Bordeaux 2009: Day One

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March 31st 2010

Our first proper day of tasting. The not particularly inspiring countryside of the Medoc is at its best on a perfect bright sunny day. We are told several times the weather will not last and to make the most of it. It feels like a good omen.

It’s a punchy start to the day at 8.45 with Carruades de Lafite, Duhart Milon and Lafite.

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Next stop is Cos d’Estournel. They must be doing alright, as they have refurbished their tasting room in the most sumptuous style; think Bordeaux Chateau meets Buddha Bar. They even have their own Cos toile de Jouy.

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Windows open onto an army of immaculate stainless steel tanks.

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Montrose was elegance personified. Pale blue grey walls, cream curtains, and endless assistants in blue and white striped uniforms. Knocked out by the wine too. This is serious stuff. And they had lots of Evian to take away so we were quite pleased with that too.

On to Calon Segur. A much simpler set up but we are blown away by the wine. Heavily Cabernet based this is a dream, classic, silky, feminine, a real “vin de plaisir”. Jukesy plans to put one in his cellar and it will almost certainly be one of the value wines of the vintage. Highly recommended.

Next the Mouton experience. We hit our first group of Americans and the noise level went up by a few decibels. We were ferried over to another immaculate tasting room in golf buggies. And if you had 8,000 Euros to spare you could go home with a jeroboam of the 2000. We didn’t go for it this time…

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Penultimate stop before lunch was to see the charming Alfred Tesseron at Pontet Canet. His horses were out in the vineyards as some biodynamic preparation or other was sprayed on the vines. An idyllic scene. This is a wine that just seems to get better and better each year and 2009 is no exception.

Alfred Tesseron
Alfred Tesseron

I was feeling the pace a little bit by the time we got to Langoa Barton. In addition to their own wines there was a huge array of wines from their negociant business, both 2009s and older wines. We are always huge supporters of the Barton wines and they have once again come up trumps. The Langoa was absolutely delicious – perhaps their best ever Langoa? And the Leoville Barton was impressive as always.

A very welcome and delicious lunch of scallops and milk-fed lamb recommended by the chef-patron at the St Julien and then straight on to the two other Leovilles. Both very different but both very serious wines indeed.

The revelation that is Ducru Beaucaillou came next. This is the rock star of the Left Bank – cast your expectations aside all ye who enter here. Purple walls, low lighting and neon artworks are more reminiscent of a night club than French classicism the serene exterior suggests. They even have their own orange loo paper…

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James and Julian taking a breather at Ducru
James and Julian taking a breather at Ducru

At Pichon Baron we tried Ch Pibran which was delicious and likely to be another Goedhuis value wine. The Grand Vin was superb and we tasted our first Sauternes. Said to be an outstanding vintage in Sauternes and Barsac this Suduiraut certainly supported that claim. A sublime balance finesse and intensity. Bravo.

Last stop was Grand Puy Lacoste to see the utterly charming Francois-Xavier Borie. Michael Schuster has already written about a “sweet spot” in Pauillac and that was evident in the wines we tasted here. Lovely quality in all three wines – Lacoste Borie, Haut Batailley and Grand Puy Lacoste – very pure, very balanced, very Pauillac.

Ch Grand Puy Lacoste
Ch Grand Puy Lacoste

The terrace at the aptly named Hotel Le Vignoble was awash with wine merchants soaking up the last few moments of sun. After a hard day tasting young red wines a cold beer seems a truly wonderful thing. The bar had been cleared out of 1664 so Leffe makes an acceptable alternative.

Supper is at Lavinal restaurant which is part of a new development called Bages Villages. I am not sure why the French do this so much better than the English. It has a slight feel of Disney does rustic France, but the whole place is built in the gorgeous traditional pale golden stone, shutters are sprucely painted. Quite simply it is in good taste. The restaurant is classic bistro – goat’s cheese salad followed by roast chicken with the best goose fat chips ever. And it’s BYO.

The general consensus as we review the day is that this is no 2005 when you had to be trying to make bad wine. There is definitely much greater variation and in particular an issue with the extreme ripeness and high alcohol levels particularly in the Merlot grapes. So it comes down once again to the skill and commitment of the producer in the vineyard and chai. What is equally clear is that there are many stunning wines that almost effortlessly achieve the balancing act between elegance and intensity, power and finesse that characterise great Bordeaux.

Many more wines are to be tasted over the next three days, so watch this space…