Posted by: jmbwineblog | April 24, 2011

2010 Bordeaux En Primeur: An Introduction

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2010 Bordeaux En Primeur

The facade of Chateau Pontet-Canet
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Introduction

Whilst the defcon levels were being raised from 4-7 at Fukushima, I’m glad I got away when I did, and civil wars rage in Libya and liberators attempt to liberate in other parts of the middle east, and whilst the rest of MY family were busy slaving away in China and Hong Kong, my wife, myself and my dog, Boris (who may make a token photo appearance in this report!!) were busy traveling up and down and around Bordeaux for four days, visiting a number of different Chateau in order to give you a view of the wines that are on offer this year.

In short it was an excellent trip and I learnt a lot about the goings on, and actually how friendly the Bordelaise can be, I.e. A far cry from the suited and booted image of money making schemers that is portrayed to the world. Perhaps because I arrived after the fanfare of en primeur week, maybe the proprietors were more relaxed or mentally on holiday, I felt no unease and it was refreshing to taste wines in an atmosphere that I normally associate with Italy and in particular Piemonte than one I expect of the great growths of Bordeaux. In short, I really liked these wines, with a few exceptions, and I will endeavour to return there later in the year to retest my own palate, re-taste the samples and update this

To put it bluntly, I really like the style and structure of these wines… They have a real sense of minerality, and feel like wines that are made where the grapes are grown.
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They exude their terroir and give real variety and better consistency than I personally have experienced from this region, however much I like the imperfect and funky aspects of wine. These are in many ways true vin de garde, that will both enthral those who, whilst having the patience to cellar these wines, are both new to wine, because of their freshness and pure fruit, and those who love the classical structured wines of Bordeaux, due to their tannins, which are soft, and their high acids, which are not green, astringent or rasping.

Why are they so good?

For those of you who have access to Bill Blatch’s vintage report, you may want to look away now and move onto the next section. For those of you who don’t, I will rehash it into a part less than ten pages long, and with some snippets from those who I spoke to in Bordeaux.

Let me begin by pointing our that the 2010 vintage was very dry, to the point where many were worried that the fruit would bake like it did in 2003. However, there are key differences to why this did not occur for the said vintage. Firstly, the temperatures in 2010 were much lower, and in fact were slightly lower than the average. Average temperature was just above 16 degrees Celsius (for comparison 2003 was nearly 18, and 2009 just below 17). However rainfall was low, with only 350mm of rainfall throughout the year. A touch more than 2005 but less than 2004, 2002, 2000 and 1996 and of course the other ‘great vintages’ that had similar temperature profiles. Perhaps this doesn’t make for great reading? Well in reality these are just averages, and do not indicate where or when these phenomenons occurred and also please note that records for the microclimates of different terroirs will also be slightly different to these figures.

Wines with dark colours are the norm this year.
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Back to the point, nearly all the rainfall fell in late part (November and December) of 2009 and first half of 2010 (up to early June), which is the perfect time for the vines, allowing the water tables to rise and vines to be spared the complete stresses of drought so long as they have deep roots, which the very best terroirs have. This is also good for the water retentive clay soils as well. It is however, not so simple. Early rain can spell disaster if it keeps raining leading to dilute grapes and this is why the drought was key. Whilst vignerons worried that they would have stressed grapes and vines, the best terroirs with deep roots were perfectly happy in the drought with just enough water to keep things going.

The other key is the temperatures. Being lower than the thirty year average, meant that everything happened slowly and later than normal. So any rain that did arrive during the vintage was used by the vines to produce grapes, rather than being sucked into the grapes to make them juicy and sweet (which isn’t so good for wine, unless you are looking for Beaujolais Nouveau). The drought meant that there was ample sunshine allowing the grapes to ripen, but with cooler temperatures maintained wonderful freshness and acidity.

There is a caveat here that I will go into later, but to put it briefly here, the fact that there was a drought that lasted barring a few storms just before harvest, which brought roughly 120mm of rain from September to October, meant that the berries were very very small. What does this mean? It means that there is a much higher skin to juice ratio than is normal, to the point where many producers mentioned that the juice was black before they had even started the fermentations. This basically means that whilst the flavours are highly concentrated and tannins and acidity were at record highs, lots of sugars built up in the grapes, and it is see sugars that are turned to alcohol. With the high acids, tannins and sugars which make the grapes taste nice to eat, you can potentially see difficulties in the winery.

