Credit: Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux
Late last month, I attended the 2010 Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tasting at the famous Drake Hotel in Chicago.
This tasting is held in Chicago every January and it’s always a great opportunity to preview the new vintage. While the First Growths and a few other major classified houses don’t participate, there are usually over 100 wines to sample. This tasting was especially exciting, as there’s a lot of hype surrounding the 2010 vintage.
In the latest Wine Spectator, the cover proclaims that 2010 is “Bordeaux at its best.” Robert Parker has already declared that more than a dozen wines might receive 100 points. (Parker scores will be released on February 28.) Many other critics have written with similar enthusiasm.
Some critics have been more cautious with their praise — Chris Kissack wrote that “anyone who claims 2010 is another Vintage of the Century is… far wide of the mark.” — but virtually everyone agrees that the wines are extremely good.
As a result, the futures campaign has given us some of the highest prices we’ve ever seen for young Bordeaux. In recent years, price has been the most important — and prevalent — question when it comes to Bordeaux.
For those of us with budgets, is it possible to justify the prices for, say, Leoville Las Cases, Ducru-Beaucalliou, or Cos d’Estournel? Just five years ago, all those wines could be found for less than $100. In 2010, each is being released at $250 or more! So while I’d love to have a deep cellar of young Bordeaux to grow old with, it is extremely hard at the prices we now see. When it comes to the First Growths, it’s hard to imagine anyone but an oligarch being able to afford such wines!
Price and praise are only part of the narrative, though. Considering that the 2010s are still just babies, it’s worth looking at the most important factor in what the vintage will yield: mother nature.
In Bordeaux, the only constant was inconsistency. There was a very cold winter, good amounts of rain in both March and June, heat spikes in April and May, some drought conditions throughout the summer, and then long and cool August. Just reading that sentence is enough to make your head spin! Add the coulure and millerandage that many vignerons experienced, and it’s hard to imagine how anyone could produce delicious wines — much less the wines that so many critics have hyped.
Vintners credit two factors for saving the vintage. First, thanks to high water levels in the ground and few sustained heat spikes, most vineyards were able to survive the drought. Second, the cooler weather in August also allowed the grapes to retain good acidity.
Overall, the wines I tasted displayed structure and richness. In some cases, the tannins were punishing, even for young Bordeaux.
On the Left Bank, Pauillac and St. Julien showed the best — showing off their terroir and achieving serious heights. Margaux was a disappointment. The wines were very good, to be sure, but I was expecting something tremendous.
The Right Bank showed well on the whole, though the oak on some of the wines from Saint-Émilion was too noticeable.
Across all the appellations, the wines were more variable than I expected. While there were some stunning wines, too many suffered from a real thinness on the mid-palate that raised some concerns about aging. And I have to wonder if the tannins will outlast the fruit on some of the wines.
Below the fold are my tasting notes from the top wines I sampled at UGC. I will repeat that there were some absolute stunners — these notes don’t reflect is that this is a much more varied vintage than 2009 and 2005. Tasting before you buy is important, but for most consumers, that’s simply cost-prohibitive. And that’s the ultimate conundrum of Bordeaux these days. Read the rest of this entry »