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Bordeaux, 2008-2011

I couldn’t resist making the trip down from Scotland to London today for the annual Bordeaux Cru Classé Tasting, in which a group of châteaux – including some top names such as Pontet-Canet, Canon, Guiraud, Canon-la-Gaffelière and so on – show their four most recent vintages. So this year that was 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008, the first two vintages from barrel, the latter two from bottle (in most cases – I noticed Pontet-Canet’s 2009 was labelled up indicating it was also from barrel – Pontet-Canet Gran Reserva, anyone?). What could be more fascinating than a chance to look at two great vintages sandwiched between two weaker ones, to compare and contrast, especially when so many are drawing parallels between 2011 and 2008?

The tasting was indeed fascinating, on many levels. So many, in fact, I can’t really go into them all in the detail I would like to here (sitting in St Pancras Station) and now (with my train due in a few minutes) so I will just touch upon three themes.

2011: Just one month on from tasting these in Bordeaux, those wines I have tasted before (it was my first taste of some wines, in particular Mondotte, Canon, and a few others) showed consistently. Naturally in a month they have moved on, but looking back at my primeurs scores I’m ranking them the same today, e.g. Aiguilhe 2011 gets 16-17/20 again, Pontet-Canet 17-18/20 again, Branaire-Ducru 15-16 again. Gazin I’ve scored a half-point lower, otherwise there are no differences. To cut it short, the past month in barrel certainly hasn’t changed my impression of the vintage.

2009: The remarkable aspect of this vintage is just how it was tightening up. When I tasted the wines at the UGC in October 2011 I was struck by the rich, velvety drapes of fruit which hid the tannins and acidity so well I wondered if the fruit was all there was at times. But they have really tightened up since then, there is still plenty of fruit, and one or two still show that gloriously velvety weight, almost like a mouthful of double cream, but many now allow the structure to show itself more readily. I like that. I have been warming to the 2010s recently, preferring their structure, but the 2009s have it as well. It is going to be fascinating to watch these two vintages mature.

2011 vs. 2008 It was very notable how weak both these vintages were against the 2009 and 2010 vintages (both are better in Pomerol, but only Gazin represented that commune, and none of the wines there – from any of the vintages – were stellar). In terms of absolute quality, there is not much between these two vintages at present. Bear that in mind as the 2011 prices continue to roll out. Oh, and one last thing. Am I imagining it, or were there indeed a few critics or wine forum posters who proclaimed 2008 to be a great vintage at various points in time in the first year or two after the harvest? I am sure that was the case. Would anyone who once described 2008 as ‘great’ care to speak up in support of the vintage now? There was certainly nothing “great” about it today!

12 Responses to “Bordeaux, 2008-2011”

  1. Hi Chris,

    Please publish the details on the tasting please, I’m in particular interested in the pontet-canet 08-11 scores! In terms of PC 2009, I got my bottles already delivered to my cellar 2-3 months ago, so no reserve…

    Again please publish the details and would be in particular interested on why 2008 isn’t great in your eyes or if it’s just that 09 & 10 are so outstanding!


  2. thanks for the great insight, 09+10 superior to 08+11, that’s no agreument but what I would like to know/get from ppl like youself, a measnure/comparision with prices, i konw its hard, but like socre per GBP , value for money score? that kind of thing……..people who can dosh out getting 2009 2010 latour…..well, they don’t care reviews and all that…

  3. Two really interresting responses there, thanks.

    Simba, I will publish some notes and thoughts on the tasting, although haven’t decided on the format yet. But in response to your question on 2008, it isn’t a great vintage because the wines on the left bank in particular, although decent (perhaps even ‘good’), don’t have the conviction, depth, substance or balanced structured of a great vintage. Pomerol is stronger though, and 08-09-10-11 in Pomerol are all excellent or great.

