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stirring the lees with james molesworth

The Bordeaux Diary: The End of a Marathon

Pessac and St.-Estèphe round out my Left Bank 2010 Red Bordeaux tastings before finishing with the sweet wines of Sauternes
Photo by: James Molesworth
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Posted: Dec 13, 2012 10:30am ET

I spent the last few days of my 2010 Bordeaux tasting by working through the reds of St.-Estèphe and then Pessac.

The reds from Pessac, with their typically tarry spine and sometimes wild notes of tobacco and ash, were a standout group, with the fruit showing the extra amplitude of the vintage and the structure evident but well-integrated. Branon turned in a very strong showing, as did some of the usual suspects. There really were no disappointments.

The opposite was true in St.-Estèphe though, which provided as varied and inconsistent a set of wines from one appellation as I tasted from the 2010 vintage. St.-Estèphe is always austere, but pleasantly so, with a chalky edge that eventually melds into a core of typically higher-toned red currant and floral notes. But this time around, there were as many wines that showed overly astringent tannins, and sometimes the unpleasant barnyard character of brettanomyces, as there were pure, refined examples that will benefit from cellaring. The wines from châteaus Ormes dez Pez and Phélan Ségur will be two excellent buys in the vintage. The top dogs of Cos and Montrose were excellent, albeit very different from each other (Cos is polished and fruit-driven; Montrose is a brute of pebbly grip and smoldering herb and fruit notes). But overall there were few highlights from this flight.

From there I tasted the dry whites of Pessac, which in 2010 show slightly outsized personalities, as they have a touch more alcohol than their '09 peers. There are some that maintained freshness and refinement, but in general it's a very good, rather than superb white wine vintage. Haut-Bergey and Larrivet Haut-Brion were solid, while the perennial stars did well also. I am also really digging the dry whites made by Sauternes producers, which often accentuate Sémillon in addition to Sauvignon Blanc, and show fuller profiles with orchard and orange citrus fruits (tangerine, clementine). The dry white from Denis Dubourdieu's Doisy-Daëne is a rapier that rewards cellaring, while the dry white from d'Yquem is beguiling with it's oily, creamy feel but amazing clarity and precision. I tasted a few early-release 2011 whites as well and the vintage should be excellent for those wines (the reds struggled). The 2011s are brighter, racier and more acidity-driven than the sometimes full-blown '10s.

My final day was the carrot flight—Sauternes. Because the wines are among my personal favorites, the Sauternes is the carrot that Alison holds in front of me to make sure I get through the hundreds of other samples first, without losing focus. As with the dry whites, the 2010 Sauternes are more tropical and fuller-blown than the fresher 2009s. Barsac, which typically produces more minerally styled sweet wines than Sauternes, gets the nod, with both Climens and Coutet showing very, very well, among other exciting wines.

With the tasting done, it was time to take Alison out for a job-well-done dinner. I'd gotten a few tips from people about a place called l'Univerre, where the former owner of Verretigo had opened a new restaurant. It's similar, with plates of well-executed, hearty food and a casual, convivial atmosphere. But the real raison d'etre is the wine list, with amazing depth in Rhône, Burgundy and Loire as well as Bordeaux, all at more-than-fair prices. I was able to cure Alison's jonesing for a white Rhône with a 1990 Hermitage White from J.L. Grippat for only 90 euros. I know—drinking Rhône in Bordeaux? Sometimes it has to be done.

Starting tomorrow, I'll finally get some fresh air doing something other than a jog: I'll head over to Fronsac for a visit, and then add a few more stops over my last few days here. It's been fun being shacked up with a few hundred wines, but I need to get my feet into the vineyards too.

You can follow James Molesworth on Twitter, at twitter.com/jmolesworth1.

David A Zajac
Akron, Ohio —  December 13, 2012 3:58pm ET
Sounds as if, with the possible exception of St. Estephe, that this met your expectations for the 2010 vintage. I know the style is completely different from 2009, but qualitatively, do you have a preference at this time or is it still too early to say?
James Molesworth
New York —  December 14, 2012 2:34am ET
David: The '10s have racier structure, and display more terroir, power and energy than the '09s. I'll get into more details in my upcoming report...

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