The Great 2010 Claret Tasting at Southwold. Part One.

I’ve been trying to write about this for more than a month.  And failing.  It’s dawned on me why I’ve failed thus far: there’s too much to write about.  So: bite-sized chunks.

I tasted 300 or so 2010s in January along with what I consider to be the cream of the UK wine trade cognoscenti.  The journos and the traders.  Amongst them some guys (and girl) whose palates I consider to be the best.  The very best.  Corky, my friend Mister B, Bazdad, The-Bloke-Who-Didn’t-Give-Me-A-Job, the remarkable Steven Spurrier.  And more,  all with equally impressive palates, power, and CVs.  All wines served blind in flights of twelve.  No hiding.

Back in 2011, my then unborn son was due to make his appearance on April 6th: en-primeur tasting time for the 2010s.  So no flights booked for me.  He showed up on March 6th instead (a) getting me out of a lecture on wine investment on the 7th and (b) meaning I could at least spend a couple of days in Bordeaux in April.  I did the right bank, Graves and Pauillac.  And I wasn’t totally convinced.  Sure, I tasted some brilliance but I also sensed a bit of “cut and shut”.  Which is to say wines that weren’t quite complete in the same way that 2009s or 2005s are or were.  And then came the prices.

Three years on and (a) I have a handful of a boy instead of a boy that fits in my hand, (b) the prices have come down and (c) the wines are in bottle and are in a fairer, if not fitter, state to judge.  What’s the verdict?

The best wines of 2010, and I’d say that there are fifteen or twenty or so of them, are breathtaking.  And I mean breathtaking.  Wines that will knock you off your pivot at any price.  It is these wines that the reputation of 2010 will live off for years.

Immediately below these it gets a little smudgy, a little harder to define.  A lot of 2010s taste a little forced, a little over-made.  A little worked.  Sorry, Mr Parker: a little spoofulated or, to clarify: made to score points rather than to express their own inherent character (by which I mean terroir).  But not without success: 2010 Ducru is the best young Ducru I’ve tasted.  Pichon-Baron pulls off boisterous bling and patrician poise at the same time.  Poyferre has guts underneath the gloss.  But it’s not as consistent, as complete, and as “whole” as 2009.  And some of the wines are hard work.  Maybe at an odd stage?  Or is that a wine trade sellout comment?

And then the wines we can afford.  The hallmark of a truly great vintage is that the “lesser” wines perform so well that the quality pyramid is squashed.  2009 Poujeaux or Beaumont are prime examples of this, and are wines to fill your boots with twice over then borrow some more boots.  Indeed you can buy 2005 or 2009 Bordeaux almost blind: you will not be disappointed.  2010 isn’t quite the same, or at least not at this stage.

Jacques Seysses of Domaine Dujac apparently once said: “only journalists know the quality of a vintage before the harvest”.  His point being that the reputation of a vintage is often decided before anyone has actually tasted it.  2013 Bordeaux, for instance, is already a dead duck or at least very close despite the fact that the wines aren’t finished and very few have tasted any.  For what it’s worth, the handful that I have tasted were okay.  Conversely, 2010 was also considered exceptional before the jury had even seen the evidence, let alone had the chance to deliberate.  And to take that analogy further: the jury was influenced.  Wine merchants by their nature want to like a vintage because (a) most of them love the subject matter and (b) it’s very tricky to sell wine that you don’t rate.  And this, I think, is what happened with 2010: the wine world got caught up in its own story.  Mr Parker’s verdict is the judge’s summary, and there you have it.  And a lot of 2010s do have something that appeals, I think, to Mr Parker: lots of alcohol and lots of extraction.

To finish: 2010 is clearly a very, very good vintage.  A comprehensive tasting of the most definitely average 2004 vintage last week confirmed this.  But it’s not, in my opinion, the pinnacle.  And the title fight for the greatest vintage of this century isn’t 2009 vs 2010; it’s 2005 vs 2009.  A score or so of the best 2010s are truly great, great, wines: there’s no question in my mind about that.  But the vintage itself?  Close, and maybe a cigar, but no Havana.

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