In 2011, a wine writer by the name of John Gilman published his review of the 2010 Bordeaux vintage. He titled it: “The Very, Very Ripe, Very, Very, Very Tannic 2010 Vintage In Bordeaux-Miraculously, Some Great Wines Found Alive On the Battlefield”.
Mr Gilman wasn’t quite on the same page as anyone else on the subject of the 2010 vintage. Mr Parker, at the peak of his power and influence, wrote a bit more positively: “it is an inescapable truth that 2010 has produced another year of compelling Bordeaux that will go down as a prodigious vintage alongside 2009.”
Unsurprisingly, the merchants preferred Mr Parker’s notes to those of Mr Gilman, and the battlefield of the campaign began. If I recall correctly, it was even less fun than the 2009 campaign, which was no fun at all, if rather lucrative.
I remember my EP trip well. My son was due to arrive into this world on April 6th 2011 and as such my plan was to skip the tastings. As it happened he arrived a month early and, with the blessing (I think) of my wife I dashed out to Bordeaux for a couple of days. It was a good trip: Avis had screwed up so I got a nice car – a droptop Mini – and the weather was spectacular as it so often is in Bordeaux in April. I tasted Pauillac, Graves and the right bank before coming home and, much as everything had been good, I wasn’t quite convinced. Some wines were just too perfect, too well-wrapped. And – this is the thing about a great deal of 2010s – a lot of wines just weren’t “together” in the same way that the riper 2009s and the aristocratic 2005s were.
A few years later I tasted the vintage again in Southwold – this time pretty much the whole lot and, with this being my first Southwold tasting, I worked like a dog at it. My impressions were fairly similar: some quite outstanding wines, and a few wines that, again, weren’t quite together.
This February, I tasted the best part of 180 wines from the 2010 vintage as part of the Southwold “10 years on” tasting held at the waterside offices of Farr Vintners. There are many reasons for the write up taking so long, the most relevant being this: the 2010 Bordeaux vintage is not an easy one to taste. Nor is it an easy one to judge. This makes it pretty tricky to write about, too. That is my story and I will stick to it. But, with three cracks on the vintage in the bag, I do feel confident of my appraisal.
A vintage, these days, is more than just about the weather. Yes: nature gives us the raw materials but wine is made in the winery and you can do more in the winery than ever before. Moreover, I would put the case that in Bordeaux in 2010, we were at “peak winemaking”. The châteaux (or at least a good proportion of them), were full of cash and bravado after the 2009s. With more near-perfect fruit on their hands for the second year on the spin, the temptation must have been to get their turbochargers out. It is worth repeating that Mr Parker’s influence at the time was at its peak and it is also worth noting that there is/was a very strong incentive for a Bordeaux winemaker to make his or her wine shine at barrel tastings. I have seen this done. Does it have an effect on how it tastes later down the line? Probably, I would say, and I think that this applies particularly to properties who don’t quite have terroir that they would like to think they have. You might be Mouton’s neighbour but you’re not Mouton. Put more simply: it’s easier to over-do a fifth growth than it is a first growth. Latour can handle the turbochargers; many lesser properties can’t. This is, I think, the flaw in many 2010s.
Enough of my cynicism. What about the wines?
The top wines of 2010 remain breath-taking. The levels of tannin, alcohol and acidity are such that (a) they can be hard work to taste in any great number and (b) they will need decades to show their best but, this notwithstanding, there is some brilliance at the peaks, and those peaks are very high indeed. Herewith the absolute bangers:
2010 Vieux Château Certain
I frequently pick this one blind on account of the Cabernet Franc but there’s not much in it in 2010. This is seriously rich, chocca-mocha, Black Forest gâteau Pomerol.
2010 Château Lafleur
This is what I picked as VCC. Rich, full and an inimitable mouthfeel. Depth. Clay. Excellent. Lafleur doesn’t always show its class in this sort of tasting but this is at the pinnacle.
2010 Château Mouton-Rothschild
2010 Mouton is rich and full and very, very glossy though with all the stuffing to back it up. There is an awful lot going on – layers and layers of flavour – and proves the point that the prettier you are, the more make up you can wear (this goes for both men and women).
2010 Château Latour
Latour just knows it’s regal. No gloss on this, just depth, weight and the feeling that there is something very special in your glass. I prefer the 09, but then I would.
