Sometime in April 2010 I was enjoying a lager with my good friend and former colleague, Clarethound, in the bar at the Mercure Chartrons. Lager is the winetaster’s ally – the salve after a days’ tasting. We were discussing the 2009s that we had been tasting all day. Clarethound, not for the first time, said something to me that stuck: “You know what? I think that these wines might just be so good that we don’t even know it.”
Or something like that.
Selling the wines a month or so later was profitable purgatory. Prices were unprecedentedly high, as was demand. Supply was an issue. Avarice was everywhere along the chain. At the end of the EP campaign we were all knackered. It had been profitable; it hadn’t been much fun. And then the train that was 2010 Bordeaux followed.
And last week I got another, detailed look at 2009. Just under 170 wines tasted blind with some of the best palates (and nicest people) I know, at Farr Vintners’ impeccable offices on the Thames. Here are my thoughts:
St Emilion (and Bourg, obviously)
The big boys aside, my picks were a brilliantly crisp Petit Cheval, the delightfully idiosyncratic Roc de Cambes, a rich, ripe and punchy Troplong Mondot, a brooding and very serious Valandraud and a very plush Canon. All will keep, though the Canon and the Roc de Cambes are so plush as to be ready to go now. The Troplong Mondot is of a modern style, though very well-executed within that style. Valandraud tastes the youngest of the five wines.
Probably the most exciting appellation for the 2015s, Pomerol was a little bit of a disappointment in 2009 (apart from at the very top). Merlot and ripeness doesn’t always go well. I adored the cult cuvée La Violette, a wine that is clearly made in the cellar but is disarmingly flamboyant (and has the fruit to stand up to the barrel work). Le Gay came second in a similar style, though without the final fireworks of it’s supercuvée sibling. Clinet, a 100-pointer for Mr Parker, was also in the running; this is rich, plush Pomerol very much in the style of the chateau.
Graves is very good rather than great in 2009. A seductively toasty Larrivet Haut Brion is worthy of mention, as is Domaine de Chevalier – this is very vinous, and isn’t as tarty as modern Domaine de Chevalier can be. Smith-Haut-Lafitte, another 100-pointer, is a ripe and lush wine and I can see where Mr Parker was seduced even if I can’t quite match the numbers. The big surprise here was Fieuzal; I was not alone in scoring this very well.
I changed my score on my favourite Margaux (Margaux itself excepted) three times. It was Lascombes. And you’re not supposed to rate Lascombes higher than the likes of Rauzan-Ségla and Palmer. But I did and there you go. Issan showed very well for the group, though I didn’t quite get it myself, and Kirwan too (you’re not supposed to like this one, either). Palmer and Rauzan-Ségla were both excellent; I scored Palmer half a point higher than Rauzan, though looking at my notes they’re probably more neck and neck. The bargain of the appellation is Ségla, Rauzan-Ségla’s second wine. A case of this will set you back £300 and it’s delicious. We tasted the wine under screwcap and under cork and, whilst you can spot that it’s the same wine, I’d have screwcap to drink tonight and cork to stick in the cellar. I hope that some clever MW type can tell me why.
St Julien & Pauillac
This is where things start to get tricky. Or maybe difficult. There is a great deal of power in 2009, and a great deal of ripeness. It’s a bit like bricks of fruit being thrown at you. These wines, and not just the St Juliens or the Pauillacs, are very hard work to taste in number. It’s a bit like an assault, albeit a good one, on your tastebuds. Under fire from this plethora of tannins fruit, alcohol, flavour, it can be hard to see the wood for the trees.
That said, you can’t really put a foot wrong in either commune. In St Julien, the three Léovilles are exceptional, though Lascases is, I think, at a funny stage (as it can be for much of the time; Eddie Izzard’s joke on pears fits well with Lascases). Ducru is flamboyant and smoky and needs, I think, to integrate a little more. The surprise packages for me were Gloria, which is very nicely worked, and Lagrange, which is decidedly proper claret.
Pauillac too was a little overwhelming. There was almost too much quality, too much volume. I rated the two Pichons top, along with Forts de Latour. Grand-Puy-Lacoste was a whisper behind though, looking at my notes, I may well have underscored it – there is a purity, a lack of fanciness in 2009 GPL that sets it apart. I loved Batailley (as I always do). As with St Julien, you can’t really go far wrong with Pauillac in this vintage.
There is some greatness in St Estèphe in 2009. The appellation doesn’t boast the bounty of great properties that Pauillac and St Julien can, but it is in this commune where I sensed, first growths and similar notwithstanding, something special.
Let’s get the Cos thing out of the way. 2009 Cos d’Estournel is going to be splitting opinions for some years to come. There are a few similarities between Cos and Château Pavie, one of those similarities being that they are both hard to assess blind on account of their being so easily identifiable. So, as a taster, you have ten wines in front of you that are truly blind and a glass of 2009 Cos (or Pavie, or Pontet-Canet from 2010 – 2013). I scored it higher than anything else from St Estèphe for two reasons: firstly, it’s exceptional whether or not you like the style, which is very, very ripe – the fruit is seemingly reduced (in the culinary rather than the vinous sense). And, if it holds together, and I see no reason why it shouldn’t, it just might turn into something out of this world. Which is the second reason. I doff my hat to 2009 Cos – it’s an exceptional cabaret act of a wine.
2009 Ch. Montrose is equally good, and infinitely more St Estèphe. Deep, rich, fat and meaty. The group scored this top and the group is probably right, especially if we’re talking terroir and the expression of it. Tasting these two side by side over the years will be a pleasure. The bargains are Phelan-Ségur, Ormes de Pez, Lafon-Rochet and, of course, Meyney.
The Big Boys
The top wines of Bordeaux in 2009, by which I mean the left bank first growths and their right bank peers (that may be a subjective description for some) are stellar. 2009 Latour just might be the greatest wine I have ever tasted – I wrote about it HERE. And the rest aren’t far behind by any means. At this level scores start to get a little, well, pointless.
That notwithstanding, in terms of scores I had Cheval Blanc and Pin equal top with Latour. Subsequent reflection has put Latour into the lead. But, in 2009, all of the wines at the top deliver exactly what they should – a glimpse at vinous perfection, of greatness. Something that is more than just life: a flight on the Concorde, a night at the Meurice, Ali vs Foreman. That sort of thing. To write them all up is folly; if you own them you will be happy. If you buy them you will be rewarded. I can’t quite get my head around the price of Le Pin, but a case of Latour at £10,000 is worth it and more, as are most of the others. What price brilliance?
The question is, maybe, this: where does 2009 rank in terms of the great modern vintages?
I don’t have an answer. 2005, whilst stylistically different, is probably behind 2009 for most, though I like the style, the Savile Row cut, of 2005. 2009, for many wines, is a bit like a bling 2005, or a 2005 with a bit more meat (and fat) on the bone. And 2010? I will hopefully have more to say on these in a year’s time. What I do think is this: there is more stylistic difference between the vintages than there is a qualitative one. And I am a very lucky boy.
I thank all involved with this tasting. I polished more glasses this time. Promise.