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Médoc Cru Classés 2010: Panel Tasting

A look back at the Bordeaux 2010 vintage tasting, which took place in 2014 to see what our tasters thought of this five star vintage. Expectations were high for this low-yield, richly concentrated Bordeaux vintage. And even at that early stage of its life, the hype was building... Originally published in the April 2014 issue of Decanter.

Looking back, the biggest shock of the tasting was the the omission of the first growths from the top wines list. They were out scored by many other châteaux by the three judges, Steven Spurrier, Stephen Brook and Michael Schuster. As Steven Spurrier explained at the time, young, fruit forward wines are always more appealing in early, blind tastings.

As will be seen from the tasting, the first growths – to which I gave three 20 points and one 19.5 after the en primeur tastings in 2011 – were outranked by some lesser wines. One should always buy the latter in great vintages like 2010 and I have to admit that, in this tasting, I preferred fruit over structure. Is Prieuré-Lichine better than Margaux, Haut-Batailley better than Latour? Of course not, but they showed beautifully.

Next year will be the “ten years on” tasting, and to see if the first growths are starting come into their own, and it will be fascinating to find out if the vintage is still considered five star.

Médoc Cru Classés 2010

This should be one of the very best tastings of the year. The 2010 vintage of Bordeaux: the châteaux owners’ near-unanimous choice for the best year out of that double-barrelled gift of 2009–2010. Almost every owner of a classified growth will tell you the same thing: 2009 for immediate charm, 2010 for going the distance.

In terms of taste and structure, 2010 is often called the architect’s vintage; producing physical wines with angles, depth, length and width, beating previous records for levels of tannins, fruit and acidity, but all perfectly balanced. Even the colour was off the charts – anthocyanin content (the red, purple and blue pigments in grape skins) in Cabernet Sauvignon in Pauillac was recorded at an average of 2,500mg/l in 2010, compared to 1,500mg/l in 2009.

The long growing season seemed to particularly suit Cabernet Sauvignon, with many estates putting record percentages in their blend (of the wines tasted here, Château Margaux and Ducru-Beaucaillou both have 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, and Mouton 94%, its highest in decades). Couple this already-intensely flavoured grape with the small berry size resulting from the dry summer, and you had small yields of richly concentrated wines, on average 10 to 30% down on 2009 production.

By Jane Anson

The results

Claret lovers have been spoiled for choice – 2009 and 2010 were both great vintages. But they do differ, the panel reminded us, with 2010 best for classic, structured, ageworthy wines.

‘The overall quality of these wines was pretty stunning,’ exclaimed Stephen Brook, who affirmed ‘the hype is justified; this is a truly great vintage’. Fellow judges Steven Spurrier and Michael Schuster agreed, adding that the 2010s are ‘finely textured and ripe’ and will be ‘extremely rewarding’ once they have fully matured.

‘What’s interesting is to view 2010 in the context of the several years beforehand,’ said Spurrier, who labelled 2000 as a ‘great vintage’; 2001 ‘now recognised as being just as good’; 2002 ‘rained off’; 2003 ‘terribly hot’; 2004 ‘a bit lean’; 2005 ‘sensational’; 2006 ‘classic Bordeaux, a bit tough’; 2008 ‘nice and attractive’; 2009 ‘the best vintage in our lifetime’; and 2010 as ‘now being seen as even better’.

So what makes the 2010s stand out? ‘It wasn’t as hot as 2009, so the acidities didn’t drop in the grapes,’ explained Brook. Schuster added: ‘2010 is very different from 2009. These wines are more linear, more tannic and more vertical, if you like. They’re less sweet, fleshy and generous than the 2009s, but the best of them will be very, very fine indeed.’

Spurrier continued: ‘What we’re looking at is a vintage that is extremely ripe, and extremely classic, and it’s rare to get that balance. The tannins are a little more severe, but they’ll soften. The fruit is more precise; not as obviously plummy, but it will come out in time. It’s all in the structure.’

Despite praising the overall quality of the 2010s, the judges did note that some of the wines ‘have sat back on their heels’, becoming ‘closed and conservative’, so finding the nuances either aromatically or on the palate was ‘quite difficult’. Brook said: ‘The wines weren’t explosive or fleshy in the way the 2009s were; they were a bit difficult to read. Nonetheless, I gave a score of 17-plus to about 60% of the wines, which means Highly Recommended for the majority, which is unusual.’

But with the Bordeaux 2010 prices having eclipsed those of the previous vintage, is there any value to be had? ‘I think 20% of these wines will be outside the pockets of most Decanter readers, but this vintage will show them what Bordeaux is up to now,’ Brook said.

Top Médoc Cru Classés 2010 of the tasting

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