My Top 100 Bordeaux 2009: The Power and The Glory?

POSTED ON 06/04/2010

After Act 1, the harvest, and Act 2, the making of the wine, the curtain opened on Act 3 in bright Bordeaux sunshine on Monday last week. And then the rains came. It was a hectic week of tasting the new vintage for the many thousands of trade and press visitors descending on the region to make their assessments of the quality and value of 2009. I don’t know exactly how many visitors there were, but Paul Pontallier said on Wednesday that at Château Margaux alone, they had seen 650 visitors that day, and would have processed well over 2000 by the end of the week.

dawn of a golden vintage?dawn of a golden vintage?

At the equivalent of a bottle for every 30 visitors, that equates to roughly two barrels of wine for the week. Put another way, if Château Margaux comes out in the UK at around £5,000 a case to the consumer, the tasting for the grand vin alone will have cost its owner, Corinne Mentzelopoulos, over £250,000. Do our hearts bleed? 15,000 cases of Château Margaux would bring a turnover of £75 million before the middlemen take their cut. The ‘cost’ of two barrels at 0.3% would have been a small price to pay.

With the first two days’ tastings under my belt (, it was back to the Médoc for the Margaux, Moulis and Listrac tasting. There was plenty to like here but if there had been cracks in the wall on the Right Bank the day before, they were in evidence at this tasting too. Not surprising perhaps, as Margaux is the most sprawling of the four top communes that include St.Julien, Pauillac and St.Estephe, while Moulis and Listrac are cru bourgeois rather than cru classé territory.

Pontet Canet's Alfred TesseronPontet Canet's Alfred Tesseron

Although, as mentioned previously, Château Margaux and Palmer have both played blinders in 2009, the commune itself isn’t entirely straightforward. There were some bravura performances, notably from Rauzan-Ségla, Giscours, du Tertre, Brane-Cantenac and Lascombes, but I was less impressed by Dauzac and didn’t think much at all of Prieuré-Lichine. D’Angludet and Siran showed well at cru bourgeois level. In Moulis and Listrac, my favourite cru bourgeois was Poujeaux but Clarke, Greysac and Maucaillou looked potential good value. The disappointment here for me was Chasse-Spleen, normally a favourite.

On to a rain-sodden Pontet Canet, where three powerful shire horses were spraying cow horn dung, or cow shit as Alfred Tesseron, the owner, more prosaically called it. Pontet Canet is the only Médoc biodynamic cru classé, and I was there to taste the wine and interview Tesseron and his winemaker Jean-Michel Comme, who’s come up with an excellent wine in 2009. That same afternoon, it was back to St Emilion, and after Angélus, terrific fruit albeit a blend of superripeness and fresh acidity, an appointment with Château Ausone. I was half an hour late (perhaps for obvious reasons there are NO signposts to Ausone), but it was worth the stress for one of the great wines of the vintage.

you can ring my bellyou can ring my bell

After a swift coffee in bright sunshine hosted by a generous colleague on a.n.other newspaper, it was on to Valandraud, surprisingly good, and supposedly Tertre Rôteboeuf, but I got lost on the way, so had to double back for the wines from the Pavie stable. There was a very good Monbousquet and Pavie Decesse and I suspect that Pavie itself, so often controversial, may be so again despite the owner Gérard Perse, hosting a dinner for journalists (I was not among them, I hasten to add) at the 2-Michelin-starred La Plaisance. It’s another of those blockbusters with lots of oak, alcohol and tannin, and, to be fair, richly concentrated fruit, but the jury is out on whether there’s enough flesh on the bone, and it’s not my style of wine.

My dinner was at L’Atmosphère in St.Germain du Puch where a few of us gathered to watch Arsenal-v-Barcelona in the Champions’ League in comfort on Canal +. After five minutes (in which Barça should have been three up), the wind and rain outside put paid to any further coverage, so we ended up enjoying a far better meal than I’d anticipated despite ending up wreathed in the thickest cigarette smoke I’ve encountered in a restaurant for a very long time. It wasn’t quite the atmosphere I had in mind.

