Bordeaux 2009: Left Bank round-up

After a full-on day, it was time reflect on our tastings in the Médoc as we drove across to just north of Libourne. Certainly our impressions thus far suggest that we have a great vintage on our hands, with Cabernet Sauvignon leading the way in the Northern Médoc. Having tasted this morning at Château Calon-Ségur, the winemaker suggested that the blend benefitted from the higher than normal proportion of Cabernet, as it achieved terrific phenolic ripeness, Merlot lent a grippier nature to tannins and at Calon, they opted to retain just their very best parcels of Merlot for the 2009, a mere 7-10%. Given the continual heat and near drought conditions of 2009, Cabernet seems to have fared so much better on the Left Bank, retaining poise. elegance and structure. Should Calon release at a fair price then it is sure to be well-followed; a very natural wine with expressive, generous fruit and remarkably fine, round tannins.

Conversely, tasting at Château Palmer later today, we learned that the Merlot on their terroirs performed very well indeed; it is no secret that Merlot is not relegated to lesser terroirs on this exceptional estate, and the vines were therefore best placed to avoid the water stress in 2009. Indeed some Merlot vines are intermixed with Cabernet Sauvignon in the vineyard. I must add that for me, Palmer has registered two notable successes, I can’t believe I have ever tasted a finer vintage of Alter Ego. This seems to have been a common theme; the second wines of the great estates have delivered impeccable quality this year. I can’t recall having tasted a finer Pavillon Rouge du Ch. Margaux, Alter Ego de Ch. Palmer or indeed Pagodes de Cos…..each is now the product of increased attention and a selection process that sees lesser fruit relegated to either a third wine or sold off on the market. The same exacting standards are applied as for the Grand Vin and it shows, particularly in vintages of the calibre of 2009. Quality in this respect is certainly on the up and interested buyers should take note, there is potentially considerable value in the second wines of 2009. This comment shows that quality is expressed up and down the scale in the 2009 vintage; a point that was exemplified by the broader range of Châteaux who showed their wines at the Union des Grand Crus tastings for Pauillac and St.Julien. Wines that seemed to have excelled in the vintage include the likes of Châteaux Pichon-Longueville (Baron), Saint-Pierre, Lynch-Bages and Gruaud-Larose. More to follow on these in our full vintage report.

I can’t sign off without a comment on Château Latour. I have been so impressed by the unerring consistency of this great Château’s wines over a considerable period of time. The 2009s are likely to be classed amongst this illustrious Château’s finest vintages; combining concentration and power with simply stunning minerality and refinement, whether one is thinking of the Grand Vin or the impeccable Forts de Latour. It might seem to be an oft cited phrase these days, but there are undeniably great wines in the 2009 vintage……wines that will rival, if not exceed recent greats as well as historic vintages alike. I look forward to our assessment of Pomerol and St.Emilion, which starts with an action-packed day tomorrow.

Staying at the beautiful Château Méaume in Maransin this evening, we have just tasted through a range of Alan Johnson-Hill’s Merlot from the 2009 vintage. Generous, textural with admirable freshness, these vat samples quickly illustrated the quality of the vintage at all levels.

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