Bordeaux 2009: Is it a Left or Right Bank vintage?
James Lawther MW
If only it were so simple! The Merlot-dominated Right Bank has produced strong, powerful wines in 2009, many with an explosive and generous amount of fruit.
The main criterion, bearing in mind the maturity and alcohol degrees, was balance and where that has been achieved the wines are superb.
At the top end the likes of Ausone, Canon, Cheval Blanc, La Conseillante, Eglise-Clinet, Figeac, Lafleur, Pavie Macquin, Pétrus, Tertre Roteboeuf, Trotanoy, Valandraud and Vieux Château Certan are all in their own way prime examples.
There are also rich pickings in the value-for-money appellations of Castillon, Francs and Fronsac.
On the down side, there is perhaps more variability than on the Left Bank. The May hailstorm clearly made life difficult for certain producers in St-Emilion, Castillon and Francs.
Hydric stress in some of the sandier zones of St-Emilion and Pomerol also resulted in high alcohol and drier tannins while there were some that pushed the maturity too far, although not as many as has been laboured or was seen in 2000 or 2005.
In general the maturity and extraction was better handled than in the past. As a broad brush verdict, though, the Left Bank is likely to be given the nod in 2009.
The Cabernet Sauvignon is magnificent and some classy wines have been made. But it’s not all down to Cabernet alone.
A number of top performers have a fair amount of Merlot in the blend, including Issan (40%), Léoville-Poyferré (29%), Palmer (52%), Pichon-Longueville (33%) and Rauzan-Ségla (42%) not to mention many of the good value offerings such as Haut Condissas (60%) from the northern Médoc.
Both banks claim success, but there are failures on both sides and these will be a perception of taste rather than anything else.
For those seeking balance over power, the Left Bank will come out ahead. For those seeking richness at the expense of acidity, the Right Bank wines are those to go for.
General opinion is that while there were many “perfect” wines – Cheval Blanc, Petrus, Ausone, La Fleur, Vieux Ch. Certan, Figeac, Trotanoy, for example – on the Right Bank, quality is less homogenuous than on the Left, for the heat was more concentrated in early September and anyone picking before the rains on the 18-20 September would have picked grapes before their phenolic ripeness and anyone waiting allowing their Merlots to stay too long on the vine would have made over-alcoholic, pruney wines.
On the Left Bank, the Cabernet Sauvignon is slow to ripen and it did so under perfect conditions.