Vintage Roundup

The en primeur tasting week is a bit like Christmas. It dominates the few weeks before the big day then, suddenly, it’s already passed. This year in particular the days seemed to fly by as the wines, although hefty, were easier to taste than other years. Only on Thursday did my palate judder to a halt, refusing to sense anything other than tannin. By that time though most of the notes were in the bag, and as a team we had a clear impression of the vintage.

Remember, all our notes are subjective, and we did disagree at times. However, as an experienced group there were some clear conclusions:

  • 2009 is by any standard a remarkable year. Time and again we were told by winemakers that the clear weather around harvest time allowed choices over when to harvest and at what level of ripeness, in contrast to other years when the climate effectively decides to date of picking.
  • The main difference between the best wines and those that weren’t so good is freshness. I’m not a oenologue but sometimes wondered whether leaving the grapes on the vine just a little too long led to some of the wines losing that essential freshness.
  • In the Médoc the northern appellations fared best. In St Estephe, Pauillac and St Julien there were almost no disappointments, while Margaux was a little patchy. This however is relative – all the wines were good compared to some other years – but some grasped their chance more effectively than others.
  • The right bank properties were able to keep their fingers off the ‘turbo boost’ button. Too often in the past simply trying too hard has led to overextraction and bitterness. This year though the natural quality of the grapes was (largely) allowed to shine.
  • In almost all cases the star names have produced brilliant wines which will be long-lived, focused, luxurious drinks in a few years. However, there are also fantastic results from some lesser names.
  • Never before have the ‘second wines’ tasted so good. Wines such a Pavillon Rouge de Chateau Margaux, Pagodes de Cos, Blason d’Evangile and many others were brilliant, as will be great choices for buyers not able to stretch to the ‘grand vin’. In many cases these wines will be as good or better than many first wines in a lesser year.

Finally, my standout wines (I’m limiting myself to three each day, and picking some that caught my attention even if at lower levels than some of the star wines)

  • Day 1 – Chateau Margaux, Las Cases, Potensac
  • Day 2 – Ducru, Calon Segur, Palmer
  • Day 3 – Cheval Blanc, La Serre St Emilion, plus the whole of the afternoon which was truly amazing (Petrus, Vieux Chateau Certan, Le Pin and Evangile)!
  • Day 4 – The Haut-Brions, Pedesclaux and Figeac (I tasted it twice during the week and couldn’t fit it into Wednesday).

All that remains is to start saving, and to try and whittle down my long wish list to something which is realistically affordable.

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