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!