Bordeaux 2010: "A Modern Classic"
Producers and critics are resisting saying ‘best ever’, but this focussed, serious, ageworthy vintage that is drawing comparisons to 1982 and even 1947 is certain to set record release prices. But as fêted as they are, the smart money isn’t on the first growths, says Steven Spurrier, but the Pessac-Léognan reds – and whites.
As with great vintages, which 2010 undoubtedly is, comparisons are made with previous years and at this level of quality, there are few contenders. Only 2005, and to a lesser extent 2000, were mentioned from the past decade. 1998 was referred to as a benchmark on the Right Bank, 1996 and 1995 mentioned in passing on the Left, 1990 certainly, 1986 for the Médocs, 1970 (the first vintage when many of the classed growths made a profit, following the washouts of 1963, 1965 and 1968 and the under-ripe 1967 and 1969) and, for those with longer memories, 1949, 1945 and 1929.
So, not just in my opinion, 2010 is looking like THE greatest Bordeaux vintage, so far, and, contrary to expectations, not tiring to taste. Alexandre Thienpont of Vieux Château Certan – one of the greatest wines of the vintage – noted that ‘fewer people are spitting this year’. In contrast to previous years, where the appellation sometimes misses the early ripeness of the Libournais or the later ripeness of the Médoc, the standout success for me was Pessac-Léognan. Not that these wines are much better than the others, but they are the best that have ever been made. Pomerol showed elegance as well as richness, most of the St-Emilions avoided over-extraction and the Fronsacs and Côtes de Bordeaux continued their exciting improvement.
In the Médoc, Margaux once again proved that this large appellation can combine diversity of styles with homogeneity of quality, while St-Julien, Pauillac and St-Estèphe could not be criticised. Is it a Left or a Right Bank vintage? Neither, in my view, for it is a Cabernet vintage, the Cabernet Francs on the Right and the Cabernet Sauvignons on the Left. Never have the first growth Médocs used such a high proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon in their grand vin.
And what of the market, the expected prices? With almost 6,000 members of the trade and media present (a little fewer than last year) the Americans were back and the Asians more in evidence. Helped by beautifully sunny days, the atmosphere was upbeat, less speculative than last year. The success of 2009 was such that 2010 doesn’t need to be pushed onto a market that is quite ready for it.
At this stage no prices were mentioned but the idea of the same high opening prices as last year, even perhaps a small increase, has not been denied. My personal view is that the top châteaux in Bordeaux have established benchmark prices that were unthinkable even two years ago, but which the market will now take as given: first growths at E450 to E500 a bottle, super-seconds at E120 to E150, with few of the rest of the best dropping below E50.
Bordeaux has always been in the branding business, which is what the classifications are all about, and now the brands are better than they have ever been and the market – perhaps not you and me – will accept the value they put on them. 2010, the greatest Bordeaux vintage in modern times... until the next time.
Read Steven Spurrier's full report in the June edition of Decanter magazine, out 6th May 2011