What can we say about 2010 Bordeaux that doesn’t sound cliché? While we’re not going to write it’s the "best ever" (it might be but that has already been the ‘battle cry’ for 2000, 2005 and 2009 already), we will say that 2010 is a fantastic vintage that should be taken very seriously. We say this because, over the many years we’ve been going over to Bordeaux to taste out of cask, 2010 ranks among the best. Also, as a repetitive theme you will see as we delve into further detail, for a lot of chateaux it was a best ever. For a lot of folks, just hearing it is an epic vintage is enough. But we are also going to tell you why, which we think is important given what we expect are the prices consumers will have to pay for some of these wines.
Let’s start at the top. The growing season was very dry in Bordeaux yet the temperatures were never too hot like they were in 2003. Hydric stress on the vines was a concern but late rains helped refresh and replenish the groundwater. Without those rains, the level of tannins could have been a significant problem in some areas. Diligent winemakers were extremely careful with extraction during fermentation. There simply was no need to work the skins too hard in 2010. In fact most winemakers and oenologist’s reduced the remontages (pumping juice over the skins) from 5 to 3. Délestages (whole tank transformation) was unnecessary and many reduced pigeage (punching down the cap) as well as lowered fermentation temperatures by 10%. The fermentation went much slower than 2009, yet there was generally very good control of brettanomyces and volatile acidity…always a dangerous proposition with high alcohol. The malolactic fermentations were very difficult to get started because of the high acidity.
Many winemakers said the acidities were more tartaric than malic. In fact, some of the malos just finished in early March as we witnessed when tasting some barrel samples in Los Angeles earlier that month. In general, the 2010’s are a stout bunch, alcohol and tannin levels being some of the highest ever recorded. Yet the wines never feel heavy on the palate due to the vintage’s bright acids. We had days where we tasted up to 200 wines and still were capable of enjoying wine with dinner later in the evening. I remember tasting the 2005 vintage out of barrel, and those evenings left us wanting only a cold beer. By the 4th day during that ‘05 campaign it was difficult to taste anything, let alone wine.
There was a strong sense of yin and yang permeating the region, allowing for these freakishly powerful yet balanced wines. While the Merlot had its highest average alcohol levels ever recorded (with some estates clocking in at over 15%), the Cabernets (Franc and Sauvignon) came in mostly between 13 and 14%, with perfectly ripe tannins, telltale pure, ripe aromas and impeccably clean fruit flavor with lots of cassis. In other words, 2010 was a great year for Cabernet. The Merlot could have easily spiraled out of control due to lack of rainfall with any kind of heat spike a la 2003. But temperatures remained on the cooler side. Also, Merlot is typically planted in soils of clay, limestone, or a combination of the two. In this case, those more water retentive soils supported the vines and allowed them to thrive during the dry summer.
The combination of these grapes, in the condition they were harvested, made for some of the most intense wines we’ve ever tasted out of barrel. In other words, the wines from this vintage are built for the long haul! The quality is easily on par with 2005 and 2000. In fact, 2010 is kind of a cross between the two. The wines have incredible structure (2005), tons of ripe fruit and tannins ( both 2005 and 2000) but with incredible freshness (2000). There are some estates that made better wines in 2010 than 2000, 2005 and even 2009 and there are some that didn’t quite get it right. When tasting the wines, especially the classified wines, we tried to taste them on more than one occasion to try get the best picture we could.
So, are there appellations than stand out above others? The answer is a simple "no" as every region had at least a handful of chateaux that potentially produced better than their "best ever" wines and a lot of other wines that were ‘merely’ outstanding.
From the top Grand Cru estates down to the Petits Chateaux in the satellite appellations, there are some classic wines and what should be some outstanding values here. All in all, the Right Bank was very strong in 2010. It will be interesting to taste the wines again in June during Vinexpo, as well as next year to see how they will evolve. But unlike the 2003’s, these wines have great acidity and freshness, two things 2003 didn’t have. There are many great wines to be had and, in typical Right Bank fashion… many at attractive prices.
