February 26th 2014
Whilst I wouldn’t necessarily call myself an avid reader I have been totally gripped by Henry Cecil’s biography “Trainer of Genius”. Always a hero of mine, I have not only been enthralled by his brilliance as a trainer but also by his extraordinary humility and art of the understatement. His most eye-catching was in the early days of training arguably British racing’s greatest flat racing horse ever. Of this magnificent horse, Frankel, he said, “Yes he could be quite special!” How appropriate it was that as I read this line I was in the midst of a three day tasting extravaganza at Southwold, reviewing arguably one of Bordeaux’s greatest ever, the 2010 vintage and I thought, “yes they could be quite special”……
As with great race horses and sportsmen alike, it is often unfair to make the comparison and to state, unequivocally, a given year is the greatest of all time. I will always have a soft spot for the brilliant 2005 vintage; I remember being totally spellbound tasting the best from cask and my optimism has never waned since. Other years such as 45, 61 and 82 have produced wines of the century by individual Châteaux, and there is little doubt that the very best of the 2010’s have the makings to stand with pride alongside many of this elite group.
Seventeen of us, consisting of journalists (Jancis Robinson, Neal Martin and Stephen Spurrier) wine merchants and wine brokers were very generously hosted at the Crown at Southwold with the help of Rob Chase of Adnams for this annual event. All of the wines were tasted blind in flights of 12; appellation by appellation. Starting with St Emilion the pace was set rather slowly, however at the top end of the scale the class of both Cheval Blanc and Ausone could clearly be seen, and both were very much in our top 10 wines of the tasting with strong aggregate scores. In Pomerol, I was blown away by Vieux Château Certan, with its beautifully composed polished fruit flavours, it was simply sensational. Petrus and La Fleur both rightly scored comfortably in our top 5 of the week, closely followed by Le Pin which is an absolute beauty.
In the Medoc there was some debate over which appellation produced the most uniform wines in terms of quality across the board. Very often St Julien gets the nod, but in 2010 the Pauillacs, based on our scores, ended up with our highest vote. This is possibly a reflection of the amazing density and weight of the very best wines of the vintage, benefitting the robustness of style which is such an important characteristic of the wines of Pauillac. Mouton was singing and couldn’t be separated from the brilliantly profound Latour, both in our top 5 of the week. The star of the show was from Pessac-Léognan, the quite beautiful La Mission Haut-Brion which, at my score of 19.5/20, is as close to a perfect score as I ever give. Showing extraordinary balance between juicy opulence and refined elegance, with its stunningly silky tannic structure which will allow for graceful aging. Is this the Frankel of its generation? I certainly hope so.
The finest and most respected estates performed with real exception within all the flights. The composed structure and brooding power of the best wines mean that they are for the long term and will reward patience; guaranteeing that 2010 is a vintage that will be talked about with respect and awe for many generations to come. At the more affordable end of Bordeaux, we should not forget estates such as Le Crock, Cos Labory, Pibran, both Batailleys and Croix de Beaucaillou, all of which have excellent potential. There are some fine wines within the Cru Bourgeois grouping. However, our feeling was that 2009 may just have the edge here, its more approachable, forward fruit flavours provide for slightly more flattering wines within this category.
Some 350 wines later, I think I can fairly say, in the great Sir Henry Cecil’s words, 2010, “could be very special indeed”, and how fitting a memory to the year when the great Frankel first graced the British racing scene as an unbeaten two year old. We should all look forward to their maturity and greatness in the making, and no cellar will be complete without just a few of these fabulous wines amongst it.