Vive la Différence Bordeaux 2009 & 2010

One vintage has depth and drink-now deliciousness while the other is more classically restrained and ageable. What is a Bordeaux wine lover to do?


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Two great vintages, one after the other. Bordeaux 2009: ripe, rich, opulent. Bordeaux 2010: structured, firm, ageworthy. For fans of the region’s wines, Fabrice Bernard, marketing director of Bordeaux merchant Millésima, describes it this way: You have a choice between a Lamborghini, all show, and an Aston Martin, classic and restrained.

There is already no doubt that the 2009 vintage is delicious. From the moment the barrel tastings took place in spring 2010, it has been praised as fruity and delectable. Yet in Bordeaux, “One hundred percent of us winemakers prefer 2010,” says Jean-René Matignon, technical director of Château Pichon-Longueville in Pauillac. “And even though I like the personality of 2009, the 2010 has more vigor, is more aromatic. The fruit is well preserved by the tannins.” Other négociants and importers echo the sentiment—the opulence of the 2009s are well suited to the American palate, while the 2010s are more challenging to taste in their youth.

In other words, the Bordelais fret that Americans are being seduced by a vintage that is not, well, classic.

And, yes, we have been seduced, if sales are a reliable indication of our ardor. “As far as sales stats go, it’s completely one-sided. We have sold 10 times more 2009 than 2010,” says Ralph Sands, senior wine specialist at K&L Wine Merchants in Redwood City, California. He’s been tasting and buying Bordeaux since 1988. At this point, he says, “I prefer 2009. It has more layers of fruit, more flesh—a great taste. By contrast, 2010 will require a long time.”

And now the weather

Bill Blatch, director of Bordeaux company Bordeaux Gold, has worked in the Bordeaux wine trade for 30 years and saw the result of the region’s extreme weather in 2009 and ’10—that essential ingredient in terroir—as it created back-to-back greatness: wines with huge concentration, high alcohol, power and weight. But, as Blatch says, “there the similarities end.” Here’s a snapshot from his annual Bordeaux report:

The 2009s are, superficially anyway, softer wines made from gentle, progressive weather, with gradual concentration coming from perfect summer ripening, followed, continuously and without interruption, by further concentration from a perfect autumn. The year had gone through the gears seamlessly with no jolts.

The 2010s on the other hand are robust wines made from more aggressive and extreme conditions and their concentration comes from more extreme dehydration thanks to El Niño. They are the product of drought, of a more irregular sugar build-up in summer and a sudden reconcentration at the finish. And, most importantly, they get their higher acidities from the cooler August–September minimum temperatures and from the cooler autumn.

Taste the difference

The differences are confirmed by comparative tastings I organized in the fall of 2011. The 2009s were in bottle, the 2010s were cask samples, not likely to be bottled before summer 2012.

At CVBG Grands Crus’s Château la Garde in Pessac-Léognan, I tasted with Mathieu Chadronnier, the Bordeaux négociant’s fine wine managing director. We compared wines from his company’s estates.

The difference between the vintages was impressively consistent. Château la Garde 2009, Pessac-Léognan, is ripe and richly concentrated; the 2010 vintage is dark and tannic. Château le Boscq 2009, Saint-Estèphe, is ripe while also structured; 2010 is smoky, herbal, dry and tannic. The sweet fruit shines in the 2009 Château Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac, Saint-Émilion; the 2010 is spicy, showing high alcohol.

“The 2010 vintage is the most concentrated vintage ever made in Bordeaux,” says Chadronnier. “Everybody waited to pick because they could, which meant the grapes shrank. There was less juice, and more skin equals more tannin.”

Across Bordeaux, in the Libourne offices of Établissements Jean-Pierre Moueix, I repeated the comparative tasting, this time with the wines from the Right Bank estates managed and distributed by Christian Moueix and his son, Edouard. “In 2010, we were surprised—by comparing with 2009—how slow the fruit was to show on the wines,” says Edouard Moueix. “In 2009, it was always there. The 2010s have higher acidity and higher tannin structure—the effect of the drought in the summer of 2010—along with high levels of alcohol.”

These Merlot-dominated wines of Saint-Émilion and Pomerol show the differences between two great vintages even more starkly than the Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines of the Médoc and Pessac-Léognan.

The opulence of such wines as Château La Fleur-Pétrus and Château Providence in 2009 has been replaced in 2010 by huge tannins, austerity and acidity. A year from now, 2009 will continue to be a charmer, while 2010 will still be dark, brooding and high in alcohol.

Which is the better vintage?

“Both vintages follow the definition of a great vintage,” says Millésima’s Bernard. “It was good in all areas of Bordeaux.”

With such stark differences between these fine vintages, the choice is only hard if you don’t know whether to buy and drink, or buy and cellar. The 2009 wines are so delicious they are, literally, irresistible. With its huge aging potential, the 2010 vintage harks back to more classic Bordeaux. The 2010s are wines you are willing to wait for to celebrate your intuition and investment. 

My belief is that wine drinkers with patience will be rewarded in 15 years with 2010 wines that are even greater than 2009. For me, that makes 2010 the better vintage. And in the meantime, I can fall in love again and again with 2009.

