Thursday, August 28, 2014

Bordeaux 2009/2010: “An Embarrassment of Riches"

By Dan Rhodes

The Santa Monica home of wine impresario Martin Weiner recently provided those lucky enough to snag a ticket the rare opportunity to taste and evaluate, side-by-side, several of these two monumental vintage’s top productions. Monsieur Weiner and his gracious wife generously provided all with a night to remember. The evening chez Weiner included not only a line-up of fabulous wines but also a lifetime of memories in conjunction with a superb home-cooked repas, copious amounts of laughter and a gala joie de vivre which extended throughout the evening and was readily enjoyed by all in attendance.
One can imagine that tastings of this sort will provide enjoyable and provocative conversation for decades to come as Bordeaux aficionados and wine collectors of all ilk debate the relative merits of the legendary wines derived from these back-to-back championship seasons. Both vintages showed well and both had their adherents with some participants preferring the opulent fruit richness and velvety plush textures of 2009 while others opted for the more structured, linear and classically configured 2010s. By the end of the evening, both vintages had impressed, persuaded and conquered!
I found it personally interesting and revealing that my preferences vis-à-vis 2009 and 2010 varied with each flight. Upon reflection, I surmised that the strengths of each vintage flattered each commune in a different way providing some with a bit more power and fortitude while granting others an overall sense of grace and finesse. Clearly, this is a tasting paradigm that can be used as an informative vehicle to not only accentuate the marked differences between 2009 and 2010 but also to compare and contrast the vinous identities of each commune as engendered by the subtle differences of terroir which define both the Médoc and the Right Bank.
What follows are some of my thoughts and impressions (no scores) with regards to this incredible, star-studded line-up!

Château Pontet Canet (Pauillac)
The 2009 impressed immediately via its opulent palate of sundry black fruits accented admirably with classic Pauillac nuances of graphite, lead pencil and creosote. Very 2009 --- the wine’s polished tannins and plush, velvety texture referenced the proverbial “iron fist in the velvet glove” and made friends quickly. The 2010 Pontet Canet was quite the opposite: reticent, shy and very linear. With a bit of coaxing, an assemblage of sundry red fruits eventually emerged for the palate along with the instantly recognizable and classic Pauillac nose.  Many at our table preferred the 2010. I personally preferred the 2009, at least in the moment. My guess is that 2010 will wine the race in the long term with 2009 being more of a sprinter. What Tesseron has accomplished at Pontet Canet is truly remarkable in that the wine is classified 5eme Cru Classé. Yet I can’t help but note, as did several others, that wines from Pontet Canet are starting to taste slightly contrived --- almost Napa-like in terms of the overall fruit richness and palate textures that are delivered. It will be interesting to monitor the evolution of this estate over the near future.

Château Leoville Poyferré (St. Julien)
I have always been fascinated by Leoville’s troika of Las Cases, Barton and Poyferré. All   three estates capture the best of what St. Julien can offer yet in such completely different ways. To me, they are like a family of sisters each with her own unique and individualized style:  Las Cases --- the oldest sister, the grand dame if you will with the most savoir-faire who knew how to marry well, Barton --- the practical and independently-minded middle sister who went off and got a business degree and then there’s Poyferré --- the youngest sister who simply enjoyed driving around in sports cars, playing tennis and hanging out poolside at the country club.
Leoville Poyferré has always been, in my estimation, a whimsical wine. Some are great, some not so great and many have been in-between. Recently, however, Poyferré has finally settled down a bit to embrace a high-quality level of consistency. The 2009 and 2010 productions from Leoville Poyferré are, to my mind, the best ever from this property. Both vintages showed really well chez Weiner with our table basically evenly split between the two.
Once again, I preferred the 2009. The wine’s luxurious and creamy textures are simply beguiling and speak to the classic accessibility and well-honed richness which wines from St. Julien typically offer. Both the 2009 and 2010 capture the magical essence of St. Julien terroir in conjunction with savory red currant/mixed cherry fruits. The 2010, as one would imagine, proffers a bit more structure and austerity which should not be thought of pejoratively. I would describe the 2009 as a bit more juicy. But in the end, it’s a quibble over straws as both wines deliver spectacular quality. There are no bad choices here!

