I arrived as scheduled in Bordeaux—just on time for lunch. I like to plan things like that.
The real task, though, is to sift through several hundred samples of 2010 Bordeaux. When I met her for lunch, senior tasting coordinator Alison Napjus gleefully told me we had 1,268 samples, just so she could watch my face turn ashen, before letting me know that many were doubles (so in reality, about 700 wines). So, with two weeks to taste, it's manageable. Still, a good steady pace is required, as well as a lot of focus.
My annual in-bottle Bordeaux tasting is easily the biggest and longest single tasting I do. When in my New York office, I taste every day, but perhaps only 20 or 30 wines a day. When I travel in the Rhône, I may taste dozens of barrel samples in a day, but I'm not writing formal notes or reviewing those wines, since they are unfinished, sometimes just lots of pre-blends, and not tasted blind. That makes the Bordeaux tasting unique.
When working through a large set of wines over a long period of time as I am now, there has to be a plan of attack. I look at it like a large meal, as a Thanksgiving-style meal really. It's long, drawn out and ultimately spread over a few days. You want to enjoy yourself, but also not lose focus or get worn down. It takes some experience and patience to navigate it. Slow and steady wins the race. Learning to stop for the day before palate fatigue sets in, rather than when it's too late, is key. Heading out for a good jog here and there helps.
I start with the lighter-bodied wines, such as the generic Bordeaux or Bordeaux Supérieur. With generally easier tannin structures and lower alcohols, they provide a good entry point. From there I move through fresher-styled wines such as those from Blaye or the various Côtes de Bordeaux areas, before formally moving into the Right Bank. Fronsac, Lalande-de-Pomerol and Pomerol are the next progression, before shifting to St.-Emilion satellites, Castillon and then St.-Emilion itself. From there I taste my way up the Left Bank—Pessac, Graves, Margaux and into the other appellations of the Médoc, typically finishing with Pauillac and St.-Julien, where the tannins are often the most substantial.
Because of the nature of the 2010 vintage—tannic and structured—we are decanting all the wines prior to tasting (or I should say, Alison is decanting all the wines).
At some point, I'll work in a day of whites. I actually enjoy tasting whites after reds as their freshness and acidity is pleasantly bracing and helps to hold my focus.
The ultimate carrot for finishing everything is a flight of Sauternes. Alison knows Sauternes are among my favorite wines and seeing them waiting there for me as each days passes helps to keep my energy level up.
After the first two and a half days of tasting, the wines are generally showing very, very well. Despite persistent gray skies and dull, chilling rain, the wines are expressive, bright and vivacious (dull weather can often dampen how wines show). The structure of the vintage is evident but racy. The fruit is delineated and, at their best, the top wines rival or surpass 2009. The Pomerol appellation was the first real highlight of the tasting, with several stunning wines.
There have been hiccups though. A flight of St.-Emilion satellites one morning was maddeningly uninspired, with slightly jammy fruit and austere tannins that overwhelmed some of the wines. So, 2010 won't be a vintage to buy with abandon. But, we'll sort that all out in good time. There are many more days of tasting still to go …
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