange. Hedonistic. 17
2009 Suduiraut - Honeysuckle nose with caramel and toasty candied orange and lime peel. golden colour, viscous, thick and oily. Dried apricots, toffeed hazelnuts yet a vibrant acidity. Brilliant, balanced Sauternes. 18
This was a fabulous tasting that re-enforced my view that 2009 is a truly great vintage that is the modern-day version of 1959! (I would also say that 2010 could well be the modern-day 1961). The great advantage that 2009 has over 2010 is that the wines have gorgeously smooth tannins and although they are still young, the likes of Reserve de la Comtesse, Brane Cantenac and Les Ormes de Pez are ready to drink. Even the big names can be approached now with a few hours in a decanter. I am convinced that this vintage will not only give enormous pleasure to Bordeaux wine lovers relatively soon, but also over the years and decades that follow. A big Thank You to all the Chateaux that participated in this tasting and made it such a great success.