So the man himself … seen as God by many and certainly the most influential wine critic in the world today has released his notes on Bordeaux 2009. He favours the bigger reds and bolder styles, leaving those looking for a subtle juice confused by his scores.
A lengthy profile entitled “The Million Dollar Nose” ran in The Atlantic Monthly in December 2000. Among other claims, Parker told the author that he tastes 10,000 wines a year and “remembers every wine he has tasted over the past thirty-two years and, within a few points, every score he has given as well.” Yet in a public blind tasting of fifteen top wines from Bordeaux 2005, which he has called “the greatest vintage of my lifetime,” Parker could not correctly identify any of the wines, confusing left bank wines for right several times.
As to what the different scores mean, particularly for the finest wines, Parker has admitted–contrary to the seeming objectivity of the 100 point scale–that emotions do matter: “I really think probably the only difference between a 96-, 97-, 98-, 99-, and 100-point wine is really the emotion of the moment.” I think that our lesser known own critic Anthony may agree with this sentiment on his 18,19 scores from the recent trip to the Southern Hemisphere!!
With great reviews for the 2000 & 2005 Bordeaux vintages, many châteaux raised their prices to unheard of levels. When Parker declined to review the 2002 Bordeaux vintage in barrel, they were forced to drop their prices to previous levels. Such is the influence of the man himself!
I did however find this years report very informative and interesting, although there is no mention of the fact that if it hadn’t rained for that short spell in September the story of the vintage could be very different with vines suffering from water stress and shutting down before reaching phenolic ripeness. Rain which we see so much of here was certainly a blessing for the Bordelais last Autumn!
Enjoy the report, but as someone said to be about ‘The Contented Baby Book’ by Gina Ford…. read it and then throw it away. Don’t live by it!
Once Upon a Time (1899, 1929, 1949, 1959, 2009)
First, and most importantly, for some Médocs and Graves, 2009 may turn out to be the finest vintage I have tasted in 32 years of covering Bordeaux. From top to bottom, 2009 is not as consistent as 2005, but the peaks of quality in 2009 may turn out to be historic.
In broad, rather simplistic terms, 2009 is at its greatest in the Médoc and Graves, where it can often eclipse 2005 and 2000. St.-Emilion is less predictable, as 2005 remains the vintage of reference for this appellation. Pomerol follows a similar pattern to St.-Emilion. Some profound wines have been made, but overall, 2009 may just barely edge out 2008, and in the long term play runner-up to 2005 in both Pomerol and St.-Emilion. Yet, as the specific tasting notes clearly indicate, there are always exceptions to these broad generalities.
With 400 journalists and wine traders descending on Bordeaux in March, and the huge hype machine the Bordeaux wine trade has perfected, detailed weather reports were available to everyone. Why not? To no one’s surprise, the weather was superb. It was also a generous harvest, and the fabulous weather in September and October (which saved 2007 and made 2008 the excellent, underrated year it has become) was again the dominant factor in 2009. However, the conditions leading up to September and October were more promising in 2009 than in either 2008 or 2007. The president of the faculty of the University of Bordeaux’s school of oenology, Professor Denis Dubourdieu, has long claimed that five conditions must be satisfied in order for Bordeaux to have a great red wine vintage. Those conditions are: (1) An early flowering at the beginning of June; (2) A healthy and uniform fruit set, meaning hot, sunny, relatively dry weather; (3) The véraison, which is the change from green to red grapes, must begin early (in 2009 it started in late July, rather than August); (4) The grapes have to ripen fully, which means there must be warm weather with just enough rainfall in August and September to prevent photosynthesis from shutting down and stressing vines; and (5) September and October have to be generally dry, sunny, and warm, without excessive heat spells. As Dubourdieu stated in his summary of the vintage, all five conditions were satisfied in 2009. Where 2009’s peaks of quality eclipse 2005 is in the Médoc, where the Cabernet Sauvignon reached unprecedented maturity levels thanks to the fact that the vines did not suffer from excessive drought as some did in 2005. When the average temperatures in the critical months of July through October are compared to those in 2005, it is clear that 2005 was a much hotter vintage in July, yet August was much warmer in 2009. The two vintages had nearly identical temperatures in September, but for the late-harvested Cabernet Sauvignon (which was picked during the first two weeks of October), October was a cooler, drier month in 2009 than in 2005. Moreover, the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes possessed higher sugar concentrations in 2009 than in 2005, which has resulted in slightly higher alcohols in 2009 (13-14 degrees for most Graves and Médocs, and 14-15 degrees for St.-Emilions and Pomerols). The two vintages have similar total acid and malic acid levels. Polyphenols/tannins are higher in 2009 than 2005.