Affordable Bordeaux

Favorites from tastings of the 2009 vintage in the fall of 2011

92 Château les Ormes de Pez 2009 Saint-Estèphe; $50
92 Château Paloumey 2009 Haut-Médoc; $22
92 Château les Ormes 2009 Saint-Julien; $80
91 Château Béhèré Courtin 2009 Pauillac; $75
91 Château Citran 2009 Haut-Médoc; $35
91 Château Preuillac 2009 Médoc; $35
91 Château Haut Breton Larigaudière 2009 Margaux; $80
90 Château Bel-Air Ortet 2009 Saint-Estèphe; $30
90 Château Belgrave 2009 Haut-Médoc; $55
90 Château Liversan 2009 Haut-Médoc; $20

The stratospheric pricing of classified-growth Bordeaux wines can distort the overall picture. “The glamour stocks are so disconnected from the rest,” says Martin Sinkoff, director of marketing, fine wine, at Frederick Wildman & Sons in New York. But he and other importers are willing to recommend wines from the huge range below the overpriced surface. Ralph Sands, senior wine specialist at K&L Wine Merchants, suggests Châteaux Cantemerle, Poujeaux, Meyney, Talbot and Kirwan in the Médoc.

Sinkoff agrees on Châteaux Cantemerle and Poujeaux and adds the second wines from such premier estates as Echo de Lynch-Bages from Château Lynch-Bages and La Parde de Haut-Bailly from Château Haut-Bailly. He includes from the Right Bank: Château Corbin in Saint-Émilion and Château Petit-Village in Pomerol.

The 2010s are still in barrel and can currently only be bought as futures (before they are bottled). If you’re contemplating that route, choose a reputable retail merchant. Wine Enthusiast will publish reviews of the 2010s from bottle at the end of 2012, when there will be another chance for consumers to buy.

Bordeaux 2009 vs. 2010

In 2009 and 2010, the top wines of Bordeaux have achieved impressive scores, underlining the superlative quality of both years. Drink the 2009s from 2017, the 2010s from 2020 onwards. Bear in mind that 2010 scores are based on barrel samples and are therefore given as a range. Prices are per bottle, obtained from nationally prominent retailers; current local pricing may vary.

2009

Reds: Rich, ripe, fruity, tannins surrounded by softness. A great vintage in every part of Bordeaux.
Dry whites: Full-bodied, sometimes missing acidity.
Sweet whites: For rich, botrytis-filled wines, a great vintage.
When to drink: Many lesser reds are ready to drink now. Top wines will be ready in five years, but then will last for decades.
Similarities: 1990, 1982, 1947, 1929.

2010

Reds: Firm and tannic, very dense and concentrated. The Cabernet-based wines of the Médoc and Pessac-Léognan have a slight edge over the Merlot-based Right Bank wines.
Dry whites: A top vintage, excellent freshness and acidity.
Sweet whites: Finely balanced, with delicious acidity to go with the richness.
When to drink: This is a vintage for long aging.
Similarities: 2005, 1986, 1961, 1928.    

Bordeaux 2009 or 2010? What the experts say

2009: An approachable vintage.
2010: Not approachable yet, with a level of austerity.
Mathieu Chadronnier, Managing Director, CVBG Grands Crus,Bordeaux

2009: A Lamborghini, exuberant.
2010: An Aston Martin, classic.
Fabrice Bernard, Marketing Director, Millésima Bordeaux

2009: Layers of fruit, flesh; a great taste.
2010: Absolutely classic. Will require a long time.
Ralph Sands, Senior Wine Specialist, K&L Wine Merchants, Redwood City, California

2009: A beautiful, natural vintage.
2010: Fleshy, but much harder to taste en primeur.
Martin Sinkoff, Director of Marketing, Fine Wine, Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York, New York

2009: The vintage with charm.
2010: The vintage with balance.
Lilian Barton-Sartorius, Manager, Château Léoville-Barton, Saint-Julien

2009: Open and charming.
2010: The wine for long-term aging.
Thomas DôChi Nam, Technical Director, Château Margaux, Margaux

96 Château Figeac (Saint-Émilion); $280
96 Château Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan); $1,200    
99 Château Latour (Pauillac); $2,200
98 Château Léoville-Barton (Saint-Julien); $135    
98 Château Léoville-Las Cases (Saint-Julien); $365    
96 Château Lynch-Bages (Pauillac); $195    
98 Château Margaux (Margaux); $1,300    
96 Château Mouton Rothschild (Pauillac); $1,300    
98 Château Palmer (Margaux); $330    
95 Château Pavie (Saint-Émilion); $350    
95 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (Pauillac); $205    
96 Château Trotanoy (Pomerol); $425   

94–96 Château Figeac (Saint-Émilion); $305
95–97 Château Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan); $1,350
97–99 Château Latour (Pauillac); $1,500
97–99 Château Léoville-Barton (Saint-Julien); $125
96–98 Château Léoville-Las Cases (Saint-Julien); $330
96–98 Château Lynch-Bages (Pauillac); $175
98–100 Château Margaux (Margaux); $1,350
96–98 Château Mouton Rothschild (Pauillac); $1,350
96–98 Château Palmer (Margaux); $350
91–93 Château Pavie (Saint-Émilion); $385
94–96 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (Pauillac); $235
94–96 Château Trotanoy (Pomerol); $395

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