See what Decanter's experts have to say on this highly-rated Bordeaux vintage...
Médoc & Graves: Keep
A truly great vintage, optimally ripe but with firm acidity and tannins. The best wines will need eight years or more.
St-Emilion & Pomerol: Keep
Superb wines with great power balanced by acidity and tannin. But some wines are very alcoholic and thus controversial.
Sauternes & Barsac: Keep
Cool conditions at harvest led to some unripeness. But fresh, persistent wines that may prove better than initially thought.
It might have been hard to convince sceptics that Bordeaux was looking at another vintage of the century hard on the heels of 2009, but the 2010 en-primeur tastings proved that this was another exceptional year.
Weather conditions were slightly different, mainly because the summer was drier but cooler than 2009 (closer to 2005). Floraison was made a little uneven, particularly in the Merlot grape, because early June saw cool conditions and some rain just at the moment of the first Merlot flowers.
Sunshine hours in June were 102 compared to 293 in 2009, but the weather cleared to give way to a beautifully dry summer. The sunny August, September and October with cool nights meant that the grapes had plenty of time to ripen slowly and leisurely, while still retaining their complexity and tannic density.
White harvest began on early September in Pessac and Graves, with the first Merlots around September. As with 2009, estates were able to choose their picking date at their leisure, and many of the last grapes were brought in late October. Sugar levels (and so alcohol) were high as a result, sometimes higher than in 2009, as were tannins, but the high acidities meant they often showed better balance and freshness than the preceding year.
Cooler night-time temperatures than the 2009 meant that the white wines were more successful in this vintage than the last, with some excellent acidities to balance out the ripe grapes. Sauternes saw another uniform spread of botrytis.
In the reds, more than 2009, the success was uniform on both left and right banks, as the Merlot was able to conserve its acidity and keep its fruit aromatics intact. Berries as a whole were thick-skinned, with deeply coloured flesh that was high in anthocyanes – expect beautifully rich dark fruits that will unfurl over the next decade or so, and keep going for a long time.
This was another vintage where the small appellations did very well, so the Côtes de Bordeaux has many successes. On the right bank it was the turn of Pomerol to slightly outclass the St-Emilions, while the left bank saw great success across the Médoc, as the Cabernets managed full ripeness.
Côtes de Bordeaux
There were no freak climatic occurrences in 2010 as there had been in 2009 (a hailstorm in May which affected the north of the region) so quality was more uniform in Castillon and Francs this year. The clay-limestone terroir efficiently regulated the water supply avoiding stress in the vineyard, and the clement autumn weather enabled the grapes to achieve full ripeness. Consequently, some excellent wines have been made. Alcohols are high but acidities are good and pHs low, meaning good balance. This is definitely a year to keep an eye out for this region’s good value wines.
The higher incidence of gravel in the southern vineyards and those nearer the Gironde Estuary provide more elegance, the inland communes with more clay being more robust. 2010 slightly favoured the former for suppleness, while the latter’s firmness is more classic Médoc. Always one of the most reliable appellations in Bordeaux, Haut-Médoc’s quality shone through once again in 2010.
Listrac-Médoc & Moulis-en-Médoc
Generally the least favoured of the top Médoc communes, Listrac has been planted with more Merlot and the general rise in quality seen in 2009 was more than confirmed in 2010. Rather than hiding in the shadow of Moulis, with whom the appellation attempted to merge some years back, Listrac has emerged with its own firmness intact whilst losing its leanness. Some very good, characterful wines here. The 2010 vintage also suited Moulis as the ripe Cabernets added body and firmness to what is sometimes a slightly too supple wine. More high points than in 2009 due to more depth of character and good wines overall, with the typical roundness of style and added length of most giving them a good future.
This northern part of the Médoc is not good at making the best of a bad vintage, as many châteaux lack the means to take risks and sacrifice quantity for quality, but if the climate treats them well, the wines respond in kind. Overall the fruit is rich and more plummy than 2009, but the better wines have clear-cut flavours and depth to provide good drinking later in this decade. That quality is improving across the appellation is once again evident with the 2010s.
With 1,100ha, only a few less than St-Estèphe, and a very wide variety of soils, Margaux is a difficult commune to judge overall, but 2010 made this easier through the perfect ripeness of the Cabernet Sauvignon (Merlot’s taken as a given, and often worrying in its high alcohols). The light, gravelly soils provided the looked-for elegance, while the depth of flavour will assure a very good future. A very successful vintage, with the cru classés at the top of their form.
Of all the communes, Pauillac is the most Cabernet-orientated and 2010 allowed them to play this card to perfection. Some very great, almost unsurpassable wines and very good quality overall.
With only five of the Medoc’s 62 crus classés, St-Estèphe might be seen as less able to compete for attention, but it’s the variety of styles allied to a certain robust solidity from the more clayey soils that makes it a sure bet, and one that became even more sure in 2010. Plantings of Merlot have increased, yet when their Cabernet ripens to perfection, it is this that dominates the blend. A natural richness leads to wines opening up earlier than the Pauillacs, but their structure gives them equal potential for ageing.