The last of the four days began ominously with an hour and a quarter traffic jam on the Bordeaux Rocade en route to Haut-Brion, so I was three–quarters of an hour late this time, but no mind, they were as welcoming as if we’d been on time. The tasting was actually at La Mission Haut-Brion across the road from Haut-Brion. Both La Mission and Haut-Brion were excellent but just a tad hard to call. They seemed even more elemental than many of the top wines tasted that week, a little closed in on themselves, but no doubting the fabulous fruit quality. More benefit of the doubt than jury out in this case.

can I have some more, please?can I have some more, please?

I also loved the two great sémillon-based dry whites, La Mission Haut Brion Blanc (formerly known as Laville Haut-Brion) and the fabulous Haut-Brion Blanc. I didn’t taste a big range of dry whites during the week, but of those I did, these were the stars. It was pleasure tinged with the pain of knowing I’ll never be able to afford having these rare wines (only about 500 cases of each made) in my cellar.

So it was back to the Médoc for the last of the Union des Grands Crus’ blind tastings at Château Citran of St.Julien, Pauillac and St.Estèphe. It started reasonably well with a handful of decent to good crus bourgeois and lower crus classés: an attractive Belgrave and Camensac, although I found the La Tour Carnet, with its hefty tannins, hard to love. The stars as anticipated were in the next group, excellent Gruaud-Larose, Talbot, Léoville-Barton, Léoville-Poyferré, St.Pierre and Beychevelle in St.Julien, superb Lynch Bages and Pichon Lalande (better in the blind tasting than at the château) in Pauillac, and a fine Lafon Rochet in St Estèphe, where Phélan Segur was the best of the crus bourgeois.

On a mission: La Mission Haut-BrionOn a mission: La Mission Haut-Brion

There were wines I didn’t get to taste during the week purely because I ran out of time. Pétrus for instance and the Moueix stable I had to give a miss to because of all the to-and and fro-ing between the Médoc and St.Emilion. Because so many châteaux have pulled out of the Union des Grands Crus, which means visiting them at the château to taste the wine, I also ran out of time for, among others, Grand Puy Lacoste, La Lagune, Pichon Baron and L’Evangile and I would have liked to have tasted more Sauternes, not least Yquem.

Back at Pichon LalandeBack at Pichon Lalande

At the end of a long week, I came away from Bordeaux feeling both tired and exhilarated. Yes, primeur week is a circus at the best of times and this year in particular it lived up to its Big Tent billing with its tightrope acts, its thrills and spills, caged animals and clowns and that was just the wines. And yes, judgments can only be provisional at a stage in the life of a wine which, despite the maitre de chai’s best attempts to tell you that this is the final blend, may still be adjusted to include another cuvée, a touch of press wine, a little more or less oak, or even up to 15% (perfectly legal) of last year’s wine (the latter an unlikely prospect admittedly in a vintage like 2009).

Despite it all, it was a memorable week because 2009 will live long in the memory, and the cellar, for a host of reasons, some good, some less so. There is much to admire and much to love about 2009, but as good, even great, as it is at the highest levels, it can also be problematic. Some wines just don’t cut the mustard in 2009. Why not? This is a vintage with some of the highest alcohol and tannin levels on record. In some cases, châteaux haven’t selected out enough of the below average unripe or overripe grapes, ending up with either a dry finish or an alcoholic one. In other cases, they’ve tried too hard, extracting so much that it’s hard to see the fruit for the tannins.

tasting at Château Citrantasting at Château Citran

There is little doubt at the same time that there are many châteaux that have made their best wines in a generation. Of course we can expect to hear the usual ‘Vintage of the Century’ guff from the wine trade but given that there are only three other contenders so far this century (2000, 2003 and 2005), it doesn’t have quite the proud ring that a vintage of the century in the late 1990s might. Yet on the Left Bank, the cabernet sauvignon, when fully ripe, is concentrated and fresh and on the Right Bank, the merlot is generally bright and intense and the actors, producers, viticulturalists and winemakers, that is, have played their part to a rich and complex script. The curtain has fallen on Act 3, so, after a short interlude, it will be on to Act 4, the prices, the en primeur offers, and the question Hamlet himself might have posed, albeit with a Somerset accent: to buy or not to buy.