    SH, that’s a very interesting suggestion, thanks. Unfortunately I don’t think I will publish price/score ratios, for many reasons. Firstly, they date as the prices change over time, whereas the scores tend to stand. Secondly, prices will vary according to the market in which you’re shopping, so prices based on euro release price or UK retail price won’t necessarily apply. In addition, there is the time factor; I have generated a 35-page report on Bordeaux 2011, and don’t think I have the ability to do price-per-point analysis per commune as well. Lastly, and this is the real sticking point, I think there’s more to choosing which wine you buy than points per price. If points per price is the deciding factor, and description of the wine, commune of origin, etc. are of no relevance, shouldn’t you look outside Bordeaux to where the value for money is so much better?

  4. Oh, I think 2008 was great. It was great because it was the only one I could afford!

  5. One point that intrigued me is that you say that 2008 and 2011 are on a par but a lot of your 2008 scores are much highter than the 2011. Does that mean that you previously overrated them or that 2008 is in fact in many cases the better vintages?

  6. Marc, good point, although even the 2008 vintage was over-priced I think.

    Jeremy, the Cru Classé tasting gives a very small sample size (just ten or so châteaux) so I don’t think I can make the sort of conclusions you are looking for me to state. If you are looking at older scores for 2008 and comparing them to my 2011 primeurs scores, then I’m not surprised I scored 2008 higher. But both vintages are ‘weaker’, but in different ways; it’s more about style, for me, than points. The 2008s on the left bank have leaner fruit but more purity, whereas the 2011s on the left bank have more substance but in many cases really robust tannins as well. Both fall behind 2009 and 2010 some way. Which you think is better will depend on your preferences – would you rather have more substantial but perhaps overly tannic wines, or would you rather purity and balance, but leaner midpalates? At the moment I am opting for the latter, 2008. How will the two stack up against one another in 15 years time though? For that reason I say there’s “not much in it”.

    On the right bank the two vintages are comparable, especially in Pomerol. I haven’t analysed my scores to see how they stack up against one another but I have good feelings about both vintages there.

    In Sauternes, 2011 wins hands down.

    I think we have to be careful about generalising about which vintage is ‘better’ because of these different elements of the comparison. If it interests you I will be retasting the 2008 vintage later this year (November 2012) and the 2011 vintage again next year (October 2013).

    Thanks again for these comments, it’s really great to have questions like these (makes me think!!) as well as the feedback.

  7. Not everyone agrees that 09 and 10 are better than 08, Chris. John Gilman recently ranked this decade thus: “1st decade in the new millennium Bordeaux vintage chart: 2005, 2000, 2008, 2009, 2001, 2006, 2002, 2004, 2010, 2007, 2003. 4 what it’s worth.”

  8. Correct BMD I was aware of that. And it is good to have dissent I think, for the debate if nothing else. And I do think that, in both 2009 and 2010, you can find some questionable wines, especially on the right bank where there were some very alcoholic Merlots.

    But….to rate the entire vintage 2010 just a scrape above 2007 and 2003, below 2002 (!!!!!!!!) and 2004 (!!!) is to misplace the vintage in the hierarchy, to my palate (obviously not to Gilman’s – this is a question of preference and opinion, not who is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong’). I would place 2005, 2009 and 2010 in the top three, although I’m not sure in which order. My preference for 2009 vs 2010 is fluctuating at the moment!

  9. Chris,

    Thanks for all the insight. In terms of pontet canet 2010, did you change your rating and opinion at all, if so to what and why?

    Appreciate your feedback.


  10. Hi Chris,

    Any feedback on the above. Just bought your Bordeaux booklet, congrats! Thought it would maybe give insight on the above question, but unfortunately didn’t, so would appreciate your feedback.


  11. Hi Simba, thanks for the question, sorry I overlooked it. Yes I rated the 2010 higher this time.

    Looking back to the primeurs barrel sample I thought the wine to be over-structured and with not enough flesh or fruit to fill it out. I scored it 16-17, but added a question mark to indicate that I wasn’t convinced by this showing, and that I was unsure about the veracity of the score.

    The midpalate has taken on weight and there is no sense now that the wine lacks the necessary substance to match the structure. Currently it is hugely dominated by oak characteristics to the point that these add even more grippy structure on the palate, but otherwise everything seemed to be much better balanced. The oak will fade of course. I scored it 17-18, no question marks this time.

    I’m delighted to hear one copy of the book has sold – thanks for that! :-)

  12. Thx Chris!