I have never tasted such powerful and concentrated Médocs. This is where the Cabernet Sauvignons shine. Reports of excessive alcohol are, for the most part, absurd. Most of the Médocs are certainly higher in alcohol than the 2005s, 2003s, or 2000s, but the 2009s tend to range from 13.3% to 13.8%, with a few surpassing 14%. There were some lots of Merlot that exceeded 14%, but once the blend was done, virtually everything in the Médoc fell between 13% and 14% alcohol. Moreover, despite what are abundant yields, the wines are extremely dense and concentrated. In the Médoc, the index of polyphenols, tannin levels, and extract set all time records for many châteaux. That is important because when the wines are tasted, the sweetness of the tannins is very apparent. Moreover, the overall style of this vintage is one of opulent, voluptuous textures with abundant fatness and succulence. In short, I do not think I have ever tasted such extraordinary Cabernet Sauvignons, and I believe the 2009 vintage is at its greatest in the Médoc and Graves.
Throughout the Médoc, Graves, and to a certan extent in Pomerol, but less so in St.-Emilion, the wines reveal an extraordinary freshness, vibrancy, and precision (the terroirists refer to this abstract and largely meaningless concept as “transparency”), but there is a vibrancy that is the paradox of 2009. The vintage displays many of the characteristics of such creamy-textured, opulent, fat, succulent years as 1959, 1982, 1990, and some of the northern Médocs of 2003. Yet, the 2009s also have the structure, freshness, acid levels as well as vibrancy and precision of such cooler years as 1986, 1996, and 2000. In that sense, this is the glory of the 2009s. For as big and rich as well as high in alcohol as they are, they are also remarkably delicate, fresh, and pure. This paradox, albeit a wonderful one, is unprecedented in the three plus decades I have been tasting Bordeaux barrel samples.
The Global Marketplace and the Asian Factor
Hopefully, smart money has already purchased and will continue to purchase the under-valued and reasonably priced 2008 Bordeaux. More and more I am convinced that in ten years this vintage will prove to be far superior overall to 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, and 2007, and not far off the quality of the 2005 and 2009. The 2008s, while very classic and consistently impressive across the board, do not possess the extra dimension of flavor intensity and structure of the finest 2005s, nor the sumptuousness, opulence, and sheer “wow” factor of so many 2009s. However, they are available at a dramatically lower price point. Optimists hoping that the Bordelais will price the 2009s as fairly as they did the 2008s will largely be disappointed with what I think will unfold once this report has been digested and prices begin to roll out in May, 2010. The enormous number of visitors traveling to Bordeaux to taste the 2009s as well as the négociants with lists of classified growths that many Asian buyers, particularly the Chinese, are prepared to pay for in advance was eye-opening. The old song and dance that the Asians don’t pre-pay for wines, preferring to buy in bottle, is no longer true. Americans rarely bought “wine futures” thirty years ago, but that all changed with the 1982s, and it will change for the Asians with the 2009s. They are going to buy these wines. The only questions are: How much Bordeaux they will buy beyond the most prestigious first growths and super seconds? And secondly, will such activity propel these wines back to the frightening price levels of 2005? Certainly the global marketplace continues to be plagued by a major economic downturn/recession. Yet a look at auction results reveals the top level Bordeaux are fetching surprisingly healthy price points, and are remarkably stable. The great values many of us had hoped to see in 2009 are not likely to materialize, except for the less prestigious appellations and wines. Thankfully, there are many splendid examples of those in 2009. Forget the first-growths. They have become luxury products, and possess the same prestigious image as Rolls Royce, Bentley, or Aston Martin cars, Roger Dubuis or Berguet watches, or haute couture from Chanel or Christian Dior. They are looked at by more and more investment funds as safe harbors where it is nearly impossible to lose money if purchased early enough, and in the strong vintages. This will only put further stress on prices as the super-seconds and the châteaux that want to become super-seconds position themselves just behind the “first growths.” I am very pessimistic that we’re going to see reasonable prices for the top 2009s. Nevertheless, there will still be plenty of fairly priced wines to buy if you are buying to drink rather than speculate.
