Picks of the bunch: new wines live up to the hype
The Bordeaux en primeur (wine futures) tasting week closed on April 2, with the hosts having opened more than 100,000 bottles of wine for 6,000 visitors, poured into 28,000 Reidel wine glasses, washed down by countless bottles of Abatilles and Badoit still and sparkling waters. Tastings were held in 60 locations around the region, and according to Jean-Marc Guiraud of the Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux, 'were the most successful since the en primeurs opened to international buyers and journalists in 1996'.
The buzz around the 2009 vintage had begun before the first glass has been picked up - and most wines lived up to the hype. 'The best wines this year have an incredible delicacy and freshness aligned with power. The weather was so perfect that our job as winemakers was to simply let the wine speak for itself,' says Chateau Mouton Rothschild director, Herve Berland.
I tasted more than 1,000 wines over two weeks in March and April, and have selected my pick of the best wines of the vintage (the best wines to lay down for investment will appear next week).
Vieux Chateau Certan, Pomerol
The 2009 vintage at this well-loved Pomerol estate saw the highest level of merlot since the late 1940s (84 per cent, with the remainder divided equally between cabernet sauvignon cabernet franc; last year, 25 per cent of the grapes were cabernet franc), so it is difficult to call this wine a classic Vieux Chateau Certan. But it has wonderful intensity and mid-palate weight, while maintaining freshness and elegance that owner Alexandre Thienpont seems incapable of not producing. 97-98.
Chateau Trotanoy, Pomerol
An incredible wine from the Christian Moueix stable. Pure fruit, immense structure, wonderfully carried by the tannins and the acidity, this is a beautiful wine. Alcohol levels head up towards 14 degrees, but the balance is perfect. Old vines of 90 per cent merlot, 10 per cent cabernet franc. 98-99.
Chateau la Conseillante, Pomerol
The alcohol is a little higher than in 2005 (14.2 degrees compared to 13.8 then). The blend has 81 per cent merlot, with the rest cabernet franc, aged entirely in new oak - and this translates into a lovely power, with incredibly mouth-filling black fruits, fleshy, well-integrated tannins, held up by an acidity that tells you this is a wine for the long term. 97-99.
Chateau Troplong Mondot, St Emilion (Premier Grand Cru Classe B)
Open, brambly black fruits, intense tannins and a sweet fruit finish. Good length, all held together by an acidity that really kicks things up. Successful - a slick production from Christine Valette. It has 15.5 degrees proof of alcohol, which should put this out of contention, but it's so balanced that you can forgive the heat. 94-95
Chateau Pavie Macquin, St Emilion (Premier Grand Cru Classe B)
Very different flavour profile, full of liquorice and chocolate, but with an earthiness that is highly appealing, and less 'manufactured' than some (biodynamic winemaking is increasingly practised by director Nicolas Thienpont). Alcohol is high, extraction is full, saliva exits stage-left, but it has good length and an unexpectedly soft finish. 93-95.
La Chapelle de La Mission Haut Brion, Pessac Leognan
Second wines - made of grapes not deemed perfect enough for the chateaux grands vins - are seriously worth looking out for this year. They should be well priced, and the overall quality of the vintage means that many have wonderful fruit flavours and will be ready to drink sooner than their big (more expensive) brothers. This second wine of La Mission Haut Brion is a great example, with 44 per cent merlot, 46 per cent cabernet sauvignon and 10 per cent cabernet franc, all aged in 24 per cent new oak. Delicate ruby red fruits, very charming, deceptively frank, but plenty of complexity under the surface. 92
Chateau Malartic Lagraviere, Pessac Leognan (Grand Cru Classe de Graves)
This property, owned by the Belgian Bonnie family, delivers increasingly exciting and successful wines. There's nothing retiring about this - plenty of oak and tannins, enough to require a porter, but with exotic red fruits that make it supremely appealing. A long life ahead. Michel Rolland is consultant here. 93-94.
