I'm on my way to Bordeaux to taste the 2010 vintage, the first official unveiling of the vintage by the region's many producers. Just before I left, I was able to blind-taste 20 wines from the Right Bank, a mix of Pomerol, St.-Emilion and satellite appellations. (View notes on these wines here.) Based on that first small sampling, I think I'm going to enjoy my tastings and visits over the next two weeks: 2010 looks like it will give the tremendous 2009 vintage a run for its money.
The châteaus will be showcasing barrel samples, unfinished wines still aging in their cellars. So what exactly do you look for when tasting young wines, reds in particular, at such an early stage in their evolution?
For me, a tasting from barrel is just a snapshot of where the wine is going. Barrel samples are often flattering; wines usually show well from barrel, save for a few short sullen periods during the aging, perhaps after racking, the addition of sulfur or blending. What they show, however, is lots of pieces, rather than a whole. There's rich, vibrant fruit, but it tends to be more of a bundled ball than a wide-open spectrum of different fruit flavors. Minerality might be particularly buried. Oak might be dominant—but does it sit atop the fruit like a veneer, or does it seem to be melding into the fruit? The finish won't be too defined yet, but how long is it?
More often than not, you give a wine in barrel the benefit of the doubt, knowing that it is still sorting itself out. The wine is posing more questions than offering answers at this time.
Many people argue it’s too early to pass judgment on these wines—especially in a vintage like ’10, where abundant tannins and high alcohol make rushing to judgment early in the wines’ development an even trickier proposition. So why then does Bordeaux have such a large, organized trade and media blitz for each vintage only six months after the grapes were picked?
Simply put, it’s a business. It’s a monstrous business too, with millions of dollars on the line.
With Bordeaux wines sold as futures before they are even bottled, châteaus need the early buzz to help establish their wines in the marketplace. Consumers want to know about the wines as well, of course, to help them make their budgeting and buying decisions.
As a consumer advocate, it’s my job to go in and give as fair and objective an overview of the vintage as possible. To do that, I’ll be visiting châteaus all this coming week. As always, I set my own schedule and do not accept any travel assistance when I visit a wine region. Wines tasted non-blind at châteaus will be clearly indicated in the tasting notes. Follow along via my blog for notes on these visits over the coming days.
The following week, I'll hunker down for a large, blind tasting of more than 225 samples from a selection of the region's most recognized names, as well as interesting properties you may not have heard of. Those wines will be tasted blind.
To ensure independence, I selected the châteaus that were asked to submit wines to the tasting, which will be organized by senior tasting coordinator Alison Napjus. The tasting will be held in space I rented at Maison Joanne, a major négociant located across the river from Bordeaux on the way to St.-Emilion. Barrel samples are fragile, and freshness is of paramount importance when tasting the wines. I felt Joanne offered the most professional means for securing large numbers of barrel samples and storing them properly for my tasting.
Scores and tasting notes for all the wines tasted during my trip will be posted in the 2010 Bordeaux Barrels report on Winespectator.com, with a full report slated for the June 30 issue of Wine Spectator magazine.
[You can also follow James Molesworth on Twitter, at http://twitter.com/jmolesworth1]
Daniel Sherer — Healdsburg, CA, USA — March 21, 2011 3:49pm ET
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