2010 Le Pin
I find Le Pin can be a little bit hit and miss, but when it hits it is something else. Fresh lift, class, depth and length and this doesn’t just coat the tongue, it rather blankets it. Current price: GBP 36,500 per dozen in bond, so GBP 43,832 with duty and VAT. I assume you could negotiate free delivery and probably a decent lunch too, but you can buy a new Porsche Boxster for that sort of money.
All of this lot are unquestionably amongst the best wines ever made at their respective estates, and VCC and Lafleur in particular took my breath away. Their counterpart 2016s will almost certainly give them a run for their money, as will the relevant 2005s and 2009s. At this level it’s not about “better”, it’s about “different” and – this is important – it’s about how any given bottle performs on any given day.
Just, and I mean just, below this lot there are a dozen or so wines that I’d place in the same “best ever” category, notably Châteaux Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Lynch-Bages and Rauzan-Ségla. All of these are quite, quite, outstanding and, on their day, I reckon you could put any of these next to a first growth and get a surprise.
And then you get to the tricky bit. The bit where I think a lot of winemakers pushed a little too hard. One notable high-scorer is positively wonky, a few others are testing their foundations. There is an awful lot of tannin and many wines, wobbling or not, still taste a little “cut and shut”. There is some success here too, and there are some brilliant wines for those with just a few quid as opposed to a few million: the deliciously flashy Batailley, the Goliath-killing David that is Ségla, and a quite fantastic Montlandrie for example. Herewith a quick run-through:
Tertre-Rôteboeuf is fully ripe and totally complete. There is a hint of over-ripeness to it, which is part of the style, and which I liked very much indeed. Lovely wine, and a wine of character. Valandraud is deliciously minty with a touch of bacon smoke to it. Clos Fourtet has some Frazzles to it too, and is punchy and sweet in the mouth. It is long, with nothing sticking out at all. Figeac, Pavie, Angélus and Canon are all very serious wines.
Fleur de Gay is very tarty, but the tartiness is well executed and is impressive if you like the style. Rich and plush and sweet. Hosanna is very impressive: full, complete and a wine with muscle. I’m not quite sure where it will go, though. Lafleur and VCC are proper humdingers. Trotanoy, Gazin and Conseillante are all impressive and would maybe have made the cut on a different day.
Montrose did it for me – graphite, depth and power – with Cos maybe a whisper behind. There is a touch of salinity to 2010 Cos d’Estournel, and it is very much the real deal. Calon-Ségur is broad, rich and punchy. Phelan-Ségur is worth a mention too, but I have to say that in St Estèphe I am firmly 2009, where there is a genuine magic to the wines.
Both of the Pichons, along with the aforementioned Lynch and GPL did it for me. Batailley is proper “bistro” Pauillac and I was aching for a tartare and frites as I tasted it. Forts de Latour and Petit Mouton are both very strong. You can’t really go wrong in 2010 in Pauillac, though Pontet-Canet splits opinion.
Always the most consistent appellation and no change there, but I would still buy 2009 ahead of these. The value pick is Lagrange – I rated up there with the best – and both Bartons did well, as did Poyferré. Ducru won it for me. Proper wine.
Mmm. Ségla has to lead the field here; I’m not the only taster who rated this up there with some very grand company. We tasted the same wine bottled under cork and under screwlid. I preferred the screwlid. Palmer is a serious wine in 2010, though still a little aggressive for me. This may well have been palate fatigue; “Palmer” and “aggressive” don’t normally feature in the same note.
I got a bit lost here but Smith-Haut-Lafitte, Pape-Clement and Tour-Martillac are worthy of note, though the latter wine got an extra point for “a lack of aggression”. I was clearly tiring at that stage, and aggression is a feature of the vintage. At more than one point I was reminded of tasting a young and very serious Barolo from Cavalotto, a wine that I described as “clearly wanting a fight”.
Vintage of the Century? Not for me. I’m still 2005 and 2009, then probably 2016, which is what 2010 would/could have been with a lighter touch. It’s all rather close.
I should also add that a massively tannic, acidic and alcoholic vintage does not always suit large, academic tastings. It just gets a bit much, and I did feel on a couple of occasions that my palate had just taken a good kicking. These wines will show better on their own, with food, in less industrious surroundings.
What would I buy? Money-no-object I’d buy at the top. But money-rather-serious I’d buy, well, 2005, 2009 or 2016.