BI’s ’10 Year On’ tasting was conceived back in 2008 as the company expanded into new offices and just over ten years after Gary Boom had established what was then Bordeaux Index.
With the collaboration of Michael Schuster and our friends in Bordeaux we hatched the initial event to involve not just trade and press but to give a number of our burgeoning clientele the opportunity to taste as well. The first vintage under the spotlight was 1999, a discreet vintage by any measure, but one that threw up several pleasant surprises: the likes of Poujeaux, Domaine de Chevalier, Leoville Poyferre and Palmer (maybe less of a surprise!) bucking preconceptions and highlighting how delicious claret can be in less prestigious years from reliable names. It proved an auspicious beginning.
Now, 11 years on from the inaugural 10 Year On tasting, and a year after the wonderful ‘09s, it was time for BI Wines & Spirits to present the highly-anticipated 2010s. Robert Parker’s in-bottle vintage report published in February 2013 noted “the wines are so concentrated and rich, yet also have higher total acid numbers and lower pHs than 2009, thus giving the 2010s a freshness and precision that is the paradoxical characteristic of this vintage.” So could the wines match the previous year’s highs and live up to their lofty reputations or would their obvious size and structure make them difficult to appreciate?
Last month the corks were pulled on a selection of some 60 red wines from Bordeaux’s most hallowed addresses, allowed to breathe for several hours and then poured to their impatient audience. Wow! It became quickly apparent that this vintage really does walk the walk and talk the talk. The wines transported us back to the primeur tastings all those years back, reminding us just how exciting they were to taste from barrel. And despite the sheer size and power of these wines they all, to a chateau, display an appetising freshness and wear their respective communes on their sleeves. And while some, obviously, demand more time – e.g. Latour, Pavie, Petrus, Las Cases, Montrose – others are already drinking gloriously (given enough time to breathe) – e.g. Canon, Mouton, VCC, Palmer, Leoville Poyferre, Grand Puy Lacoste – though equally promise long lives ahead.
In sum the 2010s are everything they’ve been made out to be and now, with (almost) ten years of patient evolution under their belts, they are starting to hit their drinking strides. Given the outstanding quality across the board, it’s almost churlish to highlight winners, but here are a few chateaux that struck particular chords with the BI staffroom:
Giles Cooper, Purchasing: “I was blown away by both Clerc Milon and D’Armailhac. These ‘petit chateaux’ owned and run by the team at Mouton Rothschild showed both the class of their Pauillac terroir and the depth and intensity of the 2010 vintage. The D’Armailhac was rich and serious with a web of dark fruits and gravel, graphite undertones; the Clerc was a little more vital for me, neatly framed with crisp, precise tannins and a real sense of energy. With the exception of the as yet immature 2016 they are the best iterations I have ever tasted from here and proof positive that Pauillac really was the daddy in 2010”
David Thomas, Sales Director:“ La Mission Haut Brion 2010 - Overall, I thought that the wines outperformed the 2009s – not in terms of showmanship but in terms of purity and balance, I loved the wines and it reminded me of the 1989 vintage. Many of the greats were showing really well with Figeac, VCC, Forts de Latour and Pichon Lalande all showing extremely well – Mouton was probably the most expressive and exotic of the 1st growths but one wine stood out for me on the evening – the perpetual bridesmaid – La Mission Haut Brion 2010 – it will get 100 points at some stage, happy to bet on that. It was dark and brooding, with classic pencil shavings and hints of leather, dark berries fruits and almost a pure blackberry essence, but it was the palate that stole the show – it was tight and unyielding when first opened, but with time in glass the beautiful purity of fruit opened with layers of berries and spice, coffee and almost dense meaty character, perfectly balanced with acidity and the most wonderfully elegant tannins. And finally, the length was astonishing – a full 2-3 minutes after tasting flavours continued...100 points in my eyes, but I’m no Neal Martin.”
Ellie Roberts, Private Sales: “Chateau Le Gay 2010 performed superbly on the night. Sheer class and polish, this is the wine I went back to several times over the course of the evening. Right bank lovers need look no further, for Le Gay is pure Pomerol delight. A lovely inky crimson/purple in the glass, the nose is aromatic and almost smoky and summons you into a palate of enormous power (far more than I expected). It is rich and yet refined with plums and cherries. Le Gay is a tiny property with similarly tiny yields (1300 cases in 2010) so even more kudos can be granted for this gem of a wine. Le Gay is now owned and run by their niece and nephew, Sylvie and Jacques Guinaudeau who also own Château Lafleur and has come on leaps and bounds. A super stylish wine that is already singing but will live on and on. I hope I get to try this wine again in 5 years (then 10, then 15, and so on…)
Geraint Carter, UK Investment:“Given the abundance of the vintage and the stylistic choices made these days at Ch Pavie it is no surprise that this wine possesses oodles of everything. Tannins that grip like a vice, acidity that bites like a viper and a texture that envelopes like a scarf of pure vicuna. At times it flirts with being a Spinal Tap-like parody of a wine with the dials turned up to 11 just for the sake of it but ultimately the enduring impression is one of balance, poise, density and tension - all the characteristics one would hope for in this great St Emilion terroir. The wine’s behemoth structure demands that it be tucked away and forgotten about for a decade (or so) but I’d be pretty sure that once integrated there will be a brilliant claret, much along the lines of the delicious 2000, ready to emerge. A singular wine that will confound, divide and mostly delight, can’t ask for more than that”.
