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2010: the two-asterisk vintage?

So, the flights have been booked, the hotel reservations made; in the first week of April I will be in Bordeaux to taste the 2010 primeurs. How will this vintage stack up against 2009, I wonder?

2009 was a hyped vintage, but to some extent the wines deserved some puffery. Texturally more than anything else they were impressive, rich and dark wines which will be fascinating to revisit over coming years/decades. Some – on the right bank in particular – had perceptible alcohol that gave me cause for concern, but I don’t really think this message from this particular small-time palate has gotten through amongst all the praise from other big-name tasters. These were barrel samples of course – I need to look at the finished wines to see how they finally pan out; this I plan to do at the UGC tasting later this year, and that won’t be the last time. But if some of those right-bankers end up a little big and hot, just remember – you read it here first! Think that’s impossible? I don’t. I remember how hyped 1998 Chateauneuf was; in my tasting of a dozen wines, nearly three years ago now, I called time on the vintage. Too many of the wines turned out to be soupy, raisiny, pruney and hot. I note, looking at internet forum chatter, that many others are now coming round to the same opinion of this once supposedly ‘great’ vintage (and OK, I acknowledge that some are still head-over-heels in love with it too).

Nevertheless 2009 was a well-received vintage. For example, Parker wrote “I do not think I have ever tasted such extraordinary Cabernet Sauvignons”, and dished out a record-breaking 21 (if I remember correctly) score ranges that touched 100. And he adorned a multitude of scores with an asterisk, denoting that the wines in question “had the finest potential of all the offerings I had ever tasted from that estate in nearly 32 years of barrel tasting samples in Bordeaux”. Parker loved 2009. Many chateaux had, to his palate, produced their greatest wines ever.

But what of 2010? Have you heard the same rumours that I have, that this is an even greater vintage? Now, don’t roll your eyes in disbelief; some of these reports are independent and trustworthy. Read, for instance the words of Neal Martin, who (thanks principally to the need to research his Pomerol book I think) seems to have spent more time in Bordeaux during 2010 than ever:

“With the incipient 2010s lurking over the horizon, primeur neophytes will naturally be totting up their hypothetical profits on their gestating 2009s before shelling out for the “best vintage of the century ever (and I really, really mean it this time.”) The galling thing is: I believe them. I don’t want it to be true. In fact, the Bordelais could do with a catastrophic vintage to bring them down to earth, a ’56 or a ’91 to prick its inflated ego. I guess for now, Mother Nature is inclined to gift them the winning lottery ticket and they are making hay.” (the bolding has been added by me, by the way – Chris)

Not everyone is so positive; more circumspect is Gavin Quinney of Chateau Bauduc, who wrote of 2010 vs. 2009 in this blog post which is worth a read. Nevertheless, whether you focus on those who say 2010 is potentially great, or those who are trying to persuade us that it isn’t, 2010 must surely have something. If we were to plot the range of possibilities for the vintage quality, it does at present still include “could be greater than 2009”.

Which makes me wonder, if 2010 really does turn out to possess that sort of quality, where does the hype machine go from here? How do you rate a vintage higher than 2009, if you have already dished out 21 100-point-inclusive ranges and used asterisks to denote the “best potential” ever? Two asterisks? I will be watching this one with interest. But not before I have tasted the wines for myself of course – and published my own opinions and notes online. Perhaps they won’t be that impressive after all. It may, looking at Gavin’s report, be a rather more mixed and inconsistent vintage than we are currently being led to believe.

14 Responses to “2010: the two-asterisk vintage?”

  1. Hi Chris,
    if the quality of the 2010 vintage is 100**, will the prices be equally 100** also.
    I bought a miserly 1 1/2 case of the 2009 en primeur, I quite frankley can’t and won’t spend the silly money that the Bordelais were asking for last years “vintage of the century”; and this year won’t be any different. The silly pricing had forced me to look further afield and discover some fantastic wine from Portugal, Spain and S Africa which IMHO is possibly more interesting and exciting to taste than the usual French suspects and without doubt pound for pound clearly outstrips any Bordeaux.


  2. Chris,

    All I can say is Oh boy!!

    My total purchase of 2009 futures amounted to 1 shared case. Having said that I will be a buyer of 2009when they arrive and a few have done so already. Should be another opportunity as with 2005 to pick up some terrific bargains on lesser, unknown wines on the proverbial QPR basis.

    In fact I’ve had 4 bottles of an $8unknown over the last 2 weeks and I continue to be amazed athow good this wine is. Easily drinks like a $20-25 bottle,just lovely right out of the bottle, improves with time, not heavy, balanced and I didn’t taste the 14% alcohol at all, at least in this wine.

    Can’t wait to see what’s there in the $12-20 range.

  3. Hi Rick. I’m certain you’re not alone in looking further afield following 2009 prices.

    Hi Gary. Like Rick, 2009 prices clearly dissuaded you from partaking. You are right though, there are still some great wines in this vintage.

  4. Quite frankly, I think Anthony Barton is the only one with an ounce of integrity. This pricing is absurd. Actually, I’m quite glad they’ve had another great vintage – but how many will it take for the supply to increase to such a point where prices fall? Demand cannot possibly rise so quickly as to outstrip a supply from the string of good-great vintages Bordeaux has had since 1993.

