“I’ve always read that young Cabernet Sauvignon is easier to taste than younger Merlot. Now I get it”
I’m sitting at my desk in Los Angeles, having just returned from the Bordeaux En Primeur tastings a couple days ago. I wanted to write at least three other posts while in Bordeaux, but the pace of our trip didn’t allow the time to write daily blogs. Over the course of eight days we tasted about 600 wines from the petite châteaux to the First Growths. This complete immersion provided a solid glimpse into the 2010 vintage. The first thing I took away from the trip was that we are seeing the quality of the wines across the region increase, from basic Bordeaux to the Classified Growths. There are wines in every price range that are good to very good. We are still sifting through our notes for the June newsletter and preparing our Vintage Report, but here are some quick observations.
Margaux is the most consistent of the communes.
Many Margaux châteaux are stepping up their attention to proper vineyard management. Kirwan has a new(ish) director Phillipe Delfaut, he started in 2007, who came from the acclaimed Château Palmer, where he worked from 1996-2006. The first thing he did at Kirwan was map the make-up of the soils in the vineyard’s different sub-plots. There were 29 different kinds of soils, which he is now harvesting and vinifying separately. He also made the decision to pick before the grapes were over-ripe in 2010, to ensure the freshness of the fruit was maintained. Better viticulture extends beyond Margaux's borders, though. For example, Pontet-Canet in Pauillac is certified organic/biodynamic in 2010. They are using a horse to plow a portion of the vineyard (59 acres), and they plan on adding a horse each year.
This was the year of Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Cabernet grapes achieved perfect ripeness, with high acidity lending freshness to the wines.
Cabernet Franc seems to be falling out of favor on the Left Bank. Old vine Cabernet Franc is still being used in blends, but as the vines get older the owners aren’t replanting them, saying they don’t like the fruit produced by the young vine Cabernet Franc. Instead they are planting those parcels over to Cabernet Sauvignon.
The 2010 vintage showed how important skilled winemakers with knowledge of how to deal with the Merlot in the vineyard are. If a winemaker followed the same “formula” they use every year, then the Merlot turned out alcoholic and overextracted, with high tannins from both the oak and grapes. But if the winemaker did his work in the vineyard and saw that the grapes were already high in sugar, tannins and acid, and were careful not to overmacerate and overextract, then the wines came out fantastic.
Big bucks for the top growths.
The rapidly growing Chinese market was the topic at every château we visited. Will the American market be able to afford the wines with the Chinese desire for Bordeaux driving prices? It seems likely that the Chinese market will push prices to a level that US consumers, and others, won’t be willing to pay. One négoicant commented that circumstances were much like the ’96 Bordeaux campaign, when the US market’s desire for the top wines priced British consumers out. That is why it is so important for us to travel to Bordeaux, and for us to try 600 wines. We can obtain the overall view of the vintage, realize the regional highlights and discover the hidden gems that any wine connoisseur can afford.