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Again to Bordeaux, to Taste the 2009 Vintage

Fresh off my trip to the Southern Rhône, I'm back in France to taste the much-heralded 2009 vintage
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Nov 30, 2011 9:00am ET

Suddenly, I'm packing again. This time for Bordeaux.

After finishing up in the Rhône, I spent a week and a half back home enjoying the Thanksgiving holiday. It felt like a very short stay.

Now I'm heading across the pond again to finish my tastings of the 2009 Bordeaux that are now in bottle. My colleagues, executive editor Thomas Matthews and senior tasting coordinator Alison Napjus, are joining me, as they did last year when I tasted the 2008s.

In tastings in my New York office I've managed to already sample more than 350 Bordeauxs from this much-heralded vintage, everything from simple Bordeaux AOC to classified-growths. There have been some terrific wines, and some disappointments.

The majority of these 2009 red Bordeauxs are showing well, with rich fruit and well-embedded structure. Some areas, such as Pessac/Graves, clearly excelled. But I can't help feeling that some of the wines are not nearly as vivid or vivacious as I would have expected based on the early prognostications. So far, my scores are generally falling into the low end, or just below, the barrel ratings from the March 2010 tastings.

Granted, I've yet to taste the majority of wines, as well as many of the best estates. I'll see more in the coming days as I plan to taste 500 or more samples during this trip before making my final evaluation in my annual tasting report.

It's interesting to compare the 2009 and 2010 Bordeauxs with the 2009 and 2010 Southern Rhônes. In both cases the '09s saw a lot of praise thanks to their fleshy, opulent personalities, while the more structure-driven 2010s were a touch overshadowed in the early going.

But now, as the 2010 Rhônes stretch out during their élevage, they're showing much racier acidity, brighter minerality and better overall definition. Following my recent trip in the Rhône, the '10 vintage is clearly a step ahead of the '09 (you can reference my annual Rhône report on the bottled 2009s in the Nov. 30 issue of Wine Spectator, and my blog entries on the 2010s I tasted in the Rhône during my recent trip).

Similarly, I loved the 2010 red Bordeauxs when I tasted them from barrel last March. They showed mouthwatering acidity, with great graphite and iron spines. Save for some slightly ponderous alcohol levels in some Right Bank, Merlot-dominated wines, the vintage was very consistent through Bordeaux, with even lesser terroirs from the vast Bordeaux Supérieur showing very well. Ultimately, the truly great vintages aren't defined by the top-end wines alone, but by the overall performance of the region as a whole—you need steak to go with the sizzle. The 2010 seems to have that top-to-bottom quality, but yes, it's early.

So for now, let's focus on the 2009s which, when released, were the most expensive Bordeaux ever to hit the U.S. Market. Do they merit their prices? Which are the stars? The sleepers? Where is the value?

It should be a fun two weeks of tasting!

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

Mark Lyon
Sonoma, CA; USA —  November 30, 2011 3:59pm ET
Being a lover of Bordeaux wines; I am really disapointed with the record level pricing on the 2009 Bordeauxs! I didn't buy any 2009 futures and been actively buying the 2008 and 2006 Vintage as a result. I'm relegated to looking outside the usual classified growths and appellations for that vintage to find affordability. Please expand on lesser regions and better priced 2009 Bordeauxs so we can gauge which ones to buy.
Steven Stiansen
Saratoga Springs, NY —  November 30, 2011 4:59pm ET
Show me the value James!
James Molesworth
Senior Editor, Wine Spectator —  December 1, 2011 2:39am ET
Mark / Steven:

Don't worry - I'll find some value for you. Look for the names profiled back in the April cover store - chateaus like Dalem, Rollan de By, Brown, La Tour Figeac, Jean Faux, Domaine de l'A and Jean-Luc Thunevin's Bad Boy (Mauvais Garçon) bottling...I've also uncovered some other interesting, off-the-radar properties so far in my '09 tastings and will report back on them as well...
Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  December 1, 2011 10:10pm ET
Looking forward to your reviews of the 2009 Sauternes! With regard to the reds I'm curious if these wines will be built for immediate consumption, or will they have enough tannic spine to age like the classic Bordeaux.
James Molesworth
Senior Editor, Wine Spectator —  December 2, 2011 3:03am ET

I tasted quite a few Sauternes in NY before coming over, and will follow up on more here. It's a super vintage for the sweet wines...

As for the reds, while they are showing lots of fruit, they are not over extracted or overripe by any stretch. They are full of structure and some are actually starting to tighten up a little. There will not be a problem aging this vintage. The question is, is the vintage truly as dynamic as some people have said? The '10 is around the corner, and that is a vintage that must be contended with as well, so I prefer not to rush to make grand pronouncements. We shall see...!
Steve Phelis
Montreal,Canada —  December 2, 2011 3:02pm ET
Hi James,

Is it true that wines can be affected by transport because I recall my tasting of Clos du Marquis 2006 when some 2nd labels of classified growths were just shipped to Canada and i was greatly dissapointed by this wine wich was kind of "dismantled". I retasted it 6 months later and it was not the same wine, it was homogeneous and giving great finale. I was told by the staff at SAQ store that thoses wines came by ships...

Yesterday, i tasted Chateau Lousteauneuf 2009 at 24$CAN. and it was structured and tastefull after decanting for an hour. I expect a lot of great buys for good prices but i'm little concerned with your comments(vivid aspect of some 2009 wines) as i bought many 2009 en primeur wines, few top names as Montrose but many St-Emilion and Pomerol like Clos des Jacobins, La Dominique, Vieux taillefer, La Croix de Gay etc and i hope i will not be deceived!

Time will tell. Maybe you can add your toughts on how can wines could fade or relive after being bottled.

I'm sure you will have great moments ahead of you in the coming weeks...

James Molesworth
Senior Editor, Wine Spectator —  December 3, 2011 3:05am ET

For sure, wines are affected by transport though they should recover (assuming they were not permanently damaged by heat or vibration along the way, which is different from bottle or travel shock).

Any wines you buy that are ultimately meant for cellaring should just go into the cellar when you receive them - forget about trying them for at least a few months. We do the same thing with samples we receive in our New York office, often waiting several weeks before we taste them to let them recover.

As for the '09s not living up to initial promise, let's keep it in perspective: is this vintage clearly outstanding? Absolutely, yes. Is it the greatest vintage of all time? I do not feel that way right now, as I work my way through the bottled wines. But I do not think you will be disappointed with any of your purchases.

However, there are more wines to taste, and more vintages to come. And that's what makes for horse races...
Steve Phelis
Montreal,Canada —  December 6, 2011 10:38am ET
Thanks again James for your input, it is greatly appreciated.

Can you tell when your web report on bottled Bordeaux 2009 should be published? Will it be in one or many reports? Is the magazine report and the one on the web are different?

James Molesworth
Senior Editor, Wine Spectator —  December 6, 2011 12:04pm ET

We will release some reviews of the '09s on the website shortly, but the bulk of the report will be in the March, 2011 issue of the magazine proper...

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