Last week I spent two fascinating days in London tasting and reviewing the top Bordeaux wines from the 2009 vintage. This was the ’10 years on’ tasting at Farr Vintners in their excellent tasting room in Battersea.
With a similar format to the 2015 Bordeaux tastings we tasted the wines in flights of 11 or 12, without knowing what was in the bottle…..a blind tasting. We spent about 30 minutes assessing each flight of wines and then collated the scores. My fellow tasters included a plethora of MWs, the buyers for some of the top UK wine merchants, Justerini & Brooks, Berry Bros & Rudd, Corney & Barrow, Goedhuis, Berkmann, the Wine Society and DBM as well as Jancis Robinson, Neal Martin and Steven Spurrier.

There was palpable expectation and excitement before this tasting. We had all reviewed these wines in barrel in April 2010 and then some of the group had subsequently reviewed the wines in bottle in 2013 (the Southwold tasting).

Recollections of 2009
I vividly remember the 2009 vintage in Bordeaux. Working with a negociant at the time, there was an amazing jump in pricing from the 2008 vintage. The red obssession was firmly under way from China and the prices were moving further and further skyward. Chateau Lafite Rothschild had been released ex Chateau at +-€130 for the 2008 vintage, whilst the 2009 was priced at €660 ex negociant. A fivefold increase in price for a First Growth wine estate that produces +-200,000 bottles per year is good business(for the Chateau), especially as the demand for the wines was insane in 2010 when we first started trading the wines. There were deals on the market to buy 6 cases of Chateau Rieussec (a very good but un fashionable Sauternes wine)  for every one case of Chateau Lafite Rothschild. This created a strange situation where merchants took the 6 cases of Rieussec in order to get their allocation of Lafite, then the Rieussec was ‘dumped’ onto the secondary market. The impact was that Rieussec’s reputation was destroyed rapidly. From a release price of €48 per bottle the wine could be bought a week later at €20 per bottle. How to destroy a brand? This kind of tactic might work for producers who have an iconic wine as well as an everyday drinker, such as Guigal pairing their single vineyard Cote Rotie wines with their good value and easy drinking Cotes du Rhone. But Guigal’s Cote du Rhone will always be a steady easy drinking style. The mistake that I believe the Rothschilds made for 2009 was that by pairing Chateau Rieussec they degraded a very good quality wine that needs support and help selling rather than lowering its reputation. But for the consumer, this was a sensational bargain. Buying Chateau Rieussec 2009 a first growth Sauternes at €20 or £20 was fantastic.

But Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2009 strode imperiously forward. The demand exceded the supply. With the ten fold jump in price for the 2008 Lafite, the 2009 was a sure thing………if China kept on buying aspirational prized red wines. Then we had the 2010 Lafite which was sold with altitude tablets to counter the nose bleeds. Then………2011,2012,2013 descent.

So where are we now? Undoubtedly 2009 and 2010 were the peaks of the old market, based on Chinese demand and excellent quality vintages. The ‘OK’ 2011 and 2012 were followed by the disastrous 2013 and the promising, classic 2014. The 2015 and 2016 are excellent and whilst the 2017 is small production for some Chateaux there are definitely some top quality 2017 Bordeaux wines to be found. We are on the cusp of tasting the 2018 barrel samples at the beginning of April. The 2018 is looking like a truly sensational vintage. Maybe something to rival the 2016, 2010, 2009 and 2005?

Here is a reminder of the wines that Robert Parker gave 100 points in the 2009 vintage:
Beausejour Duffau-Lagerosse
Bellevue Mondotte
Clos Fourtet
Ducru Beaucaillou
Haut Bailly
Haut Brion
Leoville Poyferre
La Mission Haut brion
La Mondotte
Le Pin
Pontet Canet
Smith Haut Lafitte (Red)

This is what we thought when tasted last week:

Saint Emilion
Ausone,Canon, Cheval Blanc and Clos Fourtet were my highlights from this broad appellation. Canon 2009 is elegant and classy, Ausone is dark and spicey and very smooth, Cheval Blanc has a delicate approach, but touches of herbaceous Cab Franc class and great finesse. Clos Fourtet has fresh violets and charm. I was encoraged that these wines had great balance and depth without having too much alcohol evident.

Clinet, La Fleur Petrus, Hosanna, Le Gay, Gazin, Le Pin and Petrus were the stand out wines in this area. In the context of the wines, I really enjoyed Le Gay for its iron rich concentration. Fine tannins and great balance.

Le Pin has wonderful finesse. Again it is not overblown with alcohol. A wine that builds gradually on the palate. Elegant with delicate violet tones.
Petrus 2009 has perfectly ripe brooding fruit. A concentrated silky elegant style. This wine stood out in the tasting (I thought it was Lafleur!).

Pessac Leognan
Haut Brion, La Mission Haut Brion, Pape Clement and Branon seemed to be ahead of the pack in this group of wines. Branon 2009 has creamy oak textures, but beautiful clean plush fruit.

