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Fine wine comment: Bordeaux 2010

Extremely dry conditions during 2010 in Bordeaux, allied to a relatively mild summer and cool nights during August, have produced a vintage with high acid, high and ripe tannin and high alcohol, but low yields, ensuring the wines will last and the prices are unlikely to fall.

Comparing the year to 2009, this year’s Bordeaux is considered more classic, primarily a result of the greater diurnal temperature range during the summer, which helped retain the acidity in the grapes during a long, slow ripening in the absence of rain.

The Bordelais appear reluctant to comment on which is better, suggesting the vintages are merely different, with the 2009 declared rounder, smoother and easier to taste en primeur than 2010, while one classed growth château director compared the dry conditions in 2010 to 2005, but said that the 2010 vintage was in fact fractionally better.

Aside from the low yields – as much as 20% down on average in the Médoc – one aspect that is widely considered a drawback in 2010 is the alcohol levels, which are higher than 2009 and, as one winemaker told db, “we are now making Californian wines in Bordeaux”.

The solution? The Bordelais are busy adapting their approach to canopy management in the short term but for the longer term, in the Médoc, the proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon plantings is increasing as the more easy-to-ripen Merlot is being pulled out. More productive rootstocks are also being considered in the hope that higher yields might help reduce the sugar levels in the berries.

But to return to the wines as they are now, 2010 will doubtless be a famous vintage, interestingly both for the whites – which show freshness and concentration – and the reds, while the upcoming en primeur campaign will produce prices no cheaper than the last due to lower yields and higher demand (the US are widely expected to buy in 2011, along with increased Asian interest).

While commentators compare the 2009 and 2010 pair of great vintages to ‘89 and ‘90, even ‘95 and ‘96, one château owner suggested Bordeaux may produce a trio of top years. As he explained: “November rainfall in 2008 was great for the water table during 2009, which was a dry year, and it was the same in November 2009, when we had rain which was good for the water table in 2010, which was an even drier year. And we had rain in November and December in 2010, so maybe there will be another great year in 2011…”

While the market wonders whether it can handle two great years in a row, let alone three, it should be remembered, with warmer and drier conditions in Bordeaux and much more advanced winemaking, the region no longer seems to suffer bad vintages.

Patrick Schmitt, 07.04.2011

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