There is something about vintages ending in 8, 9 and 0 that appeal to the Bordeaux weather gods.
It’s happened three times in the last four decades, with exceptional vintages spanning 1988–1990, 2008–2010 and 2018–2020. Only one series didn’t quite live up to the others: 1998–2000.
Out of these standout triumvirates, those from 2008, 2009 and 2010 are now ready to drink.
Bordeaux grapes in 2008 dealt with a cold spring, but then a summer that left the fruit ready for Médoc the two months of late-breaking autumn heat that yielded an easy harvest.
Most of the vintage’s finest wines are now being opened with great enjoyment. Only a few lesser estates, particularly in Saint-Émilion, have passed their peak window. The best wines now have ripe, generous fruit, balanced with a good shot of acidity and an enticing smoky aftertaste. Alcohol levels are still modest, traditional Bordeaux, at around 13% or 13.5% alcohol by volume (abv), compared with the much higher figures for many vintages since then.
The following year, 2009, was very different. You can taste the textbook growing season—plenty of rain in the spring, warm summer and long, dry autumn—from the way the wines have always had a smiling face.
This was the vintage that U.S. Bordeaux lovers drooled over, while Chinese buyers entered the market in a big way and pushed prices up. Big, bold and luscious from the get-go, the best Bordeaux wines of 2009 are from the Médoc subregions of Saint-Julien, Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe, with some standouts farther south in Pessac-Léognan.
In Bordeaux, some producers had mixed feelings about the softness of the tannins and many purists wanted more structure. But this vintage offers pleasure at so many levels, and is ready to open now.
Out of the trio, 2010 is the least ready to drink. It’s also the best. While the beginning of the growing season was problematic, summer and autumn brought just the right conditions to create grapes that were concentrated while still having enough acidity.
Tannins came back with a vengeance in the powerful 2010 vintage, along with elevated alcohol levels and higher prices. But overall, the wines are uniformly great. What is so special about these wines is their balance, always an important element in the finest Bordeaux years. They have everything that great Bordeaux should have, which includes the potential for long-term aging.
Bordeaux Vintages To Open This Year, By Subregion
* Indicates the highest-rated vintage(s) of those currently in their peak drinking window.
Pomerol/Saint-Émilion: 1998, 2001*, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007
Médoc: 1998, 1999, 2000*, 2001*, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2013
Graves (red): 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009*, 2011, 2012, 2013
Graves (white): 2000, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007*, 2008, 2009, 2010
Sauternes/Barsac: 1999, 2001*, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007*, 2008, 2009*, 2012