2010 Bordeaux: Return to Terroir

by Chuck Hayward

Each year in January, the Union des Grand Crus, an association of 134 estates in Bordeaux, conducts a series of tastings across the United States designed to introduce the latest vintage to consumers and the trade alike.For us at JJ Buckley, the tastings provide a perfect opportunity to reassess these wines after assessing them as barrel samples one year earlier.

The latest tastings turned towards the 2010 vintage, an excellent year that was considered a return to classically-styled Bordeaux. Critics and merchants alike agree that the hallmark traits of the vintage – precise flavors, focused structure and a strong tannic backbone – will provide long-lived wines that will act as a perfect foil to the more forward and opulent qualities of the 2009s.

On the Left Bank, imposing buildings reign over vineyards that have supported the wine industry for centuries. There, the long and warm growing season allowed cabernet to achieve its peak intensity of flavors along with a structured spine that will resolve with time in the cellar. Tasting through the wines of the Medoc, JJ Buckley wine specialists agreed that St. Julien produced the most compelling wines. A wide selection from this small appellation curried favor among our staff, with 
Saint Pierre and Leoville-Bartonproving the best of an impressive lineup. The qualities of complexity and approachability separated St. Julien from its neighbors.As always when it comes to Bordeaux, the real proof to the quality of a vintage becomes more apparent when looking at the region through the prism of its appellations. Over the years, the various communes of Bordeaux have defined themselves in terms of style, and in a vintage like 2010, the regions easily communicate their distinctive aromas and flavors.

In the heart of the Medoc, the wines of Pauillac were also excellent, if a bit varied. Some wines showed a richness and texture that recalled 2009, while others were almost closed and backwards, with their coiled flavors requiring time to reveal more nuance. Margaux remained unique among the Left Bank communes, as its higher proportion of merlot provides a suppleness and grace that contrasts nicely with the power of its northern neighbors.

The best St. Emilions, however, recalled the wines of Pomerol, another contender for best appellation of 2010. Characterized by focused and precise dark fruit frames, the best were supported by crisp acids and a tannic backbone. It was easy to parse the clearly defined flavors knowing that more would be revealed in time. Wines like 
La Conseillante in Pomerol and Troplong-Mondot in St. Emilion best defined this classic style. Pomerol performed particularly well when compared to 2009, with perfect tannins as well as intense and high-toned fruit.The vintage’s fortunes were also determined by the wines of the Right Bank, where the warm growing season allowed merlot to ripen easily. Maybe too easily, as some wines clearly showed levels of extraction and ripeness that could be described as New World in style. It was in St. Emilion that full bodied wines could be found in abundance. Broad in texture, with gobs of black fruit flavors, some examples brought Pauillac to mind. Chateau Canon La Gaffiliere exemplified this bold Right Bank approach in 2010.

The 2010s arrive in a market where the richly textured ’09s are quickly disappearing from shelves. With the en primeur hype for the 2010s now in the rear view mirror, the new vintage clearly has the potential to be regarded as an excellent year. The low yields, however, means there will be less of these wines to go around. That, combined with the more average-looking 2011s and ‘12s coming down the pike, savvy buyers will want to act soon to secure the best of 2010. I’m setting my sights on many of the wines tasted a few weeks ago at UGC – and so should you.
South of Bordeaux, Pessac-Leognan continued to impress with an impressive array of affordable, top-class wines. With a style more similar to the best of the Right Bank, wines like Haut BaillyDomaine du Chevalier and Haut Bergey showcased precision and complexity, qualities that will do them proud as they mature. Pessac also avoided the ripe, jammy qualities found in a few other regions. This consistency of style will be appreciated by many consumers.

Some of our favorites included:

2010 Clinet
2010 Chateau La Conseillante 
2010 Pichon Baron 
2010 Canon La Gaffeliere 
2010 Pape Clement Blanc

For more photos from the tasting, check out our 
Flickr page.Stay tuned this week for JJ Buckley’s updated vintage report, complete with new scores from the final 2010 releases tasted at UGC.