Fermentations and First Impressions

The 2009 vintage in Bordeaux at Châteaus Giscours, du Tertre and Haut-Bailly is one to get excited about
Nov 16, 2009

The harvest ended Oct. 13 and finally all of the vats at Giscours and du Tertre have finished their alcoholic fermentations. We always feel a small post-vendange depression at this stage, with the winding down of one vintage and the preparation for the next. Preparation means going back in the fields to lower the wires so that the long pruning season can start. But we quickly set aside our petite depression, thanks to thoughts of 2009's great quality!

Both wineries carried out macerations of 20 days on average for the best Merlot lots and 25 to 27 days for the Cabernet Sauvignons, which finished just this week. This year for the first time we inoculated the vats at du Tertre and Giscours with lactic bacteria so that the malolactic fermentation might run simultaneously with the alcoholic. This decision produced excellent results: it has ensured rapid and safe fermentations, avoiding the risk of microbial deviation, which can result in weakened acidity.

Tasting the vats, we found the wines have an intensely aromatic nose with great purity of fruit, lovely volume in the mouth and a long, persistent finish. The tannins are silky with no notes of bitterness whatsoever. Every grape variety has shown model typicity at both vineyards (naturally, since the two classed growths are neighbors). The cuvées of Merlots are rich and plump, with a beautiful tannic frame and good length; the Cabernet Francs are elegant and well-composed; and the Cabernet Sauvignons are structured and powerful, with magnificent length. The greatest surprise however has been the Petit Verdots, which this year are perfectly balanced in terms of power, fruit, complexity, tannic structure and spice.

The first lots to finish malolactic fermentation have already gone into new barrels from the best forests from the center of France, with mixed levels of toasting. The complexity the oak adds is clear, with notes of coffee, mocha and cocoa.

Again this year we have made a careful selection from the press wines in order to obtain the greatest possible choices when time comes for the blending, or assemblage. Each vats' skins were pressed five separate times, each at varying levels of pressure, adapted to suit each vat.

As for the volume of wine produced this year, we must look to the climate for answers. Undoubtedly the great weather contributed to the exceptional quality of the 2009s, but yields at du Tertre were slightly reduced. The combination of hot windy days throughout August and some of September reduced the amount of grape juice—nearly 2 percent per day at times.

The second factor affecting the size of the harvest was that some of du Tertre's plots are planted in a slightly lower density than the Médoc average of 9,000 vines per hectare [about 3,600 vines per acre]. Naturally, this played a part in some parcels' yields. Our overall average this year was 33 hectoliters per hectare, with the Cabernet Sauvignon being most susceptible to the hot conditions. Giscours' yield this year, however, was higher on average, providing around 48 hectoliters per hectare. Regardless, the quality of 2009 outweighs any concerns over yield, and we are more excited than ever about the potential for the final blend.

Château Haut-Bailly: In Between the Alcoholic and the Malolactic Fermentation

Altogether we did 10 days of harvest stretched out among five weeks at Haut-Bailly. The Merlot was harvested between Sept. 15 and Oct. 5, only in the mornings. We picked the Cabernet between Oct. 7 and 14.

The alcoholic fermentations were quite long; we kept a relatively cool temperature (around 26°C) to maximize the flavors of the fruit. The maceration on the skins lasted between three to four weeks, depending on the taste of each wine. But now we have finished draining all the tanks: the juice and must (seeds, skins, etc) are now separated.

The result is rich and powerful Cabernet, with a great creamy structure. What strikes us is the full bodied texture of the wine and the very ripe and pure fruit aromas. The relatively high alcohol levels (13.5 percent to 15 percent) don't dominate at all; there is a natural harmony and a sublime balance, even before the malolactic fermentation. These wines have everything! A few lots of Merlot have already started their malolactic fermentation. The lactic bacteria will soon multiply and spread through the cellars to all the barrels. We'll let the wines develop themselves and finish their evolution. We'll have to wait until the end of December to taste them again and start working on the blend. We look forward to the next tasting. It's so much fun and pleasure to taste a vintage like this! It will be difficult to stay away for a few weeks from this sleeping baby.

Harvest Red Wines France Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

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