Château Palmer (Margaux)
I must confess to being a long-time devotée of Château Palmer. Consistency issues aside, it should be duly noted that when Palmer is “on”, there is nothing else like it. I therefore was looking forward with great anticipation to the Palmer flight and watched, almost hypnotically, the distinctive black and gold labeled bottles circle the table as each participant poured their allotment.
Finally the bottles arrived to my setting and as I poured with bated breath, I wondered which vintage would impress the most.  For me, it was 2010! The structure and power enabled by the harvest elevated the wine to the next level of enjoyment; namely to a more intellectual niveau in which nuances of terroir permeated both the bouquet and palate. The 2009 Palmer is a superb wine which is expressive of gorgeously ripe plum/cherry/black cherry fruit. But the 2010 transcends the genre in contributing glorious nuances of sundry floral, spice and nutmeg to the nose along with subtle intricacies to the palate which reference, in pointillist fashion, the difference between a great wine and a great Château Palmer from the commune of Margaux.
Having said all of that, any Bordeaux lover or Palmer aficionado would be happy to own either one (or both) of these spectacular wines. Both will live long as post-modern testimonials to the possibility of perfection.

Château Montrose (St. Estèphe)
Wines from St. Estèphe, Montrose in particular, tend to be more tannic, traditional affairs. So it came as no surprise to me that I preferred the 2009 Montrose to the 2010 --- at least at this point in time. Again, both wines are spectacular but for very different reasons. In comparing (at least by Montrose standards) the sumptuous ripe fruit of 2009 with the structured linearity of 2010, I was struck by the appropriately analogous comparison of a medieval Romanesque cathedral with a columned Greek temple of antiquity. Both are works of art which capture simultaneously our imagination and admiration. Both touch and excite something core in our being. The same may be said of the 2009 vs. 2010 Montrose. The 2009 Montrose is fairly plump, particularly by Montrose standards, in delivering luxurious vectors of sundry black fruits expressive of cherries, plums and currants. This is about as hedonistic as Montrose is going to get. Yet the underlying, clay-driven fundamentals of St. Estèphe terroir shone through brightly and clearly to blunt criticism of the 2009 vintage which I have heard from some concerning “authenticity” issues. The 2010 Montrose is embryonic. At this point in time, its flavor profile is not readily perceptible although one can clearly discern subtle nuances and strands of sundry red fruits, earth and spice. The potential for greatness is obvious! Time will be the ultimate judge concerning the Montrose question. But for now, at least to this palate, 2009 is the clear winner. Let’s meet and taste again in 10 years!

Château l’Evangile (Pomerol)
Finally, a Right Bank wine! And what a flight! For some the flight of the night! I would be hard pressed to choose a favorite. For me, this flight was a flat out, dead-on tie. Both wines spectacular! Pomerol remains one of my favorite communes in Bordeaux and is my decided “go-to” in terms of the Right Bank. The 2010 l’Evangile is a tour de force that verily delivers perfection in providing the imbiber with richness, grace and elegance that’s proportionately measured and balanced in conjunction with all of its components. So harmonious is the wine that it was actually quite difficult to pick-out and discern individual strands of flavor. Each flavor thread is combined skillfully with the next so as to produce a whole which, ultimately, exists in unified fashion as an entity greater than the sum of the parts.
The 2009 l’Evangile, in similar fashion, delivers a near-perfect wine. Pomerol, by its very nature, produces artisinal wines. This extraordinary effort captures the very essence of Pomerol --- its unique identity and singular focus to the Merlot grape. In similar fashion to the 2010, the wine is perfectly proportioned and harmonious with wave after wave of sensuality available to the tongue and palate. The equilibrium, harmony and balance of both the 2009 and 2010 l’Evangile replicates a high-wire act akin to a cirque du soleil production in terms of choreographed intricacy. Neither wine should be missed by any self-respecting Bordeaux aficionado or collector.