  5. I’m not sure that will ever happen though, as despite what some argue, the price of Bordeaux is not a simple supply-demand issue. I ackowledge that sometimes the wines fall back from their opening prices, as what has been released onto the markets doesn’t sell as expected and merchants have to cut prices to shift the stock. But the initial opening price during the primeurs is not set on the basis of supply and demand, but on the prestige of the product, which depends on (a) the ‘value’ of the name, i.e. Lafite and other firsts always most expensive, (b) anticipated/released Parker score (anything touching 100 far more expensive) and (c) the vintage (2009 and 2010 prices were exacerbated by the hype – once Pontet Canet broke the 1000-mark there was no going back). And these initial release prices indicate the wines are now perceived as a luxury product rather than a drink to have with dinner.

  6. Hi Chris,
    I think your comment about wine being perceived as a luxury product is spot on, but for my wife and I its purely a lovely drink to accompany dinner or to sip outside on a warm summers eve. Regardless of what the Bordeaux farmers think or say with regards to thier fermented grape juice; and if you ignore the posh Chateau’s and designer labels, thats all wine is. I think the prices will settle down eventually because people like myself who probably make up the bulk of wine buyers don’t see wine as a Ferrari or Aston; its a consumable product that when opened only lasts an hour or 2 at best and then is gone.

  7. Sobering, Chris, but I think you’re probably right. What I hear from people who sell the Chinese Lafite is that it’s used to seal a lot of business deals (and a lot of it ends up quaffed or in… punch). I suppose we can only hope that the Chinese business elite will find some sincerer form of flattery.

    Personally, I think Sainsbury’s should just start charging 200 pounds for their generics. Any label can be prestigious if it’s pricey enough. That way everyone wins! Unfettered genius, this is.

  8. no surprises here, and I think that the majority of the 1e and 2e cru’s will receive a 100 score from Parker and I’m quite sure that once I have seen some of the en primeur prices I will loose my interest in the 2010 vintage, same happened for the 2009 vintage > I’m a huge wine enthousiast but I’m not crazy

    another 5 years or so and I think that the complete stock of each new vintage of the top level château will be directly shipped to China

  9. Chris,

    Just an update and one of the many reasons I don’t chase vintages and often try to find things other people do not want. I have had Pape Clement Blanc for the last few years at the UGC and have always really liked this wine along with Chevalier. It’s not easy to get and I’m not interested just based on price.

    Walked into my neighborhood store yesterday and they had gotten three 6 packs of the 2002 which apparently was overlooked in the distributors stocks.

    Bought a bottle for our wine dinner. Prepared a whole salmon, oven-poached, with lemon, shallots, and butter. Served with dill mustard, cornichon, toast points. Also had creme fraiche with lemon, scallions.

    The wine, golden in color, much deeper than the young straw yellow wine that I see at the UGC. Really full- bodied with a great petrol type nose, lemons,vanilla, minerals. Drank much more like a CNDP-Blanc than we were expecting.

    Paired great with the salmon, especially with the lemon dill mustard. Th dish and the wine went over big.

    2005 PCB $180/750 ml
    2002 PCB $60
    2002 PCB $24 on sale

    Needless to say I called the store while we were eating and took the rest.

  10. Thanks Kris and Gary. I hear what you say about becoming distanced from the better vintages, Kris. But don’t forget there are always some well-priced wines lower down the scale which are still interesting. And as Gary has proven, there are always bargains and sales where wines can be found selling for less (sometimes much less, it seems) years down the line.

    I think the point about China is a very good one. I’ll add a link to an interesting article about sales to China to the main blog shortly – demonstrating massively increased sales to HK and China during 2010, with expectations from French merchants that the figures will continue to rise. Meanwhile established markets such as UK, France, Germany, US stagnate or shrink. The Chinese effect is going to continue to have a significant effect on demand and pricing in 2011 I think.

  11. I love the idea of 2010 being even better because:
    1. the higher prices go, the sooner people will realise Bordeaux is now just fashion and hype; and
    2. when people realise this, they will re-learn that, although there is such a thing as well-made wine, beyond that its quality is entirely dependent on matters outside the winemaker’s control, most importantly who you drink it with and when.

    I feel like a nihilist willing on the extremes of Bordeaux into an ever-deepening vortex of hubris and absurdity until it implodes and covers the whole wretched region in shame and nemesis.

    And until that happens? I will sit on the sidelines, ever more pleased with myself and ever less tempted to join in the ridiculous circus. I may have had cold turkey in 2005 but I feel myself closer and closer to kicking the habit for good. All your other readers are right: there’s a whole world of good wine and good people out there.

    Bring it on!

  12. Thanks everyone for these interesting comments.

    It’s interesting to me that the predominant focus of the responses was on the greed of the Bordelais, price rises, long-term consumers being forced out of the market, and thoughts on what might happen regarding prices; will they keep going up? Is it a bubble? Is it all about to implode?

    Does this mean that when it comes to Bordeaux these days, it seems wine drinkers think of money and markets before anything else?

  13. I think that Bordeaux still offers up some good value providing you look beyond the well known names.

    Vintages such as 2009 with their high prices make people look beyond the usual suspects.

    The Bordelais do price rather enthusiastically, but I still think that if you look in the £15-£30 range you can get excellent wines in Bordeaux.

    Having said that, the pricing in general has turned me towards other regions and countries – if the Bordelais can get such high prices for their wines, good luck to them but I’ll be busy sipping my Barolos, Rhones, Argentinians, South Africans and Loires.

  14. Very true, Paul.