St. Emilion stars:
Angelus: Here the Cab Franc really packs a punch. This could be Hubert’s best!
Ausone: Another wine where the Franc shines… intense yet elegant.
Barde Haut: Another great Barde Haut. If the price is like 09 it’s a buy!
Beausejour Duffau: Thienpont/Derononcourt… could this be like the 1990? Maybe.
Bellevue Mondotte: A little cooler vibe to this wine compared to Pavie, and that’s good!
Canon: Kudos to John Kolasa, Canon finally has the terroir its been lacking.
Chapelle d’Ausone: This wine has Cabernet Sauvignon now in the blend and it pumped the volume up in this wine. Certainly "best ever".
Cheval Blanc: Another 1990? It’s freakishly good.
Corbin: Cheval Blanc neighbor and in 2010 the best of the various "Corbins".
La Dominique: 08, 09, 10… This estate is on a roll and the wines keep getting better!
Clos Fourtet: Ripe blue fruit, really pure and driven. Seamless long finish.
Clos St. Julien: Another wine that has among the highest percentage of Cabernet Franc in the blend in Bordeaux. They nailed it in 2010.
Figeac: If this property made wine to the estates capabilities, watch out! But the 2010 is getting closer.
Fleur Cardinale: Cool terroir, long growing season + Jean Philippe Fort = great wine! Gonna give 05 a run for its money.
Fonplegade: Another up and coming star from St. Em’s Cote. They have the dirt and
winemaking… now it’s all coming together.
Larcis Ducasse: Bright and snappy with big ripe tannins… better than 09.
Monbousquet: Could be the best ever. A lot like 2000 with big fruit and structure.
La Mondotte: Big, yet elegant…Stephane Derononcourt has made yet another superb wine from this small estate.
Pavie: Holy sh_t.. This is great Pavie. Dense black fruits, great structure… another hit for Gerard and Chantal Perse.
Pavie Macquin: Really sweet black and blue fruits. Lots of minerals.. reminds us of 05.
Rol Valentin: Tasted three times and loved the wine each occasion.. Black fruits, cocoa, silky texture.
Troplong Mondot: Huge, chocolatey, densely packed.
Valandraud: I can’t remember the last time Valendraud tasted this good. A star in 2010.
Editor’s note*- This is the first year we did not taste Lafleur. Due to the high percentage of Cabernet Franc and how sensational the Franc was throughout Bordeaux, we’re sure it rocks!
Clinet: Clinet is on a roll and the 2010 is right up there in quality to the 2009.
La Conseillante: Fantastic aromatics! Big sweet core of blue fruits, great freshness and silky tannins make this a fantastic Conseillante.
l’Eglise Clinet: More in style to the 2005 than the 2009.
Feytit Clinet: Jeremy Chasseuil is discovering the potential of this vineyard and has made his best wine yet.
La Fleur Petrus: Lafleur + Petrus? This is the best of both and 20 percent the price of the others.
Le Gay: Closer in style to the 2005 and better than the 2009. That’s special.
Gazin: Petrus’s neighbor finally living up to expectations since the 2005 vintage and in 2010, made yet another quality Pomerol.
Hosanna: 2009 or 2010… Can’t decide as both are great!
Petrus: What can we say…
Trotanoy: Another great Trotanoy from the Moueix family.
Vieux Chateau Certan: VCC has made some great wines in the past but the 2010 tops them all.
La Violette: Beautiful with blue fruits, violets, silky tannins and great purity. Same ownership as Le Gay..
