The 2009 vintage for Bordeaux might not be as great as 2005 in terms of across-the-board quality, according to a few winemakers I spoke with today during a road trip to visit many of the top names in the Médoc. Based on my early impressions, I have to agree, but it’s very early to generalize and I'll know more as I continue my blind tastings of the barrel samples. There are definitely going to be some great wines: Some will be better than their counterparts from 2005, as well as from 2003, 2000 and other modern classic vintages.
"I think that we have some enormous quality wines in 2009," said Jean-Luc Zuger, owner and winemaker of Château Malescot-St.-Exupéry, the well-regarded Margaux estate. His 2005 was one of the star reds for that vintage, especially at its $100 release price, and his 2009 may be even better in quality. "But who knows if this vintage is a really great one. We will see, but I still think that 2005 across the board is better."
John Kolasa, the no-nonsense manager of Château Rauzan-Ségla, reiterated Zuger's views while tasting his excellent 2009 with me this afternoon: "It is not as homogenous as 2005, but there are going to be some great wines. It is really about terroir and what people did with it."
Today, I drove up through the Médoc and tasted the 2009 barrel samples from some of the famous names there, including Giscours, Margaux, Palmer, Malescot, Rauzan-Ségla, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Léoville-Las-Cases, Léoville-Barton, Pichon-Longueville-Baron and Latour. So far, there seem to be two styles of red wine coming through in the vintage—some are fruit-driven reds with wonderful clarity of fruit in an almost New World way, and others are more reserved, yet structured and muscular, clarets in line with recent top vintages such as 2000.
"What we are looking for in 2009 is to preserve the wonderful fruit we had in the vintage and emphasize the unique terroir we have," said Jean-Guillaume Prats, the president of Château Cos-d'Estournel, the famous second growth in St.-Estèphe.
The 2009 Cos-d'Estournel was mind-blowing, with masses of unctuous fruit, big and powerful fruit-coated tannins, and a fresh finish. I thought of Harlan or Colgin when I first put my nose in the glass, but then it was full-throttle Bordeaux on the palate, with powerful yet polished tannins and a long, long, balanced finish. This was obviously the fruit-forward school.
Château Margaux, on the other hand, featured more of the reserved, classic claret approach. It was quiet and held back on the nose and palate at first, with crystal-clear fruit and perfumes, but as I tasted the wine, it grew in my mouth, with layers of ultrafine tannins that lasted for minutes on the finish. "On paper, the 2009 is the most powerful wine that we have ever made, even more so than the 2005," said Paul Pontailler, the technical director for the first-growth, who was emphasizing how the tannin extract in his 2009 was the highest ever. "At the same time, our 2009 has the mark of our terroir, with so much power, yet it maintains a wonderful softness and balance."
I think that, with either style, the hallmarks of the 2009 vintage are definitely going to be the balance and wonderful fruit in the reds. Apparently, the alcohols in the top 2009s are slightly higher than normal, and this is giving the muscular tannins in the reds a nice softness and ripe fruit coating. (Most of the wines I tasted today were just below 14 degrees alcohol).
"The vintage made wines that have a richness of tannins that we have never seen here before," said Bruno Borie, owner of Château Ducru-Beaucaillou. I loved the fruit-forward style of his 2009 Ducru, which also had a massive tannin structure that reminded me of Ducru from years such as 1970 and 1959. "But the 2009s are silky and rich like they should be, thanks to their ripeness and alcohol," Borie said.
I just stopped into my hotel to quickly write my first impressions of 2009 after today's road trip, and note that so far I am very happy and fascinated with the style of the top wines made in this vintage. I have to go to Haut-Brion now, so I will have more to write tomorrow.
I must say that I had to laugh when I went to Léoville-Barton and met with owner Anthony Barton around mid-day. He joked, "James, the 2009 is the best vintage since 2008. That I can assure you."
I can certainly agree with that 100 percent. The rest we will see later.
ERIK GORDON — Kirkland, WA — March 23, 2010 6:34pm ET
Joshua Sun — Mountain View, CA — March 23, 2010 6:57pm ET
Matt Scott — Honolulu HI — March 23, 2010 8:27pm ET
Paul Northrop — Thousand Oaks — March 23, 2010 8:46pm ET
Don R Wagner — Illinois — March 23, 2010 9:45pm ET
Stephen Stewart — new mexico — March 24, 2010 11:09am ET
Brad Kanipe — GA — March 24, 2010 12:17pm ET
James Suckling — — March 24, 2010 2:32pm ET
James Suckling — — March 24, 2010 2:34pm ET
James Suckling — — March 24, 2010 2:35pm ET
James Suckling — — March 24, 2010 2:36pm ET
ERIK GORDON — Kirkland, WA — March 24, 2010 3:47pm ET
James Suckling — — March 25, 2010 2:49pm ET
John Brody — Montreal Canada — March 25, 2010 10:10pm ET
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