Château La Mission Haut Brion (Pessac-Léognan)
For many at our table, this was the most disappointing flight of the night. Not quite sure why. All of us expressed similar anticipatory thoughts regarding both the 2009 and 2010 in terms of their stature as monumental giants of the vintage. Don’t get me wrong; both were quite good but frankly, at least to this palate, neither lived up to their advance billing. After all, RMP scores for these two are 100 and 98+ points respectively. If pressed, I would give a slight nod to the 2010.
The l’Evangile flight was a tough act to follow so perhaps that had an effect on our perception. Of course, one can always discuss and think about bottle variation or improperly stored wines. Most at our table thought the wines to both be a bit over-extracted and slightly “hot” with very little expression of the renowned Pessac terroir. That this notion was in play for both vintages speaks to me of a potential shift in winemaking philosophy away from a more traditional expression of La Mission towards, dare I say the word, a more Parkerized or modern version. Given my long fidelity to La Mission and her wines, I hope this is not the case and look forward anxiously to another test drive. After all, at least to this palate, the appeal of La Mission, specifically, and Pessac wines, in general, is the distinctive expression of a very unique place. It would be a shame for one of the great estates of Bordeaux to turn its back on this singular soil and location.

Château Haut Brion (Pessac- Léognan)
Haut Brion, along with Margaux and Latour, are my three favorite first growths. Just about every vintage, these three take my gold, silver and bronze.  The Haut Brion flight was a grand slam! It was one of the top flights of the night and drew rave reviews from all who partook.  The wines presented themselves in Jungian-like fashion with the 2009 playing the feminine anima to the 2010’s more pronounced masculine animus. Yet both shared a remarkably similar flavor profile incorporating an extraordinary delineation of mixed red and black fruits accented superbly with classic nuances of Pessac terroir, tobacco smoke, tea leaf and carob. I cannot say enough about the consistency of Château Haut Brion. Year-in and year-out this wine outperforms both the parameters of the vintage as well as its price point. Bordeaux collectors and wine lovers in general will be able to enjoy for decades the extraordinary yin-yang of 2009 and 2010 Haut Brion!

Château Mouton Rothschild (Pauillac)
Both the 2009 and 2010 Mouton showed well. To my palate, the 2010 was slightly more impressive in that it incorporated a bit more structure along with a genuine sense of place which I found quite pleasing. Perhaps no other flight delineated as clearly the stylistic differences between these two great vintages. The 2009 Mouton is a sexy wine which utilizes the ripeness engendered by the harvest as a binder for the wine’s creamy cherry vanilla, plush and velvety smooth fruit. Tasty hints of graham cracker, spice and white chocolate are incorporated into the mix to provide additional nuance and complexity.
The 2010 Mouton, as noted above, is a bit more structured with a discernible tannic structure which provides the backbone for the wine’s darker fruit composition of plum, black cherry and dark currants. Hints of cocoa and carob abound which, when combined with the wines superb delineation of Pauillac dirt, provides a luxurious First Growth journey that is completely resplendent of the estate and wholly Mouton in its commitment to excellence. The preference for 2010, at least at our table, was virtually unanimous.

Château Lafite Rothschild (Pauillac)
Lafite does it again! This was one of the top flights of the evening with both wines showing spectacularly well. I would be hard pressed to prefer one over the other but, if pressed, would go (most hesitatingly, I would add!) with the 2010 while retaining a long and lingering look back at the glorious 2009.  Both are magnificent! With wines such as these, it becomes verily impossible to delineate the various flavor strands and individualized components of essence. Suffice it to say, both wines live up to the Lafite reputation for being the most patrician of the Bordeaux First Growth wines. Both wines verily approach an almost unobtainable quality zenith in proffering to the imbiber or collector a rarified vision of regal grandeur which incorporates an artistic expression juxtaposing a true sense of place and a refined winemaking vision while also incorporating the salient characteristics of their relative vintages of origin. Are they expensive and difficult to procure?  Yes, but what price perfection! Bravo Lafite!

Let’s just call this the shameless, commercial portion of this blog contribution! As an auction house, Spectrum is committed to Bordeaux: the region, the wines and the people. Our staff is extraordinarily knowledgeable about the genre --- both current offerings and older releases. Whether you are a consignor or buyer, imbiber or admirer, collector or aficionado, feel free to contact us here regarding any and all of your Bordeaux needs. You will find us to be friendly, polite and responsible. Our goal is to make your auction experience as pleasant, hassle free and rewarding as we can. We look forward to hearing from you!

Top flights (in no particular order) --- l’Evangile, Haut Brion, Lafite Rothschild, Leoville Poyferré, Palmer
Most disappointing flight --- La Mission Haut Brion
Most difficult flight to assess --- Montrose
2009 vs. 2010 --- Final Score = 2010-4/2009-3/Tie-2 (l’Evangile, Haut Brion)

Thanks once again to Martin Weiner and his LA School of Wine for putting together this spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime event!