The Problems

This wine made by Chateau Soutard in 1998 had no such problems although it had a very raisiny charactar.
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There are two problems that can rear their heads in a vintage like this…

Alcohols; were at a record high with many natural alcohol levels in some Merlots getting above 16%. Luckily for those who have lots of Cabernets to blend into their wines, and with the high acids, these were on the whole balanced, although where the natural alcohols were very high, I.e. Above 15%, it is hard to say that the wine is balanced, even if those winemakers claim that it is. I will give them the fact that the balance is better than in the fleshy opulent 2009s. The Cabernets which have naturally lower alcohol levels anyway, were not so afflicted by this and most came in about around or under 14% natural alcohol. The best wines do not go above 14.8% natural alcohol, and whilst you may think this is high, I temper this with the knowledge of Western Australia and the wonderful age worthy wines (on a par with Bordeaux) that come in between 14.5 and 15.5% on a regular basis. If the wines are balanced, as many were, then this is not a problem. Alcohol is not a prerequisite for age-worthy wines, but if well made, is not a hindrance either!

Tannins; being high and with lower temperatures leading to SOME unripe pips meant that extraction needed to be delicate. Harsh extractions led to green and overbearing tannins, akin to 1986 and leaving you wondering whether the wine will ever outgrow their tannins. Luckily, many wineries took a leaf out of the traditional Piemontese/Burgundian winemaking book in order to extract only the soft, caressing tannins that make even you wines a pleasure to drink. Less pumping over and less batonnage/lees stirring with longer maceration times at lower temperatures aided this, and on the whole, whilst tannins are very much present, they are soft, gentle and very elegant, with many wines being noticeably more elegant and less extracted than their 2009 equivalents. In many ways this vintage seems less forced than some of its forebears, and more natural.

To put it simply these are on the whole, balanced, elegant wines that will age effortless for however long you want them to. They will probably shut down once bottled because of the it structures, but the fruit is pure and there is a lot to be excited about from the upper echelons, right down to the lesser Bordeaux at the bottom. There is something for everyone in this vintage, and even Petit Chateau will reward those with the patience to cellar their wines for between 5 and 10 years minimum for both reds and whites.

One wine that had no such issues due to its wonderfully soft extraction was this.
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Whites and Sauternes

Very briefly, this is another very good vintage for whites and sweet wines. Firstly, the fruit character is ripe, but with the high acids, very much balanced and these wines are gorgeous now, but will age effortlessly for both the dry and sweet varieties. It is however hard to keep your hands off them even now, and they have not finished their barrel aging!

The wines made from these vines were exceptional as well.
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For the Sauternes and Barsacs, there is plenty of botrytis to add to the acids and concentration, due to those rains which fell conveniently in September and October (and mainly after the harvest for the Reds), combined with the Mistral giving excellent botrytis. Some producers mentioned that yields were the highest they have ever been, and are nearly as high as some red grapes when the norm is to be under half! These wines are fresh, exciting and concentrated. A slightly riper version of 07, but more delicate than 05 and 09.

The VISITS

Next time, I will take you through my thoughts and some technical data for the various visits whilst on this trip to Bordeaux, and with a break from traditional, I will refrain from posting scores (although I did jot some down for comparisons sake) as these are not finished wines. They still require barrel ageing, and some had not completely calmed down from finishing their malolactic fermentations. As such, one can simply gain impressions and thoughts as to the quality of this vintage, and pick out the wines that have gone badly wrong and should be avoided altogether. One thing I will say, is that unlike in riper vintages that are more fruit forward, these wines are both ripe and minerally. They are very true to their terroir and if there is a producer whose terroir you like, however lowly a status they hold, if the price is right, I would personally hold no hesitation in getting your hands on a case or two. You will be far from disappointed.

The visits are laid down in the order that we visited them and thus have no other significance.

Until then, enjoy this view from the road side of that famous First Growth, Chateau Lafite-Rothschild
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