BORDEAUX 2009 - A TOP 100

MY 20 GREATEST WINES OF THE VINTAGE - full notes to follow

Ausone. 98 - 100

Cheval Blanc. 98 - 100

Lafite. 98 - 100

Latour. 98 – 100

Le Pin. 98 - 100

Margaux . 98 – 100.

Le Gay. 97 – 99

Haut-Brion. 96 – 98+

La Mission Haut Brion. 96 – 98+

Palmer. 96 – 98+

Vieux Château Certan. 96 – 98+

Ducru Beaucaillou. 96 – 98

Léoville Las Cases. 96 – 98

La Conseillante. 95 – 97

Mouton-Rothschild. 95 – 97

Calon-Ségur. 94 – 96+

Figeac. 94 – 96

Montrose. 94 – 96

Léoville Barton. 94 – 96

Pontet Canet. 94 – 96


Lynch- Bages. 94 – 96

Gruaud-Larose. 93 - 95

Léoville Poyferré. 93 - 95

Pichon Lalande. 93 - 95

Rauzan-Ségla. 93 – 95

St. Pierre. 93 – 95

Talbot. 93 - 95

Brane-Cantenac. 92 - 94+

Clos du Marquis. 92 - 94+

Giscours. 92 – 94+

Lafon Rochet. 92 – 94+

Les Forts de Latour. 92 - 94+

Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux. 92 – 94+

Beychevelle. 92 – 94

Clerc Milon. 92 – 94

Cos d'Estournel. 92 – 94?

Du Tertre. 92 – 94

Lagrange. 92 - 94

Lascombes. 92 – 94

Sociando Mallet. 92 – 94


Valandraud. 94 – 96

Canon. 93 – 95

Clos Fourtet. 93 – 95

Pavie Macquin. 93 – 95

Angélus. 92 – 94+

Canon La Gaffelière. 92 – 94+

Haut-Bailly. 92 – 94+

Pavie Decesse. 92 – 94+

Clinet. 92 – 94.

Domaine de Chevalier. 92 – 94

La Croix de Gay. 92 – 94

La Dominique. 92 – 94

Monbousquet. 92 – 94.

Moulin Saint Georges. 92 – 94

Pavie. 92 – 94?

Beauregard. 91 – 93+

La Tour Figeac. 92 – 94

Saint Georges (Côte Pavie). 92 – 94

Beauséjout Bécot. 91 – 93.

Clos la Madeleine. 91 – 93


D’Angludet. 91 - 93+

Pagodes de Cos d'Estournel. 91 - 93+

Alter Ego de Château Palmer 91 – 93

Batailley. 91 - 93

Cantemerle. 91 - 93

Duhart-Milon. 91 – 93

Haut Bages Libéral. 91 – 93

Kirwan. 91 – 93

La Croix de Beaucaillou. 91 – 93

Phélan Segur. 91 - 93

Potensac. 91 - 93

Les Fiefs de Lagrange. 90 – 92+

Poujeaux. 90 - 92+

Clément Pichon. 90 – 92

D'Armailhacq. 90 – 92

De Pez. 90 – 92

Goulée. 90 – 92

Haura. 90 - 92

Haut Simard. 90 - 92

Siran. 90 - 92


La Dame de Montrose. 89 – 91

Bellefont Belcier. 89 – 91

Camensac. 89 – 91

Clos Floridène. 89 – 91.

Coufran. 89 – 91

De Fieuzal. 89 - 91

Fombrauge. 89 - 91

Fourcas Dupré. 89 - 91

La Garde. 89 – 91

La Tour de Bessan. 89 – 91+

Les Ormes de Pez. 89 – 91

Monbrison. 89 – 91

Paloumey. 89 – 91

Bellevue. 88 – 90

Belgrave. 88 – 90

Cambon La Pelouse. 88 – 90.

Clarke. 88 – 90

Fonbel. 88 - 90

Lalande de Borie. 88 – 90

Monbrison. 88 – 90

at Citran: will the vintage turn out to be a peacock too?at Citran: will the vintage turn out to be a peacock too?

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