This is my first trip to Bordeaux with the K&L Bordeaux team, but our group is loaded with experience: Clyde Beffa Jr, K&L’s co-owner and main wine buyer, has been coming for 26 years, Ralph Sands from K&L Redwood City has been coming for 21 years, Trey Beffa from K&L Hollywood has been coming for 12 years and Alex Pross from K&L Redwood City has been coming for four.
So far the trip seems to be about rare occurrences. The weather here in Bordeaux is amazing. The temperatures have been in the 70s, and it’s been sunny and clear. I have been asking everyone we meet if they remember April being this beautiful, and no one does. The Merlot vines have already seen bud break. One producer told me that it was a great start to 2011, with the season beginning gradually, so now growers are holding their breaths to see if late April frosts (like the ones in 1991) hurt the great start.
The warm weather also has an effect on the tasting of 2010s. The UGC tasting at Branaire-Ducru was hot, and the wines were warm making the tannins comes across very astringent. A couple of producers mentioned that while they usually have to find a warmer place to taste the wines, this year they’ve been trying to find cooler locations.
This (Friday, April 8th) is the start of our third day. So far we have been to the UGC tastings for Pessac-Léognan, Margaux, St-Julien and St-Estèphe, and today we are working our way through Pauillac. There is no question that the star of the vintage is Cabernet, with some producers claiming 20-30% loss of Merlot. (The Merlot suffered from drought as well as coulure [uneven fruit set] and millerandage [uneven ripening].) The Cabernet, however, is incredibly powerful and concentrated, balanced by high acidity from a cool August and September. One producer told me that this was the first time they had seen this kind of high acidity and perfect ripeness, although we have not tasted one wine that feels acidic.
So, rare occurrence one: balmy, 70-degree days in Bordeaux in April. Rare occurrence two: high acidity and tannins plus ripe concentrated fruit. This second rarity makes for an exceptional vintage, but one that’s very different from 2009. At Léoville-Barton they poured us both the 2009 and the 2010 Léoville- and Langoa-Barton side-by-side, which illustrated the differences perfectly. The ‘09s were voluptuous and rich, concealing their obvious structure. The 2010s showed their tannic backbone, but it was balanced by rich, concentrated fruit. These wines built for the long haul, not for early consumption.
Of course the question has been where the pricing for these wines come in relation to the ‘09s. No one is saying anything yet, but I do think this concentrated vintage will give us plenty of value wines, as well as the great Third, Fourth and Fifth Growths even in the Firsts and Seconds are crazy expensive. We can only wait and see.