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Troplong-Mondot 2010: An Opinion Linchpin

Despite the Bordeaux 2012 primeurs looming (you might think the primeurs circus a long way off, but I’ve already made all but two of my appointments for the week) most of the chat at the moment concerns Bordeaux 2010. Memories of the barrel samples may have long faded, but a fresh round of tastings and expressed opinions have brought the vintage to the fore once again. Last November the Bordelais descended upon London for a showing of the wines, during which I tasted about 120, recently written up here. Neal Martin has done the same, augmented with some reports from a trip to Bordeaux to taste those wines that refuse to travel, and he is currently publishing these day by day on Parker’s site (subscription only, $99 per annum). In addition, the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB) has continued the tour, taking in the USA, giving American consumers a chance to taste and form their own opinions. James Suckling has also been busy reporting on his website (subscription only $143.90 per annum). And, perhaps most significantly, Parker is set to report in the next issue of The Wine Advocate (again, by subscription only, price as above).

Having completed my reports there is no doubt in my mind that Bordeaux 2010 is a great vintage, different in style to Bordeaux 2009, but equally worthy. But as my reports no doubt make clear, there is one notable fly in the ointment when it comes to this statement, and that is St Emilion. As always, the style of wine offered here is as diverse as ever, perhaps even more so than usual. And with such disparate styles, with varying degrees of ripeness, extraction and alcohol, the commune is bound to split opinion. Several wines are in position to be the poster child for this division; just half a length ahead of its peers, perhaps, is 2010 Château Troplong-Mondot.

Troplong-Mondot has in recent vintages, under the direction of Xavier Pariente and Christine Valette, and winemaker Jean-Pierre Taleyson, seen a marked shift in style. The wine was once elegant and pure; the 1994, for example, is drinking very well in this style, even though the vintage is, as Neal Martin put it a year or so ago, in general rather a dull one. But that all changed recently, and the style here is now one that favours dark colours, rich tannins, and high alcohol levels. The 2009 vintage was 15.5%, and although I liked it at the primeurs (I would never mark a wine down purely because of the alcohol) by the time it was in bottle it was showing this alcohol quite plainly. The 2010 also declared 15.5% at the primeurs, although I believe the final figure is more like 15.8%, and the label states 16%. Tasting it at the UGCB a few months ago this was all displayed very plainly, in keeping with my findings at the primeurs, with dried-desiccated fruit flavours, heat and hard tannin, and it did little to make me think of Bordeaux. Hot and awkward, it would be difficult to imagine me ever wanting to drink it. I can’t imagine the alcohol ever disappearing into the rest of the wine.

Château Troplong-Mondot

Others also express similar concerns, albeit without my rather pointed score; I should point out I have no wish to put words in the mouths of others, so I quote here as appropriate. Neal Martin has reported on it having tasted it twice, noting “[w]hilst the aromatics covet the alcohol level, in my mind it renders the finish rather heavy in the mouth and I can feel warmth at the back of the throat that would become fatiguing with time.” He certainly raised a question mark over it by refusing to score it, saying on Twitter when I asked why he had not done so that he wants to taste blind next year (no doubt at the Southwold tasting) before awarding a magic number. And looking at the reports from Team Jancis, these also seem very unenthusiastic; Jancis Robinson wrote “[p]erfectly serviceable modern St-Emilion style but a little bit painful to taste at this stage. Slightly drying finish. Pushed too far?” in April 2011, Julia Harding wrote “[v]ery very oaky, masses of mocha. The fruit flavours are ripe but the finish is tough” in April 2012 and from Richard Hemming we have “[t]he whole thing is overstated – which is fine if you like that sort of thing” in November 2012. The scores, however, seem rather positive in contrast – 15.5, 15.5 and 16 respectively.

In the interest of openness and contrast, it is only natural that I should point out that others seem to have adored this wine, with some primeur reports heaping praise upon it. James Lawther for Decanter described it as having a “[s]umptuous texture, balancing acidity and long, firm finish“, James Suckling as “[s]tunning” and Robert Parker as a “stunningly rich effort [which] offers abundant blueberry, black raspberry, licorice and graphite notes intermixed with a hint of espresso roast, a seriously concentrated, super-intense mouthfeel, full-bodied power, a complex, multidimensional texture and a nearly 50-second finish” which has to be a classic Parker note if ever there was one. The scores were suitably impressive, with 18.5, 95-96 and 96-98+. Suckling has retasted, but I haven’t seen his new score, but I’m sure it is similarly prodigious as his first. Parker will, I imagine, come out with at least a 98.

Happily these days there doesn’t seem to be any need for anybody to begin criticising the critics, rather than the wine. Ten-or-so years ago (was it really that long ago?!), a similarly controversial wine from Gerard Perse, than the relatively new owner of Château Pavie, sparked something of a war of words between Jancis Robinson and Robert Parker, and lines were drawn in the sand. We all have our own opinions, and I make no criticism of any of those opinions reproduced above that are different to my own. I merely wish to draw attention to this newly divisive wine, which has – perhaps unsurprisingly in view of the character of the commune – sprung forth from the same appellation as Pavie. The difficulty for the consumer, however, remains the same; whose palate do you follow? If you prefer freshness, vitality, purity and lift, can I gently steer you away from Troplong-Mondot to some other choice? If you prefer power, alcohol, concentration and sumptuous texture, then perhaps Troplong-Mondot is the wine for you?

Of course, there is one other plausible reason why 2010 Troplong-Mondot doesn’t seem to have stirred up the same controversy that 2003 Pavie once did, despite some seemingly disparate opinions. Maybe, as a result of too much hyperbole and exorbitant prices, nobody really cares any more? Is it that these days Bordeaux is more about, points, prices, owning and trading, that it is drinking? In which case, who cares how it actually tastes?

3 Responses to “Troplong-Mondot 2010: An Opinion Linchpin”

  1. Chris,

    I think that less controversy reflects on a more educated wine consumer than 7 years ago – possibly as a result of web sites such as yours. The public listens to the wine scribes that best fit their palate and are now happy to ignore the rest.

  2. Roger, that’s a really good point. Although some critics still enjoy (if that’s the right word) a strident and vocal following, I think that beyond those that still show the ‘tribe’ mentality there is a greater appreciation of the fallibility of critics, how palates differ, and why it is entirely acceptable for one critic wine to like a wine, and for another not to. Having two Bordeaux critics on the Wine Advocate (Robert Parker and, since about 2006/2007 if I recall correctly, Neal Martin) has helped here to some extent I think. When the two score differently it fuels debate, but along with this there is – when I have seen it crop up on internet fora – often education and ultimate acceptance. It may be that more widely available opinion from blogs, sites, maybe cellar-tracker has also helped. Good points Roger, thanks. I would rather believe this than “nobody cares any more”!

  3. Chris,

    I think your last statement sums it up very well and at least speaking for myself from what I have seen since 2003 when I started “following” wine and these debates, I do not care anymore.

    Having tasted EP wines from 2004-2008 for myself and compared to the “esteemed critics” to my palate there is a disconnect between the wines and the published scores, prices in a huge way.

    The only site I follow anymore is yours as you seem reasonable, interested ineducating your readers and provide balance and arguments on both sides of the aisle.

    Neal Martin’s not wanting to give a score speaks volumes as he clearly did not want to upset anyone, including his boss, when he clearly thought TM a disater, but refused to score the wine. That is a cop out and shows the true state of the wine industry and the fact that critics cannot be trusted.

    Gary