The Right Bank "Bargain Camp"
We just named a few of the hits here. Trust us, there are others. There were also a couple of exciting new discoveries that we stumbled upon. Location, location, location is the mantra in real estate, and these two estates couldn’t have better locations for the price charged if they tried. Be on the lookout for Guillot Clauzel, a Pomerol that borders both Le Pin and Vieux Chateau Certan. From St. Emilion we tasted a fine little number from a vineyard that borders Pavie and Larcis Ducasse named Clos Larcis. Yes, the vineyard exists... we drove by it ourselves to confirm! Both wines are outstanding and both should be south of $30 dollars on futures.
d’Aiguilhe: Like Joanin Becot, Stephan Von Neipperg has made yet another great wine from this Cotes de Castillon estate.
Aria: From Chateau La Riviere in Fronsac, this wine is a big step in the right direction.
Arnauton: A big fruit bomb but with structure too. Fantastic wine for the $$$.
Bouscat La Gargone: If you knew how much work goes into the winemaking… you’d expect it to cost twice the price.
Candale: New owners for this property next to Tertre Roteboeuf… they did well with their first effort as long as the price remains competitive.
De Chambrun: What new owner Silvio Denz has accomplished in this Lalande de Pomerol is giving La Fleur de Bouard a run for its money!
Clos Lunelles: For the first time, this taste like Jr. Pavie… and that’s a good thing.
Cote de Baleau: Sophie Forcade makes great wine and this is her best Cote de Baleau, which is saying a lot!
Dalem: Nobody is working as hard as Brigitte Rullier-Loussert and in 2010, she made her best wine ever!
La Fleur Morange Mathilde: Better then the 09 in our opinion. If the price is the same as it has been, this will be a great value!
Godeau: Great dirt and a beautifully made wine in 2010.
Les Gravieres: Third year in a row this property has made a stunning wine for what should be great QPR.
Haut Carles: Another Fronsac property that has the right terroir to make world-class wines and did in 2010.
Joanin Becot: Juliette Becot has turned out another stunning wine for 2010.
Puygueraud: Buy, Buy, Buy!!! The best ever… even eclipsing the 2005.
Puygueraud Cuvee George: Interesting wine that surprised us… 30% Malbec and 30% Cab Franc… The rest Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
La Vieille Cure: This is better than the 09… Really ripe black fruit with stunning purity and structure.
As we mentioned earlier, the Cabernet was about as perfect as you could get in 2010, and this side of the river is Cabernet country. We tasted some flat-out terrific wines that rival the best the Rive Gauche has ever produced.
Potential "Best Evers" from barrel:
Cantenac Brown: This is the second year in a row this estate has made a fantastic wine! Dense fruit, sweet mid palate, silky seamless tannins, really nice.
Les Carmes Haut Brion: We’ll say it now… Carmes is going to be a wine of "cult" status. New investment, great terroir and only about 1500 cases made… The 2010 is the best ever. And while that is saying a lot, it will only get better.
Domaine de Chevalier: Olivier Bernard is showing the world that he makes great red wine too. This DCC is one of the best in the appellation for 2010.
Giscours: Could this be the best Giscours ever? We think so. The wine is so complete from front to back!
Haut Brion: And I thought 2009 was great. This tops it! Truly an HB to own.
Latour: All we need to say is Cabernet Sauvignon! Really great… period!
Leoville Barton: This is the best Barton since the 2000 and 2003! Ripe, tons of fruit with the outstanding structure Barton is famous for.
Leoville Las Cases: Classic Las Cases that will go down as one of Jean-Hubert’s best.
Lynch Bages: Three great vintages for Lynch… The 2010 is at the same quality level as the 2009… but bigger.
Potential "Best Evers" from barrel (cont.):
La Mission Haut Brion: If HB is Ingrid Bergman, La Mission is Sophia Loren. It’s the most exotic La Mission out of barrel we’ve ever tasted!
Montrose: Martin Bouygues and his winemaking team are making the best wines ever to come out of this estate. The 2010 is as good as 2009. Smart money will buy.
St. Pierre: Classic St. Julien flavors with tons of blue fruit, fresh acidity and sweet tannins. It’s just a beautifully made wine. We loved it!
