The Unions des Grands Crus de Bordeaux Tasting was the place to be this chilly Martin Luther King Day at the Marriott Marquis. Hordes of somms, retailers, importers, and restauranteurs line the ballroom and hallways of this great tasting. The room layout was identical to the previous year, much to my chagrin. While I appreciated starting with Graves/ Pessac Leognan, particularly with their always invigorating whites, I did not appreciate the incredibly inconvenient placement of the spit buckets a good ten feet away, behind throngs of other tasters, waiting patiently to get near the bucket. This log-jam caused a lot of people to become inebriated, as they gave up spitting a good ten minutes and 15 wines into their tasting.
Starting with the White Graves, I noted screamingly high acid, rendering many of the wines out of balance. Very few contained the pleasant waxiness I adore in Semillon, and even less saw the support of wood to frame out the wines a bit. Even the perennial standout, Carbonnieux was a disappointment. Wines of note were no surprise- Pape Clement Blanc, Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc, and the sleeper, De Fieuzal, which had the most balance. Domaine du Chevalier was ok, with some detectable Semillon and a better, softer balance, but at its high pricepoint, I wouldn't bother.
The forward focus of many red Graves made me smile with my 'instant gratification' meter going a mile-a-minute. Haut Bailly, had a wonderful complexity with a briary note, a lush, rich texture, and incredible concentration. Both Larrivet Haut Brion and Latour Martillac had a serious streak of graphite running down the center, with a tannic mid-palate and incredibly density. The Latour Martillac had a more chewy style with distinctive red fruit, while Larrivet Haut Brion had noticeable black fruits in its core and distinctly on the fresh nose.
My personal favorite values are always Malartic Lagraviere and Olivier. The Malartic hit the 'sweet spot' with lots of lush dark fruits, and well integrated, finer tannins. The Olivier however, was quite closed with a grittiness of texture and structure, with some sweet dominant tannins. Backward? Yes. Out of the running for good value? Time will tell- this needs to come together undoubtedly.
Winners of Graves? Pape Clement with a linear, laser-like focus framed by a hint of smoke all in an elegant, beautiful balance. Very nice indeed! And for the modernists, look no further than my staple, smith Haut Lafitte, with a long, long, finish, chewy tannins, and loads of cassis.
Onto the Right bank with the St. Emilions, which I found incredibly inconsistant, with an over-dominance of wood in some otherwise well-made wines. I mean, what were these guys thinking? It's like clubbing a duckling- Over-kill! Well, onward and upward I guess! Chateau Canon was a lovely intro to the region, with a pretty and gentle styling, framed by a hint of soft rose petal and a long, silky finish. Not one for the ages, but a lovely wine nonetheless.
Canon La Gaffeliere was incredibly forward with a profound mid-palate that was really fabulous and shocking at the same time. The roundness really works for this wine beautifully. The disappointment? Ugh- Figeac. SOOOO much wood buried this beloved wine in a wall of wood tannin so impenetrable, I couldn't bear to go back for a second sip. Clos Fourtet was disjointed as well, with a lush palate, spicy wood, and rock hard tannins, followed by ripe fruit, and s whiff of greenness. Hmm...
Winner? Oh Berliquet? How I could have danced with this lovely wine all day! Simply incredibl with lush balanced, layered fruits. Seamless. Truly. A pleasant surprise was the Larcis Ducasse. Folks looking for something to drink now, grab this sleeper. Really nailed it- Lots of fresh fruit, a long finish, bright acidity, chewy tannins, and a ripe plum nose. Very good indeed!
Pavie Macquin was its usual subdued self with dried orange peel and raspberry leading to an elegant, moderately tannic finish. One to keep your eye on- all the class is there for the making of a very good wine. One to avoid? troplong Mondot. The nose was so laden with menthol that I was convinced I was in a doctor's office. The palate completely hollowed out, and all that was left was spice. Weird!
The further punish my palate, I sauntered over to Pomerol, where I prepared for the onslaught of hard tannins. Beauregard had a super-clean nose with a palate laden with graphite and a wall of hard tannins. All the fruit was there, but well hidden. I was so excited to taste Clinet after I named it my favorite wine in 2009, only to be met with an underwhelming vintage for this estate. While is had all the layers one can hope for, this wine was just so out of scale and BIG, that I couldn't truly appreciate all that makes it so very special. Was it an excellent wine? Yes. Was it an excellent Clinet? so-so. The 2009 blew the doors off of this.
