When Seconds Become Firsts

When 2nd Become 1st

Regardless of what types of wine you enjoy most, you can’t help but have heard the loud and continuous pounding of the drum regarding the 2009 and 2010 Bordeaux vintages. To some, this pounding is analogous to having a major headache. To Bordeaux aficionados, it is like resplendent music to the ear. Why? Because it means there is some truly spectacular wine coming on deck and as with all great vintages, many of these wines can be drunk young or cellared for thirty years, plus.

In the spring of 2011, I received an invitation from the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux to taste the 2010 vintage in Bordeaux. The raison d’être of UGCB is to function as a public relations agency for its members, which consists of a nearly complete who’s who of Classified châteaux. The few auspicious châteaux not on the list presumably need no PR. Nonetheless, I went to barrel taste the 2010 vintage and many 2009s while I was there, both Left Bank and Right Bank. These vintages are not hyperbole.

In great vintages, virtually everything gets amplified to an appreciable degree; indeed wines that have remained below the radar are suddenly on the screen because they became good enough to be noticed. Consistently Bordeaux (and perhaps all) winemakers are not surprisingly reticent about comparing their wines by vintage, and tend to think of each of them as their little darlings no matter what. When pushed, however, they will shower accolades upon certain vintages. Conversely, critics and writers like to compare vintages, as do collectors, connoisseurs, and fine wine merchants. So to pin winemakers down a bit with these latest vintages, all of them say pretty much say the same thing, which goes something like this: ‘the weather conditions created perfection in the vineyards to the extent that you’d have to be extraordinarily mentally challenged to make a bad or even mediocre wine in vintages like ’09 and ’10’.

Further, the ’09 and ’10 vintages have many of the attributes similar to ’45, ’59, ‘ 61 and to some extent ’82, whereas they can be drunk upon release with great pleasure, and continue to be great all the way through decades of cellaring. Bordeaux from lesser vintages often requires long cellaring times before they are even approachable due to the wine’s structure typically being so big and, in poor vintages, they need to be consumed early because they lack structure and therefore will not likely age well. With structured wine it simply takes time for tannins to attach to phenolic compounds and finally drop out of solution (this is the sediment found in older bottles that you don’t want to end up in your glass), which softens the wine. Acidity is a whole other issue but we definitely don’t want it to diminish with age because acidity is what provides freshness and the sense of youthfulness in wine. A wine without acidity is just ‘flabby’ and tastes flat and lifeless, often due to grapes that become too ripe causing acidity to be markedly less than desirable.

The point is that we have two spectacular vintages back-to-back that raise generally lower rated wines to goodness and sometimes even greatness. The controversy will wage on for decades about which vintage is better, similar to what’s happening today between the ’89 and ’90 and the ’95 and ’96 vintages. It certainly makes for great conversation and really nobody wins or looses the argument, especially when these wines are opened and compared side by side. Still it is generally agreed by most everyone that both of the vintages subject to this post are considered to eclipse the aforementioned vintages and maybe even the mythical ‘61. Only time will tell.

Currently many ‘09s are coming in to retail and most of the ‘10s will be available in less than a year from now, although a few of the lesser known ‘10s are presently trickling in. This is a windfall for Bordeaux lovers because many Second Growth Bordeaux and even some of the other Classified Bordeaux will rival that of many vintages of First Growth Bordeaux. Yes, a Second that costs $350 seems expensive but it is much closer to stealing compared to paying $1200 – $1500 for a bottle of First Growth. Not that that $1500 isn’t worth it. As an example of the greatness of these vintages, the 2010 vintage of Château Lynch Bages was completely mind-blowing in its complexity, approachability, nuance, pureness, aromas and flavors. This is of course a Fifth Growth that in this vintage tastes like a very good vintage First Growth. I think I wrote this about the 2010 Lynch Bages months ago and respected wine critic James Suckling recently concurred by giving this wine a score of 99 points. And there are many others like this.

