The Empire Strikes Back2009 Red Bordeaux from Bottle ? Not A Myth, But Mythical
If readers go back and read Issue 188 (April 2010), my barrel tasting report on the 2009s was titled
“Once Upon ATime – 1899, 1929, 1949, 1959, 2009.”
In it, I suggested that many châteaux had made the finest wines that I hadtasted in over 32 years of evaluating Bordeaux vintages. After spending nearly two weeks there at the end ofJanuary, this is unquestionably the greatest Bordeaux vintage I have ever tasted. Of course, 2010 is not yet in bottle,and it is going to be another fascinating vintage. However, it will not have the early charm, appeal and opulence thatthe 2009s already possess. What was clear in the tastings from the bottle (and most of the wines except for the firstgrowths and a few other wines were tasted two, three and sometimes even four different times) is the remarkableconsistency of the vintage. Obviously the classified growths have produced extraordinary wines, but what is sostriking about 2009 – and I haven’t really seen this kind of excitement since 1982 – is the quality of the
and generic Bordeaux that are available. Of course, everyone focuses on the top of the pyramid,the first growths, second growths, and a handful of very exclusive Pomerols and St.-Emilions, then complains aboutgreed, absurd prices, market manipulation, and the self destruction of Bordeaux. However, the global marketplace,the tendency for Asian collectors, especially the Chinese, to pay record prices for these wines are the new reality, yet,truth be known, they only represent a small percentage of what Bordeaux produces, and there are hundreds andhundreds of reviews that follow of wines under $25 a bottle that represent absolutely compelling value.In short, 2009 is the greatest vintage I have tasted in Bordeaux since 1982, of which it is a modern-day version, butgreatly improved. It is more consistent (many châteaux that were making mediocre wine in 1982 are now makingbrilliant wine) and of course, the yields are lower, the selection process is stricter, and there are any other number offactors, from investments in the wineries to impeccable, radical viticulture, that have resulted in extraordinary rawmaterials.
Readers should look at
to take a look at the details of the weather. I think the most important thing toremember about this vintage is that it was conceived under virtually perfect weather conditions. The famous professorat Bordeaux’s School of Oenology, Denis Dubourdieu, has long maintained that there have to be five conditionssatisfied in order for Bordeaux to have a great vintage. These conditions are: (1) an early flowering at the beginningof June, (2) a healthy and uniform fruit set, meaning hot, sunny, relatively dry weather, (3) the
, which is thechange from green to red grapes, must begin early (in 2009 it started in late July, rather than August); (4) The grapeshave to ripen fully, which means there must be warm weather with enough rainfall in August and September toprevent photosynthesis from shutting down because of drought and stress to the vines; and (5) September andOctober have to be generally dry, sunny, and warm, without excessive heat spells or excessive rainy periods. AsDubourdieu reported in his extensive, detailed analysis of the growing conditions of the vintage, all five conditionswere satisfied easily in 2009, which is something that even 2005 couldn’t boast. The unprecedented maturity levels,given the tendency for many châteaux to pick later and later, saw alcohols that averaged 13.5 to 15% in the Gravesand Médoc and 14% to 15% in St.-Emilion and Pomerol. One of the striking things is that despite these high alcoholsand great ripeness, the pH levels (a measurement of the strength of the acid in the wines) are high but notexcessively high, and by and large slightly lower than in 1990 or 1982. The level of polyphenols and tannins in thewines is one of the highest measured, eclipsed by some châteaux only in the subsequent vintage of 2010.While I thought the Médocs were the cream of the crop when I tasted from barrel, it is now apparent that not only arethe Médocs historic, but so are the Graves, as are the Pomerols. St.-Emilion are more variable, although manyprofound wines were made there. Don’t forget, this appellation is by far the largest, and tasting through severalhundred St.-Emilions is going to result in some wines not showing terribly well in spite of the overall greatness of thevintage.
1982 Déjà Vu All Over Again – But Greater
The one thing about these wines that I love is that the window of drinkability will be enormous. Just like in 1990 or1982, the low acidity, the very ripe fruit, the high glycerin levels from the elevated alcohols, and the stunningconcentration and fruit from low yields will give most of these wines incredible appeal in their youth, but at the sametime will guarantee that the top wines last for 30 or more years, as the best 1982s have certainly done. I do want toreiterate that for as big, rich, and as high in alcohol as the 2009s are, they are remarkably pure, well-delineated andsurprisingly fresh and vibrant – a paradox, but a wonderful one at that.