Stocked up on 2010 Bordeaux yet? If that question carries any significance in your life, you’re a certified wine geek. In the grape world, Bordeaux’s 2010 harvest was big news. France’s most important wine region had basked in superb weather throughout the summer, which yielded concentrated, perfectly ripe fruit. Some observers predictably hailed it the “vintage of the century.” Others had to bite their tongues because – oops – they’d popped that hyperbolic cork twice before in the preceding decade, in 2005 and 2009, two other splendid years. (If there’s one thing wine critics find more intoxicating than wine, it’s hype mongering.)
It was indeed a great year. Dry but not overly balmy, the growing season enabled fruit to hang long on the vine into autumn without developing cooked flavours. The result: ripe, concentrated grapes with substantial but supple tannins and fresh acidity. Arguably the reds – mainly blended from cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc and ideal for simply grilled or roasted red meats – lack the opulent, come-hither appeal of the 2009s in their youth, but they have firm backbone and promise to go the distance in the cellar.
All that hype over 2010 notwithstanding, one important fact has tended to go underreported. Quality had an arguably more discernible impact on affordable wines versus the iconic and stratospherically priced cuvées that get a disproportionate degree of attention. Bordeaux’s grand estates, such as Lafite, Margaux and Latour, tend to shine even in poorer growing seasons because high bottle prices enable owners to coddle vines to mitigate the effects of foul weather. (Yes, you can fight nature to some extent by, for example, lopping off much of the still-green fruit in July, which accelerates ripening and concentrates flavours in the remaining clusters.) Plus, some of those wines cost north of $1,000 a bottle and are worth the splurge only if there’s money left in your Swiss bank account after you’ve paid for more sensible necessities, like a helicopter for your yacht.
Let’s have a peek at a few relatively proletarian reds from 2010 (and a standout from 2009), most of which are being released Saturday in Ontario.
Château Clos Puy Arnaud 2009 (France)
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $41.85
This is the story of 2009 in a nutshell – smooth, ripe, luscious, instantly lovable. Pushing 15-per cent alcohol, it’s made mainly from soft merlot and is ripe as can be without veering into cloying raisin territory. The big blackberry fruit is disciplined by supple, gently dry tannins and moderate acidity, complemented by licorice and a friendly whiff of barnyard funk. Drink it now or over the next decade.
Château de Maison Neuve 2010 (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $19.95
A mostly merlot blend from the Montagne Saint-Émilion district, this exhibits a luscious mouth feel more common to places such as California and Chile than Bordeaux. Concentrated, with currant, blackberry and cedar flavours, it’s backed by dry, sticky tannins. Decant or cellar it for two to 10 years. $22.20 in Que.
Château La Vieille Forge 2010 (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $23.95
From Lalande de Pomerol, near the vaunted appellation of Pomerol, responsible for the world’s most revered merlot, Château Petrus, this merlot-centric red displays the rounded smoothness for which the grape is prized.
It delivers solid mid-palate weight and layered complexity, with notes of blueberry, black olive, vanilla, dark coffee and cedar. It is beautifully tailored, with a tug of tannins on the finish. Cellar it for up to eight years.
Château Pipeau 2010 (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $35.95
At more than the price of an extra-large pizza, this is beyond the regular snack bracket of most wine drinkers, but it’s a standout value at this price. A grand cru from Saint-Émilion, it’s 90-per-cent merlot, with splashes of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, pressed from 40-year-old vines. Smooth and elegant, it suggests flavours of plum, black olive, cracked pepper and mineral, with dusty tannins that should keep it in the game for a dozen years. The comparably good 2009 sells for $49.99 in B.C.
Château Rahoul 2010 (France)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $29.95
Tight and grippy with chalky tannins, this is a structured red Bordeaux from a chateau that built its reputation on whites, with classic currant and mint flavours that invite cigar and orange-pekoe tea to the party. Decant it for current consumption or cellar it for two to eight years.
Château Les Tours de Peyrat Vieilles Vignes 2010 (France)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $18.95
Big wine for the money, this is concentrated and measures 15-per-cent alcohol, a testament to the ripeness achieved in the superior 2010 vintage. It’s creamy, with succulent berry fruit, minty-herbal overtones and a hint of vanilla. Astringent tannins pull it all together.
Château Larose Trintaudon 2010 (France)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $26.95
Two parts cabernet to one part merlot, here’s a friendly Bordeaux for people more accustomed to the softer fruit of sunny New World blends. Smooth and chocolaty, it unfolds with polished tannins and just enough acidity to keep things lively.
Château Brandeau Côtes de Castillon 2010 (France)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $16.95
Tremendous value for Bordeaux, Brandeau is made from organically grown grapes and stays lively from start to finish. Impressively balanced, it shows bright cherry fruit and vanilla tucked in by fresh acidity, integrated tannins and zippy minerality. Drink it over the next six years.
Château Lamothe de Haux 2010 (France)
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $16.95
Simple but sound, this is midweight fare, which places it on the lighter side of the Bordeaux spectrum, with a smooth texture framed by light tannins and mouthwatering acidity. It is best now but suitable for cellaring for up to three years.