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Bordeaux 2010: quality very good but high alcohol and over-extraction a danger

Bordeaux 2010 continues to look of excellent quality, although there are increasing concerns over alcohol levels.

As the Merlot harvest continues in Bordeaux, and with the first Cabernet Sauvignon grapes due to be picked later this week, vignerons are in broad agreement the alcohol is ‘undeniably high’.

‘The skins of the grapes are so thick that in some places they still need time to soften,’ Jean-Francois Julien at La Fleur Morange in Saint Emilion told Decanter.com, ‘but the concern is that alcohol levels will get too high before they do so.

Some of the Merlots, he said, could reach 15.5% potential alcohol ‘or even higher’.

Much of this is due to the dry weather: this year has been remarkable for low rainfall. As French journalist Jean-Marc Quarin noted in his Independent Buyers Guide to the Wines of Bordeaux, ‘Bordeaux is currently going through one of its driest cycles in recent history. 2010 is the third driest year behind 2005 and 1998.’

After the grapes were blended, Julien said that would not be a problem, but because too high alcohol levels can cause stuck fermentation, ‘some vineyards up on the plateau, who are leaving their harvest until very late, may have real problems during vinification.’

Maria Martinez-Ojeda, director of quality at Chateau Brane Cantenac in Margaux, said they are due to bring in the last Merlots in the next few days, while Cos d’Estournel has finished its Merlot harvest.

Chateau Le Pin in Pomerol brought in its last Merlot last Thursday, October 1.

In St Emilion, Chateau Ausone winemaker Philippe Baillarguet told Decanter.com that they are only beginning the Merlot harvest tomorrow, Tuesday.

‘The vines are looking very healthy and we wanted to wait. There is a little rain now, which is good, and we have waited until the tannins have softened and become fine. The alcohol is undeniably high, but we will work to ensure balance.’

It is not unusual for winemakers to hope for rain at this stage of a dry cycle.

Jeffrey Davies, Bordeaux-based US merchant and owner of Signature Selections, said, ‘Winemakers are almost praying for rain, to have a little bit of natural dilution that would be welcome at this point.

‘The skins are very thick, which is a good thing in terms of resisting grey rot if it does rain over the next week, but all savvy wine makers will be extra-careful about over-extraction.

‘Most serious people say they are looking at another outstanding vintage. It is likely to be less immediately voluptuous than 2009 – somewhere in between 2005 and 2000. But everyone knows there is sensitivity in the market, and caution seems to be the watchword when declaring quality.’

Written by Jane Anson in Bordeaux

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