Gazin was just a pleasure in a glass. Pretty, balanced, ripe and elegant- hard to believe it was from Pomerol. One of the stars of the entire day was an old-time favorite of mine, La Conseillante. A super-ripe nose, with over-the-top juicy fruit, and very soft tannins. This is one to drink and enjoy.
From the Medoc and Haut Medoc I was simply disappointed. Chateau Clarke was like licking the inside of a barrel that had been seasoned with sweet tobacco. Not pleasant. I typically like this wine and the value it represents from the Rothschilds, but definitely not this vintage. Much of the same could be said for Poujeaux, though the wood was far more restrained, and this had some elegance and a hint of orange peel to the tobacco. Long and good. Chasse Spleen had better acidity than most of the Medoc wines, with some brightness and freshness that really worked for the wine. quite nice. Citran had a very brambly/ briary style with a distinctive cherry cough drop palate and very high acid. I dont' know what they were thinking here....
Wine of the region from haut Medoc? without a doubt Chateau Coufran. Absolutely delicious and incredibly drinkable with an abundance of fruit. the Soft tannins just made it an absolute pleasure. Do your wallet a favor and skip La Lagune with its burnt wood palate that had almost no detectable fruit. La Tour Carnet was quite pretty and charming with its rosy nose and ripe fruit. This was better, but not outstanding. La Tour de By, typically a real diamond in the rough, fell just short of very good, due to its lack of a middle. The lush tannins and ripe red fruit lead to a long finish, but it leaves you hanging in the middle when you want it most. So sad!
My personal favorite region of Margaux really brought some 'game' this year. Starting with Angludet, this beauty had much finer tannins than I had seen all day, with excellent acidity and gorgeous length. My favorite quote of the day, when I asked U.S. Sales Manager Nicolas Idiart about this distinct stylistic difference?, "Some people are attracted by the dark side of the oak." I nearly fell over laughing. Yes, many from St. Emilion and Medoc went to the 'dark side' for sure!
Brane Cantenac was a 'solid citizen', lending itself more towards briary and drier tannins dominated by distinctive pencil-lead. there was pronounced Brettanomyces in the Cantenac Brown- super sweaty! While it had good structure and and elegance to the body, I couldn't get past this unclean nose. With notable complexity was Dauzac, complete with orsnge peel, high acidity, a pleasant streak of graphite with incredible length- a very good value if you can find it! Desmiril had that same pencil lead, with additional concentration and fantastic richness. One of my favorite values, Du Tertre had a nice texture, fat mid-palate, with a dense, round opulent finish with some light tannins at the back.
The massive Labegorce had chewy, chalky tannins that were super-ripe and a nose of Ticonderoga pencils. Lascombes was tight as a drum, with a severe lack of fruit or body. Malescot St Exupery had a ton of ripeness, and lots of layers of chewy, maleable tannins. I loved the texture on this. SO classic was the Prieure Lichine. This oozed breeding with its core of black fruit, fresh acidity, and its elegant, uplifting palate. A lovely 'instant gratification Margaux is the Rauzan Gassies with a sper-concentrated palate, and and easy, forward balance. Lots of density and cassis there! The wood reared its ugly head again in the Rauzan Segla, which has lovely acidity, and a brooding, complex nose, but it killed the wine for me.
OH Man! If I could have just hung out in St. Julien today, I'd have died a happy girl. These wines stole the show, knocking it out of the park with nearly every single wine. This will be a great vintage to convert California Cab drinkers over the pond to see what all the fuss is about. You need your head examined if you didn't enjoy these gorgeous reds.
Starting with Beychevelle. Like, are you kidding me? SO long, so sexy, with fruit that goes on and on in the long, silky finish. This is a WOW wine that totally makes you hungry on a visceral level. A must buy. And then BAM! Another one out of the park- Branaire Ducru- definitely one of my top five wines of the tasting. SO freaking delicious. A seamless structure, definitely dominated by Cabernet, and drinking nearly perfectly. Yum in a glass. Get Some!