Haut Brion 2009 was near perfect. Violets and dark spices define this Cabernet Merlot blend. Remarkably after 10 years, it is very youthful. Power and potential, fresh with sensual ripe tannins.

La Mission Haut Brion 2009 actually seems more like old school claret. Slightly dry on the fruit, but voluminous on the palate.

Pape Clement 2009 is an incredibly intense almost iodine, bloody core. But there is also a lift from the freshness too. Very classy.

Kirwan, Issan and Margaux were my top wines.

Issan and Margaux are very classy wines, with intense core of fruit, but with a delicate lift from the acidity.

Kirwan is a multi layered complex wine (I thought it was Palmer!). Great balance and creamy oak textures.

We also included two identical wines called Segla (the second wine of Chateau Rauzan Segla). One of the Seglas was bottled with a cork closure, whilst the other Segla was bottled under screwcap closure. Farr Vintners had spoken with the previous Direstor of the Chateau, John Kolassa, and asked for 500 cases to be bottled under screwcaps. They were very successful selling this wine and they made it very clear to their customers that this was a ‘one off’ from the Chateau. Fortunately they held back one case of Segla in screwcaps, so that we could make a blind tasting comparison. This was a fascinating experiment. For me the Segla with the cork closure had more flair and style. The wine had a dark core and freshness. The Segla under screwcap was very clean, but slightly simple and one dimensional. Very fresh and clean and perhaps even easy.

I rated the cork closure two points higher than the screwcap.

St. Julien
We were looking forward to this most consistent appellation and we were not disapointed.

Leoville Poyferre is an outstanding wine. Maybe Robert Parker was right with 100 points!!

But there were a few surprises too. I adored Gloria and Saint Pierre and Gruaud Larose.

Gloria must be one of the best bargains. The wine is available at £440 per case (12) at the moment, whilst Ducru Beaucaillou (which I rated slightly inferior) is being banged out at £2000 plus per case.

But to be honest there were no duffers in the St Julien range of wines. Leoville Barton, Leoville Lascases, Lagrange and Beychevelle will offer enormous amounts of pleasure over the coming years.

Again we were anticipating some fireworks from this appellation. With a fully ripe vintage like 2009, those great Cabernet terroirs of Pauillac might be ideally suited.

Pichon Baron, Grand Puy Lacoste and Lynch Bages were all excellent wines. I was impressed by Grand Puy Lacoste, which can sometimes be overshadowed by the Pichon estates in these blind tastings. GPL 2009 is a very pure direct style of Cabernet with spice and class. A very smooth wine.

Pichon Baron must be one of the most consistent top ranked estates in our tastings. A magnificent 2009 from Pichon Baron.

BUT the First growths of Mouton, Latour and Lafite were a step above the other wines in Pauillac. The group of tasters felt that Latour was the top wine of the day, however I adored Lafite Rothschild 2009. An astonishing wine packed with cassis and blackberries. Still quite youthful, but a wine that is coming to terms with itself. Velvet smooth and very classy oak balance. This was 20/20 for me.

Chateau Latour 2009 is almost a complete wine with the trademark dark spicey core. 19.5/20

Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2009 has excellent mouthfeel and freshness balanced with the intense cassis core.

Again the deep gravel soils of St.Estephe should have been perfectly suited to a fully ripe growing season such as 2009 and we were very happy to taste these gems.

Montrose, Cos d’Estournel, Pagodes de Cos (which I actually rated higher than Cos!!!) and Phelan Segur were pitch perfect.

Montrose 2009 is the densest darkest beast of a wine. Very broad and deep with cabernet class.

But Phelan Segur must be another absolute bargain from the 2009 vintage. This Phelan is excellent. Very ripe tannins and blanaced intense cassis fruit, but a wine with intense charisma and amazing charm.

Conclusions for the reds…….
Undoubtedly there re some sensational wines from 2009 Bordeaux. I have never been very keen on giving a wine 100/100 or 20/20. What is perfect for one person is imperfect for someone else. So I set out writing this post thinking I could pick apart Robert Parker’s reviews. But I genuinely found some near perfect wines in this tasting. The difference between Latour, Lafite Rothschild, Margaux and Haut Brion were very small, but for me Lafite Rothschild had something extra and something very special. Robert Parker gave his controversial views on the 2009 vintahe and he was perfectly entitled to his decision. Perhaps it was his swansong, as he sold his Wine Advocate publication soon afterwards to a group of investors from Singapore. I have the utmost respect for what Robert Parker has done for the wines of Bordeaux and elevating them to a wider audience mainly in the US market. What a way to bow out from the wine critic scene!

My top wines:
Lafite Rothschild

Haut Brion
Mouton Rothschild
Pichon Baron
Gruaud Larose

Recommended bargain buys:
Phelan Segur

The top end of Sauternes was also very encouraging for the 2009 vintage.

My picks of the wines were Rayne Vigneau, Fargues, Rieussec and Guiraud. But Guiraud was a little ahead of the rest of the wines. Pure zesty style. A wine with true purpose.