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The Bordeaux Diary: The Back Stretch of a Long Race

After confirming initial impressions of the 2010 Bordeaux vintage on the Right Bank, I'm working my way through Margaux, Pauillac, St.-Julien and more
Photo by: James Molesworth
Misty winter mornings in Bordeaux are ideal times to stay inside and taste.

Posted: Dec 10, 2012 12:30pm ET

I'm getting into the meat of my 2010 Bordeaux tasting now, having worked through the Right Bank wines of St.-Emilion (which takes two full days), Pomerol and their various satellite appellations. As mentioned briefly in my last blog, the wines are showing very, very well.

It's easy to stay focused on the tasting, working through a few flights every day for over 10 days in a row. The weather outside can be downright gloomy—a charmingly foggy morning at best, often followed by a steady dull rain and battleship gray skies. We get a spot of sun once in a while and then I might dash out for a jog to keep the senses sharp, though I wound up jogging through a little hailstorm at one point (which I don't recommend). But otherwise there's nothing to draw my attention away from the bagged bottles lined up for me and my trusty laptop.

While the top wines are very exciting, they will more often than not command very high prices. For the rest of us, we'll be looking for values. There are many in the $50 and under range that will reward modest cellaring (eight to 10 years). Wines like Domaine de l'A from Stéphane Derenoncourt, and châteaus like Jean Faure, La Tour Figeac and Barde-Haut from St.-Emilion and Bourgneuf, La Grave à Pomerol and Latour à Pomerol from Pomerol. Don't overlook places such as Fronsac or Castillon either. 2010 is a vintage to forget about AOC prestige and buy properties that may typically merit ratings in the very good range that now cross over into the outstanding range because of the vintage's superior quality.

From the Right Bank I crossed back over to the Left Bank and began my march northward, starting first in Graves before moving to the Médoc, Margaux and further up (I saved Pessac for later on, as there were a lot of wines and I was expecting some big tannins).

Margaux is notoriously inconsistent as an appellation: It's spread out, the terroir is varied and there are scads of châteaus. But my tasting showed just how strong 2010 is, as the Margaux flight was very consistent, qualitywise, while the varied terroir still came shining through. The wines from Margaux almost always show elegance, but varying degrees of dark fruit or minerality. The Médoc and Haut-Médoc appellations, often marked by modest quality, are also successful in 2010, with bright fruit, sleek tannins and a freshness that will carry them in the cellar short-term as well. Châteaus like du Retout, Cantemerle, Citran, Haut Condissas and even the usually taciturn Potensac all showed well. These often clock in in the $20 to $40 range.

The highlights of the Left Bank so far though belong to Pauillac and St.-Julien. The wines' structures are forceful and authoritative but the fruit is there in spades, dark and brawny, with smoldering charcoal and iron profiles that set these two appellations apart from the pack. Estates such as Clerc-Milon and d'Armailhac are both blue chips for the cellar for those looking for bang for their buck and Branaire-Ducru has produced a beautifully perfumed and stylish wine. There are many stars, though I'll save the nuts and bolts for my report in the spring issue.

There are still a few more days to go—Pessac reds and whites and St.-Estèphe among other miscellany. And then there's the carrot being held for me by Alison, my tasting coordinator: Sauternes. One of my favorite wines to taste, Alison knows if I get to Sauternes before I finish everything else, I'll start daydreaming too much. So, she holds it until the last day.

There have been a few delicious meals so far as well. At Au Bonheur du Palais, just let the owner pick a tasting menu for you. The plates of Chinese food are superfresh, with just enough lively spice. Even me, a jaded New Yorker who has Chinese food at his fingertips at any time, was more than impressed with the definition and clarity of the food. The wine list is fun too, mostly German and Alsatian Riesling, but some treasures too like Saumur from Clos Rougeard, Burgundies from Coche-Dury and Mortet, and even a 1996 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet Clavaillon, all at very reasonable prices.

At Le Chapon Fan, it's classic French with just enough of a modern cast to keep it interesting. Service is very attentive and the list is deep in Bordeaux, including older vintages for the savvy buyer to snap up, like an '88 Clos Fourtet St.-Emilion that was drinking beautifully. Also in Bordeaux proper is Septième Péché, a small jewel-box restaurant, with clean, modern decor. Give yourself time to enjoy the tasting menu, which started with an amuse bouche of a potato steamed in blue clay and served with a sumptuous béarnaise sauce. The wine list is short but well-chosen, with a few half-bottles to keep things flexible. For high-end, modern food, it's tough to beat.

If you want simple grilled stuff and a laid-back atmosphere, head over to Le Comptoir de St.-Genès outside of St.-Emilion. The place doubles as a retailer, selling only wines of the Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux  AOC, a terrific source for overlooked values. Peruse the bins for a bottle, then take it to your table and enjoy solid, fresh, grilled lamb cutlets or veal chop. The staff is friendly, prices modest and it's just the kind of down home, friendly wine country place that Bordeaux could use more of.

In the meantime, it's back to the tasting room. I'll check back in later in the week after I've finished tasting and can finally get out and about to see a few vineyards, rain or shine.

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

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