Some good news for the American consumer is that the dollar, as it did in 1983 (when the 1982s were offered as futures) and 1991 (when the 1990s were first offered), has strengthened vis à vis the Euro. How much more it will strengthen is impossible to predict, but we’ve seen very healthy movement, and this could work in favor of American consumers wanting to buy 2009 Bordeaux “futures.”
About the Tastings
I spent a full twelve days tasting in Bordeaux in March, 2010, and I indicated in the following tasting notes how many times each wine was tasted. Obviously, for the châteaux that were visited (the first-growths, super-seconds, and a handful of other properties) I had only one opportunity to taste their 2009. Many of the top wines that I am able to set up in peer group tastings were tasted three, four, or five separate times. If any inconsistency was found in those wines tasted on numerous occasions, it is noted in the tasting note. I was fortunate that on eleven of the twelve days I enjoyed sunny, low humidity weather that offered perfect tasting conditions. Obviously, one can’t control the weather, but tasting barrel samples becomes a little trickier if a low depression descends on Bordeaux, and it is cold and rainy. I had none of those conditions during my tastings. That might help explain why the tastings were so remarkably consistent.
I hope readers will take a serious look at many of the less prestigious appellations and wines from those areas as they will no doubt represent fabulous bargains in 2009. Given the overall style of the 2009s, which combine creamy, voluptuous textures and sensational fruit-driven opulence with remarkable finesse, precision, purity, and vibrancy, the best of the “little” wines will be delicious young, as will many of the classified-growths. This is a magical vintage!
Readers will notes an asterisk (*) after some wine scores. I added this to signify when I thought a wine had the finest potential of all the offerings I had ever tasted from that estate in nearly 32 years of barrel tasting samples in Bordeaux.
L’Eglise Clinet 98-100
Chateau Haut Brion 98-100
Chateau Hosanna 98-100
Chateau Latour 98-100
Chateau Margaux 98-100
La Mission Haut Brion 98-100
Cos d’Estournel 98-100
Chateau Cheval Blanc 98-100
Chateau Clinet 97-100
Chateau Trotanoy 97-100
Chateau Pontet-Canet 97-100
Chateau Leoville-Poyferre 97-100
Chateau Leoville-Las Cases 96-100
Chateau L’Evangile 96-100
Chateau Montrose 96-100
Chateau Pavie 96-100
Chateau Petrus 96-100
Chateau Vieux Chateau Certan 96-99
Chateau Clos l’Eglise 96-100
Chateau Angelus 96-100
Chateau Bellevue Mondotte 95-100
Below this level Parker has also singled out the following wines for high 90s points.
Chateau Brane Cantenac 93-95
Chateau Lafon Rochet 91-93
Chateau Lynch Bages 94-96
Chateau Magdelaine 92-94
Chateau Palmer 94-96
Chateau Lascombes 94-96
Chateau Coutet 96-98