Tom Chadwick, UK Sales Director:“Canon 2010 - Back on everyone’s radar with a run of incredible vintages the 2010 is a beauty; graceful and fine. Forgetting its 15% alc level it showed poise and reserve and offered refreshing delicacy. I am convinced this has more to show and in another 5-10 years this will be a stunning wine. The wine is slowly evolving, there is a charming density about the fruit offering a window into its future potential and it has lovely freshness, however and encouragingly, I sense there is more exoticism to come. This is not Pavie but rather Cheval in style and anyone who has this in their cellar should feel very smug indeed.”
Sebastian Rowe, Director: “ Ch d’Armailhac 2010 - Lovely forward black fruit from start to finish with excellent balance and fruit coated tannins made this a real crowd pleaser that punched above its weight and was arguably the best value for money in the room”
Katie Withers-Green, Private Sales: “I was lucky enough to taste the 2005 a few weeks prior so was thrilled at the opportunity to taste the legendary 2010 Gazin. This opulent little beauty demands your attention at first sip - effortless and truly remarkable. Ultra-fine tannins, intense and concentrated layers of complexity and a sensationally long finish. Although it’s hard not to drink now, this is still young and needs to be forgotten about for the next 5-10 years to be rediscovered and enjoyed for decades to come. Bordering with Petrus to the west and L’Evangile to the south you would expect no less from this often over looked Chateau”
Margaux Musset, Bordeaux Buyer: “A wine that I like was Grand Puy Lacoste – well balanced , full body , supple tannins . Floral notes and aromas of black current, cassis and cherry . Possible to drink now but will even be better with time. For me , it was one of the best value for money wines of the tasting. I really was impressed.”
Matthew O’Connell, Head of Investment: “Perhaps a slightly left-field choice, I particularly enjoyed Palmer 2010 – rather extrovert and expressive compared to many of the other wines on show (especially the gruff Margaux 2010), but none the worse for it. The wine has strong notes from critics and is refreshingly cheaper than some of the more recent top vintages – worth a closer look.”
Amanda Sutcliffe, Private Sales: “I was struck by how incredibly young the wines were, even those from more humble terroir than the great behemoths that will outlive me. The structure and tannins present across the board grouped the wines together as being from a vintage of depth, backbone and built for the long haul. That said, there were a few standouts for me on both sides of the river (although admittedly the Left faired better in my opinion), which ranged from those I added to my cellar to those I could only aspire to own. First up, VCC: incredible poise and elegance, already alluring but with so much more to give, and with such complexities of floral and mineral nuances combined with both red and black fruits… this was the most charming wine of the night. Next, Latour. All too often, for me the first place for the First Growths goes to Margaux, as I am eternally transfixed by the crushed violets and sheer feminine seduction that it can deliver. Not for the 2010s though, it was Latour which stood out for me amongst the five Firsts, closely followed by honorary First Growth La Mission Haut Brion. Both boasted incredible power, with layer after layer of black fruits and sous bois, with Latour delivering hints of graphite whilst LMHB duly showed the gravelly notes I was looking for. Both were coiled springs though, like racehorses waiting impatiently at the gate before setting off, they were bundles of tension and power that will need a few years before they take off and stretch their legs. From the middle of the spectrum, I thought Le Gay, Pape Clement and Smith Haut Lafitte were divine, as was Leoville Poyferre and the Pichons – wonderful vibrancy here – although all of these still firmly had their doors shut as if to say “come back when I’m ready to see you”. Lastly, Domaine de Chevalier and Grand Puy Lacoste were the bargains for me on the night; the bang for buck in terms of price and quality here was smashing, and makes a lot of sense to tuck away a few cases for the years ahead. As a sign off, I took what was left of Leoville Las Cases, Branaire Ducru and Clerc Milon home with me and enjoyed them on Saturday evening with the family, and even after a couple of days open they were still lip-smackingly good and appreciated by all”