Bordeaux 2010, as with Bordeaux 2009 before it, is a vintage born out of extremity. In opposition to the no less extreme but regular cycle of 2009, 2010 is the fruit of exceptional meteorological conditions that tested the vine to its limits. 2010 is an extreme vintage which, in this instance, went the right way.
2010 as compared to 2009
Both 2009 and 2010 are big vintages; powerful, concentrated, of high alcohol and weight. 2009 are by comparison, opulent, softer wines that saw gradual concentration over a perfect ripening season followed by a perfect autumn.
2010 meanwhile are potent wines born of irregular and altogether more aggressive conditions, in particular drought and cooler August-September minimum temperatures followed by a cooler autumn leading to enhanced aroma, pigmentation and acidity. Drought-induced grape shrinkage combined to further exaggerate this acidity, being, along with tannic structure, the vintage’s most arresting feature.
As with 2009, harvest dates for comparable terroirs varied considerably from chateau to chateau, with the style being determined largely by choice rather than prevailing conditions.
2010, above all is a vintage where under-extraction not over-extraction is the order of the day, so as not to overplay robust tannins. High sugars once again have produced wines comparatively high in alcohol – broadly 13-14% for the Left Bank and 14-15% for the Right Bank – in the main a little less than 2009 although sometimes, in particular, the Right Bank and Pessac-Léognan, more so.
There are excellent wines to be found here at every level, the best terroirs have dealt remarkably well with the draught conditions as soils retained water deep-down from the unusually heavy rains of the previous winter (which, although with no way of telling at the time, turned out to be the saviour of the vintage).
Second wines are of notable quality as leading chateaux continue their re-definition of this style as a noble wine in its own right.
No one commune stands out, however, quality is not blanket-wide and there are some over-extracted wines to be found.
In 2010, it is a question of individual chateau over its village or district.
Despite in some instances record alcohol levels, experts (Spurrier, Laws, Decanter et al) believe these to be quite possibly the wines of the vintage. Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc have retained very good acidity levels at full ripeness, whereas the white wines are excellent and of an extremely high standard.
Less consistent overall, where some chateaux have struggled to contain alcohol levels or produced over-extracted wines. Nonetheless, if one is prepared to hand-pick, there exists a wide-ranging offer of elegant and well-crafted wines to be found.
A fine vintage for Sauternes and Barsac and in contrast to the other communes and districts an abundant yield. Crisp aromatic power is the hallmark of this vintage.
Some 5,000 members of the international wine trade representing close to 70 different countries have arrived to Bordeaux for the annual week of tasting barrel samples. Notably, the US trade is in attendance, after largely staying away in 2009. There are also reports that Asian buyers, in particular China but also Japan, have yet increased their interest again. Further, perhaps as a portent to future trends, KBR School of Wine, an Indian wine educator, is also taking part.
The market and pricing
By consensus, prices for the 2010 vintage are expected to be similar to slightly higher as compared to 2009.
A series of week fronts led to many flowers becoming infertile (coulure) whilst bunches that at first appeared successful ceased to develop and aborted (millerandage) with early-ripening Merlot, in particular effected. Moreover, green harvesting, begun on the assumption of what appeared to be a full crop and significant weight loss during the drought conditions led to an ever-lower yield. Whereas full bunches have been reported among petit chateaux, top growers with typically stringent selection processes, in the Merlot-dominated Right Bank above all, report a drop of up to 30% on 2009.
Chateaux and Negociants are well-capitalised after record prices for a string of high-quality high-scoring recent vintages and soaring international demand, notably from new markets in Asia. There is therefore no immediate financial pressure to lower prices.
The re-entry, albeit a little more modestly by historical standards, of US merchants, the ever-stronger presence of Asian buyers and continuous strong demand from UK investors all point to demand being similar to 2009. Having said that, there is certainly less hype amongst private customers when compared to this time last year.
Finally, in line with recent performance, we may see certain chateaux out-perform their critic ratings against the backdrop of brand-led demand from China. But, there is some way to go yet, and we shall maintain our analysis of this in the coming days and weeks as the all-important ratings begin to emerge in full. Particularly from Robert Parker, who will release his scores at the end of this month. Interestingly, he has twittered that 2010 is a great vintage but not greater than 2005 or 2009.
On a final note, when we say prices are expected to be similar or slightly higher than 2009, that is measured in euro’s. For buyers who pay in sterling that’s bad news as sterling has dropped 6% against the euro since this time last year.