The greatness of 2009 Bordeaux has been written about at length. From Robert Parker's huge barrel and bottle scores, to praise from critic and merchant alike since the first tastings from barrel in 2010. The vintage has widely, and appropriately, been judged as one of the region's greats. Now, with over a decade in bottle and several other recent contenders for "Vintage of the Century", just how good are the top wines in this celebrated, warm year?
The annual “Ten Years On” tasting has been a fixture in my diary for over a quarter of a century. The first of these marathon blind tastings that I attended was back in 1992 when we tried the still youthful 1982s. I remember being blown away by that vintage’s Mouton Rothschild – a wine that was brilliant even when young and has continued to deliver the goods ever since. The tastings were frequently held at The Mill – home of the great and much missed Bill Baker and sometimes at The White Horse at Chilgrove with our old friend, the incomparable Barry Phillips. More recently they have been hosted by Farr Vintners.
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.
For my final report on the 2009 red wines of Bordeaux we come to Pauillac. For me, this commune is the heart of Bordeaux and, of course, it contains three First Growths and many other world famous properties.
The commune of Margaux produces wines that tend to exude charm more than power. If you are looking for top class Bordeaux which is elegant and stylish then Margaux is the place for you. There are plenty of classed growth Chateaux in Margaux but it is usually the top three who dominate our tastings and this was the case in the 2009 yet again. Some people might wonder if we really do taste blind but I promise that we do! Three wines scored well above the other 20 that we tasted and guess what they were? – yes Chateaux Margaux, Palmer and Rauzan Ségla.
Today we move to the Graves – or Pessac-Léognan to be precise. This is one of my favourite regions of Bordeaux and one which I see as a half-way point between the left bank and the right bank. If you can’t decide if a wine in a blind tasting is a Pomerol or a Pauillac then this is always a good shout. The wines here are mainly made from an approximate 50:50 blend of Cabernet and Merlot so they tend to be a little less firm than the wines of the Médoc and little less opulent than those of Saint Emilion and Pomerol. Not only are they generally well-balanced wines but the best of them have a unique character of tar, flint, wood-smoke and cigar box.
From the plummy opulence of Pomerol we now move to the Cabernet-Sauvignon based wines of Saint Estèphe.
The appellation of Pomerol is one of the smallest in Bordeaux. Within the appellation there are hundreds of tiny properties and even a 1000-case-a-year Château would be regarded as being one of the larger producers. In many respects to me, Pomerol is the “Burgundy of Bordeaux” as the wines are made mainly by small artisan producers and (predominantly) from a single grape variety. They are very different wines, stylistically, from those of the neighbours in Saint Emilion and even further removed from the wines of the Médoc. In very hot vintages, such as 2003, Merlot grapes can suffer from over-ripeness but 2009 is clearly a fantastic vintage for the wines of Pomerol. The wines are rich and intense with aromas of violets and rich black plum fruit.
First up at Southwold 2013 were the 2009 Saint Emilions. And what a lot of them there were! We tasted about 75 wines from this village as well as a few “ringers” from neighbouring appellations. The way that we organise these tastings is to serve the wines blind in flights with 10-12 bottles per flight. They are served, within each flight, in random order, alongside wines of similar value, style and reputation. As my son Ben was not due back at University until the following week, he helped out with the opening, “bagging” and serving of each flight. Ben’s other job was to enter everyone’s score on a spreadsheet. After 20 minutes silent tasting, each participant gives a score out of 20 for each wine (before the wines are discussed or their identities revealed) and then a group average score is calculated. Healthy debate then follows….
Every year in January, for over 30 years, some of the leading figures in the British wine trade have assembled in the sleepy town of Southwold for a comprehensive tasting of the latest Bordeaux vintage to be physically released onto the market. In January 2013 it was the turn of the eagerly anticipated 2009’s.
Robert Parker The wine world has been waiting for uber-critic Robert Parker to reveal his judgement and scores for the 2009 Bordeaux vintage now that he has tasted all the finished wines from bottle for the first time. To say that he is ecstatic about this vintage would be somewhat of an under-statement! He describes it as “Unquestionably the greatest Bordeaux vintage I have ever tasted.” He praises the classed growths (and gives them enormous scores) but he also declares that the quality is fantastic across the board – at cru bourgeois level and even petit vins and generic Bordeaux. He concludes that 2009 is the finest vintage since 1982 (therefore surpassing 1989, 1990, 2000 and 2005) but believes that the standards of winemaking are much higher than they were in 1982 and that therefore the wines are significantly better. This is, as he says, “1982 but greater”.
With the 2009 en primeur campaign winding down and our top ten biggest selling wines of the vintage now published, I decided to dash to Bordeaux to re-taste some our most successful 2009's and see how they have developed. I always think we taste them too early on in March/April and with an extra 4 months in barrel it would be fascinating to see how they have developed from our first, hurried look when we tasted nearly 300 wines in four days.
Where have all the blogs gone? Those who regularly read the Farr Vintners blogs might very well have been asking that question. With nothing published for the last six weeks you could assume that we've been putting our feet up but - far from it - June and July 2010 have been the two busiest months in the history of Farr Vintners! And the simple reason for that has been the extraordinary phenomenon that is 2009 Bordeaux.
There are three questions that we are asked more than any others about 2009 Bordeaux. They are about quality, prices and allocations.
A week ago we released the Farr Vintners Vintage Report and Tasting Notes for 2009 Bordeaux. Such is the huge interest in this potentially great vintage that the immediate result was that our web site crashed because of the biggest number of "hits" that we ever experienced in one day. We have now upgraded the site both with extra power and also with additional tasting notes. Customers are invited to register their interest by placing "pre-orders" and "wish-lists".