A TOTAL class-act and back to its hay-day is Gruaud Larose. The best in years, with a balance of cassis and elegant structure that is so distinctly Gruaud at its finest. I am pleased as punch. The only dog? Lagrange- seriously like drinking a smoothie made of bell peppers. What the heck were they thinking? Sad. Langoa Barton and Leoville Barton upped the ante for me, with the surprise winner being Langoa! WOW! Fresh roses on the nose, with dense black fruit on the palate, and a long, lush finish. The Leoville had that distinct creaminess that is Leoville Barton, but was much more closed down today and difficult to assess. Nonetheless, all the 'stuffing' is there for another excellent vintage at this estate.
Everyone was buzzing about Leoville Poyferre. Again, classic in style, and back to its roots. Beautiful balance, great structure and excellent length. Nothing exciting, but very 'complete'. Lastly, Talbot rounded out the region with a surprise. This Talbot was VERY forward, delicious, and laden with graphite and thirst-inducing acidity. Very, very good.
The chalkier side of tannins dominated Pauillac, which had no shortage of stars. Batailley had a distinct glycerin component that made it very modern, complete with soft tannins and a long, lush fruit-laden finish. Clerc Milon had an almost candied Boysenberry nose. The palate was gritty and peppery in its tannic structure, and I really feel there is a lot of potential in this wine. A sleeper and one I intend to purchase. D'armailhac had a surprising profound coffee and chocolate nose and palate with graphite, sweet tannins and impressive length. No slouch, and another knock-out value.
Ever-so-pleasant was Grand Puy Ducasse with imcredibly chalky tannins and sweet fruit. I certainly enjoyed it. Even more impressive was the Grand Puy Lacoste with its raspberry, lush, elegant palate that finished round and plump. Gorgeous! One of my top wines of the day was Lynch Bages. I finally appreciate the high price tag it has demanded the past 5 vintages. This wine absolutely deserves every ounce of hype thrown its way. INCREDIBLE concentration, with super-fine chalky tannins that were so linear, you'd swear the wine was filtered a million times. By far the best structure of any wine today.
Lynch Moussas was like drinking your way out of a garden- briars and green peppers. Neither of which I find pleasing. Pichon Longueville was classically balanced, with the appropriate amount of cassis, and some lovely chalky tannins and a hint of rose petals. Pichon Comtesse de Lalande was a stunner. Vanilla covered blackberries leap from the glass, all shrouded in silky tannins with a brooding nose and a lush palate. Totally a class act, and spot on as usual.
St. Estephe was plagued by the same dominance of oak that troubled the Medoc. Phelan Segur was a terrible disappointment, while Lafon Rochet was MUCH better, loaded with plush, chewy tannins and better acidity.
Finally the stickies! How I DO love Sauternes! Climens was excellent, and mostly balanced, with the exception of a bit of heat on the finish. Coutet had apricots galore and was super rich but balanced. The BEST by far was de Fargues- OMG- I MUST get this right away! Tropical pineapple, brilliant fresh acidity that invigorates with each delicious sip, and just the perfect length. Really amazing wine. Doisy Daene was a "Doisy Don't", with a very light body and high alcohol and no complexity. Guiraud wowed with tropical fruit, white pepper, a rich texture, but a hint of alcohol on the finish. Latour Blanche had better balance and was more elegant with noticeable apricot. Lafaurie Peyraguey was pretty, spicy and long, but nothing struck me as exciting. Lastly, Suduiraut, the perfect way to cap this glorious tasting. GOR-GEOUS! This had structure- YES, structure in a white wine- sounds nutty, but true in this case. Apricots, super rich and long, with just enough alcohol to keep it lighter on its feet. Another great vintage for this knockout producer of stickies.
After 123 wines, purple teeth, long trips to the spit bucket, and my guide dog getting stepped on constantly, I can honestly say it was well worth the trip. For those producers that were smart with their barrel treatment of this incredible vintage, the results spoke for themselves. Graves was great, Margaux the most pleasurable and easy to understand, St Emilion the most inconsistent, and the wines of St. Julien being real 'show-offs'.
I'd say that a good deal of the hype surrounding 2010 is well founded. I think some great values will stand the test of time in the cellars of patient folks, and the big boys are going to be surprisingly drinkable in the short term. The acidity is not really there for the Sauternes to be long agers, but instead look to Pauillac for your grandkids to enjoy. There's something for everyone, and sadly I have not seen the quality in Medoc or St Estephe that I was hoping for. HOwever, that being said, I've tasted dozens of Bordeaux Superieur that will delight the wallet and palate of many savvy shoppers. 2010 as a whole- definitely a winner. Two thumbs, and Two Labrador Paws UP!