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January 27, 2014
2009 did not start auspiciously. Following on from the rather poor 2007 and 2008 vintages, a wet and cool April and May coupled with hailstorms affecting Margaux in particular, did not bode well. However, June arrived and with it, much improved weather, good flowering, and virtually perfect temperatures throughout the summer. The excellent weather continued into September and October, allowing the tannins to develop greater ripeness.
Picking dates varied – Haut Brion, for example, started 9th September and continued to 6th October; La Conseillante picked everything between 13th and 28th September; and La Fleur Cardinale was still harvesting at the end of October.
Overall, the vintage was quite round and rich in style, but on tasting these wines at the end of 2013 (at the Institute of Masters of Wine’s Annual Claret and Sauternes Tasting, which is well worth a visit if you are in London at the time) I was quite astonished at the variability. 2009 has been hailed as “great,” and probably rightly so for most, but the variability in quality shows that care must be observed when deciding which wines to purchase. The exception to this is Sauternes, where virtually every wine shown was stunning, well crafted, beautifully balanced, and delicious. 2009 will be a great Sauternes vintage.
What follows is a personal viewpoint, and one focused on drinking pleasure, rather than investment value.
For me, this commune was the most consistent, with an almost universally wonderful balance and elegance that will give them long life and provide much pleasure. Of the first growths, I was far from alone in considering the Haut-Brion 2009 to be one of their best wines ever, and the best wine of the entire tasting. It had a refined earthiness, beautiful lift, and stunning balance. La Mission Haut-Brion was similarly excellent, with smoky, creamy, vanilla notes overlaying blackcurrant and blackberry fruit, and silky smooth tannins. Also worthy of mention is Fieuzal, which was very complex and well-integrated, and Domaine de Chevalier, which had a lovely pleasant, lifted fruit base with a lighter style than many of the other Pessacs, being only 13.5% alcohol, compared with a rather astonishing 14.5% for most of the others.
Rather surprisingly, for me at least, wines from the Margaux commune were some of the least pleasurable of the tasting. Chateau Margaux itself had a very floral nose, but almost slightly sour undertone that I quite often find on lesser Margaux wines, but rarely on its 1er Grand Cru. Tannins were ripe and supple, but for a first growth, my overwhelming feeling was they could do better. Many Margaux were dusty on the nose, but two very different wines did give great pleasure: Chateau Palmer was rich and fragranced with honeysuckle and blackberries, ripe, but holding its considerable alcohol well. Kirwan was much more delicate and elegant, perfumed and gentle, and very, very enjoyable.
St. Julien always stumps me; I struggle to define it independently, and always end up doing so in relation to how it is unlike Margaux or Pauillac. The best 2009s had ripe, rich blackberry and blackcurrent fruit, silky tannins and some power; these included Léoville-Las Cases, Léoville Barton, and Branaire Ducru. Sadly, most of the rest did not strike me as living up to the reputation of the vintage.
After the relative disappointments of Margaux and St. Julien, Pauillac got me excited again. The wines had much more power, dark fruit, and linearity to them than St. Julien, although again, it was a more mixed vintage than I had expected. Lafite was the standout – rich, powerful, with slightly meaty notes on top of blackcurrant and licorice, supple tannins, and years of life ahead of it. Mouton was similarly powerful and linear, although at present, just a little closed. It will need many years, this wine. Of the rest, the star was undoubtedly Pichon Baron (Note: NOT its close neighbour, which I felt sadly underperformed), with dark red fruit, a slight licorice note, lovely balanced acid preventing it from overbalancing, and supple yet firm tannins. Another good performer was Pontet-Canet, which had more gentle tannins and less intensity and complexity than Pichon-Baron, but was nevertheless one of the better wines of the tasting.
This commune showed firm, grippy tannins, and a less austere finish than in many years, but failed to yield any significant stars; indeed, it provided at least one major disappointment, noticeable by its absence from this post. Of the wines tasted, Montrose and Calon-Segur were the most interesting, well-made wines.
Pomerol can only be described as very disappointing. The overwhelming themes to my notes for the commune were “hot”, “jammy” and “superficial,” and it was not until the very last wine I tasted, Domaine de L’Eglise, that I found any wine I would consider pleasurable. This one was elegant, light and pretty, with power underneath. If only its neighbours could have done the same.
In contrast, although it did not come across as a great vintage for St. Emilion, the wines were generally better than those of Pomerol, with elegance and complexity, together with good ripeness and balance. Angelus and Cheval Blanc were both good but not great for their level, and both an oxidised Pavie-Macquin and an incredibly overripe Troplong-Mondot would have been much better picked earlier. For me, the best wine of the Commune was Figeac, which had rich ripe plums and rosemary, soft but powerful tannin, and a freshness that was both unexpected and delightful.
Sauternes and Barsac
Sauternes was the shining star of this vintage, which will remind everyone in decades to come of what a truly great year can produce. You will have to forgive my lyricism; I love these wines when well made, and not since 2001 have I come across a year so beautifully complex and complete across the appellation. They were rich, complex, balanced and intense, with grapefruit, marmalade, acacia honey and smoky notes on the nose, and beautiful lift on the palate. The best of these wines will last forever. In my view, the best of the year were Coutet, Guiraud, Rieussec and above all Suduiraut.