Chateau Haut Bailly, Pessac Leognan (Grand Cru Classe de Graves)
Plumper, richer and sweeter fruit than the 2008, which was the epitome of restraint - you can clearly tell the sunshine was more generous in 2009. This still has the precision of a classic Haut Bailly, but with a richness to the fruit that is gorgeous. Blend is 60 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 37 per cent merlot and 3 per cent cabernet franc, using 50 per cent new oak. Very classy and understated, especially when retasted against some more exuberant 2009s. Excellent. 95-96.
Chateau Rauzan Segla, Margaux (Second Growth 1855)
This has an intensity and pressing tannic structure that makes it stand out from other wines, but it is still utterly successful. The mix is 52 per cent cabernet sauvignon, with the rest merlot, using 55 per cent new oak. Plenty of liquorice and clear black cherry flavours, but also a great whoosh of freshness that allows the whole thing to float along your palate. Another great wine from director John Kolasa, with the precision that this chateau manages each year. 96-97
Chateau Leoville-Las Cases, St Julien (Second Growth 1855)
Rich, joyously glass-staining purple. Fantastic wine, deep layers of flavour, all perfectly integrated. Lovely weight. 76 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 15 per cent merlot, 9 per cent cabernet franc, aged in 65 per cent new oak. The tannins are keeping things tight, they have their hands firmly around the fruit, protecting it. Damson and vanilla custard inside - delicious. 97-100.
Les Pagodes de Cos, St Estephe
Another second wine worth investigating - this one is by Cos d'Estournel. Not a small wine, at 14.5 degrees alcohol, and it is certainly tight and tannic. Could easily be the first wine of a lesser estate. Fleshy layers of rich black fruits, from 69 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 30 per cent merlot and a small amount of petit verdot. Aged in 50 per cent new oak barrels. 92.
Chateau Leoville Barton, St Julien (Second Growth 1855)
The St Julien appellation was consistently successful in 2009 - just every chateau seemed to deliver brilliant wines. This property, owned by the ever-reliable Anthony Barton, has produced a big, ambitious wine, where the tannins use bellows to suck any available moisture out of your mouth, but then fill the vacuum with a lovely fresh acidity. This is a seriously impressive wine, with powerful damson fruit coupled with a savoury edge. 94-95.
Chateau Pichon-Longueville, Pauillac (Second Growth 1855)
Undoubtedly the most concentrated Pichon it has ever made. 13.8 degrees, and very high levels of tannins, but just so elegant. The balance is perfect - it is wonderfully soft, with beautifully pure fruit and power in the middle but enrobed in silky tannins and a wonderful long finish. Crunchy black fruit with plenty of liquorice. 95-96.
White Bordeaux Pavillon Blanc, Bordeaux
The white wine of Chateau Margaux, this is made entirely of sauvignon blanc and is a very different style this year - less opulent, more subtle and mineral than in other years. They worked carefully to keep alcohol reasonable by taking off the most overripe berries from the bunches, and discarding the most high alcohol juice. 94.
Chateau Bouscaut, Pessac Leognan
Pale yellowy gold, delicate colour. Very powerful nose, plenty of fresh lemons and lovely pure fruit. On the palate this has fabulous minerality, really stands out for me. A deftness of touch, but plenty of flavour and a strong finish. 94+
Chateau d'Yquem, Sauternes
The nose is piercingly direct, with an incredibly svelte mouthfeel of orange, lime and lemon blossom. There is enormous richness to it and great length, but the freshness really cuts through it all and seems to further build in the mouth after the liquid has gone. This is close to a perfect Yquem, definitely on a par with the 2007, and maybe with the 2001 - just with an extra kick of exuberance. As usual, a vast majority of semillon, with a tiny touch of sauvignon blanc. 97-100.
Jane Anson is the Bordeaux correspondent for Decanter magazine, and author of the Bordeaux chapters of The Wine Opus (to be published in October, Dorling Kindersley)