"Best Ever ‘Second’ Wines":
A number of chateaux are taking their ‘second wines’ a lot more seriously. Here are four that are hitting new heights.
Croix de Beaucaillou: This is no longer a ‘second wine’ as it comes from a specific parcel. Incredible quality that has that familiar Ducru feel to it.
Les Forts de Latour: The quality is that of a classified wine. Better than most Latours of the past!
Le Dame de Montrose: It is fantastic!
Le Petit Mouton: The second wines have really stepped up their game but this label has done a complete 180 degree turn. This tastes like Mouton!
Other Left Bank stars:
Haut Bailly: Veronique Saunders and her team have turned out yet another great wine that will go down as one of her best.
Smith Haut Lafitte: A great SHL that rivals 2009… competition is good.
Malartic Lagraviere: Another estate on the rise… The Bonnie family has made a fantastic red wine and an even better blanc.
Pape Clement: Like the 2005… Dense, pure, complex and seamless.
Latour Martillac: Best wine from this estate since the 2000. The blanc is great too.
Branon: The Garcin family has produced another fantastic Branon from this garden size estate.
Margaux: This is not your typical Margaux. A higher percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon, big, structured and built to last!
Palmer: 1961, 1970, 1983,1989, 2000, 2005, 2009 and now you can add 2010 to the list of great Palmers.
d’Issan: Emmanuel Cruse has put this estate on the map and the 2010 ranks among his best effort yet.
Brane Cantenac: Classic and elegant with a sweet core of ripe plums and currants. Complex with structured and balance.
Rauzan Segla: The is a big, structured wine with ripe black and blue fruits, great freshness and a long silky finish.
Malescot St. Exupery: One of the stars in Margaux! A truly excellent, elegant effort from one of the appellation’s best.
Marquis d’Alesme: Yes, you read correct. If the price is right, don’t miss this juicy little number. Tasted twice.
Prieuré Lichine: Really ripe and jammy fruit. Great structure and quality of tannins. A fantastic effort this vintage, Derenoncourt style.
Ducru Beaucaillou: Bruno Borie has made what some think is his best wine. We can’t say for sure but it ranks up there.
Beychevelle: Is this the next darling for the Chinese market? We’ve seen prices skyrocket so it will be interesting to see where this wine is priced at opening. Oh, the wine is also really good this year, too!
Gruaud Larose: Since the arrival of Eric Boissenot in 2007, Gruaud Larose has improved dramatically. This is their finest since the 2000 vintage.
Branaire Ducru: Branaire has made its best wine since the 2005.
Leoville Poyferré: Another fantastic Poyferré. Can’t say it’s better than the 2009 at this point though.
Clos Du Marquis: We loved this CDM. In fact, the Jean Hubert Delon portfolio of wines was one of his best!
Pontet Canet: What can we say other than the wines quality is that of a First Growth!
Pichon Baron: Smokes the 2009 in our opinion!
Pichon Lalande: It is a beautifully made wine. Elegant and refined with great purity, structure and drive.
Grand Puy Lacoste: Very Pauillac with sweet black currant fruit, leather, minerals, big silky tannins and a long lingering finish. Lot of buzz on this one.
Lafite Rothschild: Not our favorite First Growth but never-the-less, it’s still fantastic.
Clerc Milon: Rivals the 2005 and perhaps may be even better.
Mouton Rothschild: The winemaking team at Mouton is serious about making the best wine possible. Since the arrival of Philippe Dhalluin, Mouton has consistently made "First Growth" quality wines.
Grand Puy Ducasse: Ann La Naour is steering this ship in the right direction and it shows in the quality of the wines.
Duhart Milon: Another great Duhart rivaling the 2009.
Cos d’Estournel: A fine Cos d’Estournel, but didn’t blow us away like the 2009.
Lafon Rochet: Lafite’s neighbor across the jalles (drainage channel) has all the right stuff to make great wine and while the wines have greatly improved over the years, 2010 show’s the quality this estate potentially has.