The most difficult part of owning these truly great wines will be keeping the cork in the bottle. I found both of these vintages to be absolutely seductive and extremely compelling, even extremely young so be warned: these will be easy to drink and therefore, easy to own none of them in fifteen or twenty years. To me the ’09s are perhaps a little more flamboyant but the ‘10s displayed this remarkable purity of fruit and definition that I have never before tasted, yet alone from barrel samples. Also there will be a number of bottles in the $20 – $50 range that are certainly worth buying by the case as everyday wines. Of course you need to buy a bottle first and taste it before committing to case purchases but if you like Bordeaux even a little, don’t miss this once-or-twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity to buy up these amazing wines – you’ll thank yourself many times over.

Here’s a smattering of prices and scores to consider:

Wine Rating Price
2009
Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste 95 WA $105
Château Lynch-Bages 98 WA 218
Château Léoville-Las-Cases 98 WA 365
Château Léoville Barton 96 JS 115
Château L’Evangile 100 WA 400
Château La Conseillante 97 JS 220
Château Trotanoy 98+ WA 300
Domaine de Chevalier Rouge 95 WA 85
Château Cos d’Estournel 100 JS – WA 380
Château Pichon-Longueville Lalande 95 WA 240
Château Pontet-Canet 100 WA 275
Château Brane-Cantenac 95 WA 105
Château Ducru-Beaucaillou 100 WA 325
2010
Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste 95 – 96 JS $105
Château Lynch-Bages 99 – JS 180
Château Léoville-Las-Cases 95 – 98 WS 320
Château Léoville Barton 97 – 98 JS 115
Château L’Evangile 96 – 98 WA 330
Château La Conseillante 95 – 98 WA 250
Château Trotanoy 96 – 99 WS 345
Domaine de Chevalier Rouge 95 – 96 JS 75
Château Cos d’Estournel 96 – 99 WS 295
Château Pichon-Longueville Lalande 94 – 95 JS 235
Château Pontet-Canet 96 -100 WA 175
Château Brane-Cantenac 93 – 96 WA 100
Château Ducru-Beaucaillou 99 – 100 JS 240

WA = Wine Advocate, JS = James Suckling, WS = Wine Spectator

Please note: the 2010s listed here at this time are en premeur (sold as futures) and priced as such.  All prices displayed are per .750 ml bottle and were obtained from reputable and various merchants. Also most 2010s are expressed as ranges of scores because they are for the most part not yet finished (bottled) wines.

I’d love to hear your impressions about these undeniably great vintages as they unfold over the years and as always, I wish you great and rewarding wine experiences!

David Boyer

Photo: The arrant beauty of First Growth Château Margaux while I was in Bordeaux in 2012, no less beautiful today I’m sure

4 comments on “When Seconds Become Firsts”

  1. Dennis Tsiorbas

    David, I see Christian Pellerin has found your most useful web-site, what he/she may not know is just what a special wine-lover you are: no snobbery here!
    Anyway, I saw your list of Bordeaux wines above and researched what I could find in New Hampshire, and what I could swing financially; low and behold I was able to find and purchase my first possible 100 point wine: Château Ducru-Beaucaillou 100 points (WA $325); I found this wine for $288.99.
    By-the-way, your list of 2009 and 2010 Bordeaux wines is the best I could find!

  2. David Boyer

    Dear Mr Pellerin,

    Thank you for stopping by. I am always happy to have such esteemed people as you extend such kind words. I hope all is well in France, which is the only place in the world I miss on an almost-daily basis. 

    Warmest regards,
    David
  3. David Boyer

    Hi Dennis,

    Yes, it was a pleasant surprise to see that Mr Pellerin visited my site. He is an icon in France. And thanks for the kind words as always. I was very happy to read your recent Bordeaux review, which is so well written (also, as always).

    I’m not sure what vintage you bought but indeed Château Ducru-Beaucaillou is a fabulous Second Growth Bordeaux that shines in most any vintage! I’ve had many great ones and look forward to many more but the ’95 is very much worth seeking out and is drinking beautifully at this time if you perchance, run across this vintage. I encourage you to keep going with your exploration of Bordeaux – with talent and a palate like yours, it would be a shame to only enjoy ‘new world’ wines.
    Best wishes,
    David
  4. Dennis Tsiorbas

    David, I have a silly question for you: Why do Bordeaux reds seem to drink well long after they are opened? Some Bordeaux red wines, even a week after I’ve opened them will taste just fine, certainly not as good as the first or second day, but often I find New World wines undrinkable after two or three days at the most.
    Thanks for all your kind words!
    Sincerely,
    Dennis

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