I recently attended the Institute of Masters of Wine Annual Claret Tasting in London. My report on that is on the Sommelier India Wine Magazine website. Please click here to read that article.
Bordeaux is a large wine region with a production of nearly 850 million bottles annually. This virtual sea of wine has something for every taste, palate, price and quality level. I started drinking red Bordeaux in my early days of wine drinking in the late 90’s, when I discovered that Bordeaux reds were very different to the full-bodied California Merlot’s and ‘Cabs’ that I regularly consumed. I usually picked mid-priced wines ($10-$12 range in the US) which offered value and a glimpse of the region’s promise. That was enough to get me hooked. Even with my beginners’ palate at the time, I liked the minearlity, the earthiness and the structure of those wines. The difference in weight too appealed, as I found the Bordeaux reds to be subtler, lighter in body and restrained in fruit than their California counterparts. Since then the Bordeaux region, with its range and depth of wines, has provided me with consistent pleasure, intellectual challenge and something of a wine education.
The IMW Annual Claret Tasting was a great opportunity to taste several Bordeaux wines form the same vintage. Although I enjoyed several wines across the range – from Cru Bourgeois to Grand Crus, the First Growth’s were definitely a highlight. They lived up to their promise of power, elegance and harmony. Château Lafite was restrained in body and aroma – with only 12.5 % alcohol, it felt the lightest in the mouth. The nose, concentrated and harmonious but restrained, almost closed – suggesting that this wine needs time to open up and show its best. Château Haut-Brion, at 14.5% alcohol was full-bodied with a wonderful nose of black-fruit, sweetness on the palate, soft but firm tannins and long harmonious finish with a spicy edge. Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, brimming with minerality – evocative of earth, cedar and barnyard aromas – and with great concentration of fruit, had a firm tannic backbone and complex finish. Finally, my favourite Château Margaux – wonderfully perfumed and fragrant, elegant, with a silky texture and a long, eloquent, complex finish. These are wines for the cellar that will reward a long period of patience.
Prices for the 2009 vintage are stratospheric and I would argue that the most expensive are simply not worth the money. There are some who believe that these prices are a bubble, while others think that even these high prices for the first growths will seem like a bargain 25-30 years from now, when these wines hit maturity. It helps to remember that Bordeaux is no stranger to high prices. The best Bordeaux wines have been expensive since the time of Thomas Jefferson who visited the region in 1787, almost three-quarters of a century before the official 1855 Classification was even introduced! However, even if I were very rich I would simply not buy the most expensive Bordeaux 2009 because I do consider the prices to be too high – the history notwithstanding. If the Chinese want the wines at these prices, let them have it. For the rest of us there are values to be had elsewhere, even within Bordeaux (in other Bordeaux vintages for example). Bordeaux is a region with depth – and there are plenty of values, and the 2006 vintage is a good example. If you want wine to cellar for the long-term, Bordeaux 2006 is a good bet! I’ve picked up a few good ones for myself, and I intend to pick up more.