Tronquoy Lalande: Another Martin Bouygues property situated across from Montrose. 2010 is the best effort ever and ranks among the better wines from this appellation.
Calon Segur: Wow, this is a ripe and juicy Calon with fantastic structure, minerality and a sweet seamless finish. Fans of this estate need to check this one out!
Left Bank Value Front:
While there are many other excellent examples, these wines stood out in their perspective category. It’s a great vintage for the Medoc, Pessac-Leognan and Graves. The wines are built for the long haul and there will be no disappointments on that score albeit value will depend on the prices.
Cambon La Pelouse: Taste like it comes from Margaux, blue fruits, purple flowers silky tannins.
Chasse Spleen: This estate makes outstanding wine. Older vintages have always exceeded expectations. 2010 is one that should be taken very seriously as it has all the right stuff.
Le Crock: Sandwiched between Cos and Montrose, this property makes great wine in vintages like 2009 and 2010. A real steal for the money!
Les Grandes Chenes: Another winner from the stable of Bernard Magrez. Ripe blue fruit, sweet mid-palate, silky tannins, long seamless finish and usually a great value, too!
Haut Bergey: Like 09 but with more structure and power.
Lanessan: Paz Espejo is doing wonders at this property and 2010 may be the best Lanessan ever.
Lilian Ladouys: St. Estephe quality without the price… great terroir driven wine with lots of sweet blue fruit, great structure and balance.
Mejean: Bruno Geraud is a perfectionist and the work he does at this small 15 acre Graves estate is meticulous. The 2005 was a big surprise but the 2010 is the best yet.
Pedesclaux: Another Lafite neighbor at 2% the price. Black currants, minerals big silky tannins and wonderful structure.
Poujeaux: 2009 blew us away as we never tasted a wine that good from this estate. 2010 is of the same quality and exploits the great dirt they have.
St. Paul: Another Medoc wine that is a great QPR.
Le Thil: This is a no brainer as it has the Derononcourt stamp… Intense blue fruits, great minerality ripe tannins, silky long finish.
Vin Blanc : The story
If 2010 is great for the reds… it is mind bending for the whites. There were so many great examples it’s hard to begin. They are bright, aromatic and fresh with good weight. The cool nights during the summer kept the acidity high and the lack of rain and abundant sunshine ripened the fruit to near perfection. If you had to script a perfect growing season for Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, 2010 is pretty much an Academy Award winner.
The hits are: Pape Clement Blanc (tasted every chance we had, stunning, we couldn’t get enough), Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc, Le Thil Blanc, Valandraud Blanc (yes, it’s true), La Mission Haut Brion, Haut Brion Blanc, Domaine de Chevalier Blanc, Latour Martillac Blanc, Malartic Lagraviere Blanc, Monbousquet Blanc, Fombrauge Blanc and, of course, Pavillon Blanc.
With so many great vintages in the past decade (five to be exact ...2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009), Sauternes will be a difficult wine to sell in 2010. The wines are less concentrated than the 2009 and lack the drive and power to be considered vis-visall of the other options. But they’re pleasant wines that are well balanced with good acidity and freshness.
So how will all of this play out? Every year is different to a point, but there are patterns that have been consistent throughout the last dozen or so campaigns (since 1995 in fact). We will be asked many times by many people over the course of the next few weeks when a particular chateau is likely to release a price. The answer is generally, ‘we don’t know’. A lot of people will be frustrated by that but it is the truth. The lion’s share of consumers wait for all the reviews to be in, and then plan their purchases accordingly. The French know that and the top 50-60 chateaux (and others that think they are) won’t likely do anything until Robert Parker’s reviews come out and then slowly unfold, in no particular order, 3-5 at a time, over the coming weeks. How much actually gets released by each chateau for a tranche is another matter altogether. Everybody is trying to buy the biggest ‘winners’ at the best (earliest) prices. The French know that, too, and will do their best to wring the most out of the process. Enough said, let the games begin...