Always the most homogeneous commune in the Médoc, the ‘quintessential claret’ qualities of St-Julien shone through in 2010. A little more natural concentration than 2009 due to lower yields, the perfect ripening of the Cabernets gave each château the opportunity to produce wines which beautifully reflect their style and terroir. Quality and individuality have gone hand-in-hand to produce distinctive and distinguished wines with great ageing potential.
Graves & Pessac-Léognan
If Pessac-Léognan benefitted from the excellent ripening of their Cabernet in 2009, eliminating the touch of greenness often found in lesser vintages, nature paid them an even more advantageous card in 2010: perfect ripening for all red varietals and an extra edge of concentration (though no loss of elegance) from lower yields to allow the châteaux to perform to their maximum.
Pessac’s Semillon and Sauvignon could not have asked for more than the very dry growing season right through to harvest, the result being exceptional, crystal clear wines. The southern Graves enjoyed the same conditions to produce delicious wines for earlier drinking.
Fronsac & Canon-Fronsac
Quality is excellent, particularly from the leading growers most of whom are listed below. Alcohol degrees are high but there’s a generosity of fruit and wonderful balancing acidity. This, coupled with the quantity and quality of tannin, means the wines are more structured making them firmer than the 2009s. Volumes were down by 10% on last year due to tiny berries and coulure caused by difficult flowering.
It could be that 2010 turns out to be a more consistent year than 2009 in St-Emilion. The dry summer months helped concentrate the Merlot grapes, and provided there was a percentage of clay in the soils the vines avoided adverse stress. This, coupled with the success of both Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, augured well for the appellation which has produced some excellent wines. Only producers with essentially sandy-gravel soils (and no clay) or those who picked too late have bucked the trend. Alcohol degrees are as high if not higher than in 2009 (14-15+ degrees) but are surprisingly less obvious due to high acidity and low pHs. This is particularly the case where there’s limestone in the soils, and wines on the plateau have faired particularly well. As usual St-Emilion runs the gamut of styles but the general trend is for deeply coloured wines with a profusion of tannin softened by the fruit and alcohol content and freshness on the finish. Outwardly, they are more ‘classical’ and structured than in 2009.
This is clearly an outstanding year for Pomerol, certainly for the leaders and those in hot pursuit, one that ranks with 2005, 2006 and 2009. Dry summer conditions caused steady hydric stress but the vines never shut down allowing steady concentration. Cool night time temperatures also militated against adverse stress and helped develop aroma. The harvest was carried out in fine conditions around 22 September to 5 October (27 October-2 October for Petrus). Yields were down on last year, up to 20% in some cases, due to tiny berries and coulure. Tannin and anthocyanin (colour) levels are high as are alcohol degrees but acidity is there to provide freshness and balance. Hence, the wines have deep colour, lovely floral and red berry aromatics, a solid but svelte tannic structure and good length. It was important not to over-extract and generally this was accomplished. Tasting a selection of wines across the board at the syndicat offices it is clear, however, that there are still a number of châteaux who should not be allowed the Pomerol label.
The greater variety of soils in Lalande-de-Pomerol (sand, gravel, clay) meant a mixed offering from the region. Those with sandy soils had more difficulty with the dry conditions, the maturity and quality of tannins and fruit more suspect. The vine suffered less in soils with a percentage of clay and here some excellent wines have been made. Alcohol degrees are high but there’s an abundance of fruit, good acidity and firm, ripe tannins.
Sauternes & Barsac
Once again a great vintage in Sauternes, the continuation of a stunning succession: 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009. Yet the style of this latest vintage sets it apart. 2010 has a special balance of very rich botrytised berries and remarkable acidity, giving pure and crystalline aromas to the wine, nearer to Riesling TBA than usual fat, oaky and slightly dirty old-fashioned Sauternes! The summer was hot, very dry and not especially favorable to botrytis, or even normal ripening, because of water stress. But after an early October storm, rains gave way to sunny days and fresh nights and an incredible concentration got underway in the berries. Many estates had to pick almost their entire crop in under two weeks. Most of the crop was picked above 20° of potential alcohol, and the wines show great majesty.
Of the two communes, Barsac stands out – its healthier, more golden grapes have given rise to some mind-blowing wines, surpassing all but the best Sauternes (of which there are many of course). There was some grey rot in Sauternes meaning some selection was necessary and there the wines are more diverse in quality. Overall, though, the balance of acidity, purity of taste, length and sheer tactile sensations put the 2010 Sauternes/Barsac on a par with 2007, ’05 and ’01, though you’d need to go back to 1988 or even 1937 to find such refinement of texture, but with far less volatile acidity. Some have suggested the 2010s lack botrytis character but I disagree. To my mind, many are masterpieces of modern sweet winemaking: rich, pure, true to terroir, but far easier to drink than those of the past.