A vintage overview
2010 had a late start to the vintage, but a warm April and May meant that things were nicely back on track by mid-spring, although a hailstorm in St Estèphe had a significant effect. Luckily, at this point in the year, the impact is on quantity, not quality and for me, many St Estèphe properties made some of the best wines of the vintage.
Early June was cool and rainy, which again affected yields, but from mid-June onwards it was virtually perfect weather, with warm and sunny but not overly hot weather throughout July and most of August. A small amount of early September rain enabled the grapes to continue to ripen well into September and October.
In many ways, 2010 was at its most perfect at harvest. Ideal weather, with plenty of sunshine and warm but not overly hot temperatures, and cooler nights than in 2009, led to wonderful ripening conditions, especially for Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. For me, it is a vintage that I prefer to 2009, being fresher and more classic, but, to be honest,
What follows is a personal viewpoint, and one focused on drinking pleasure, rather than investment value.
In 2009 it was this commune that was the star of the reds. What a difference a year makes. Many had green tannins, and virtually all had high to very high alcohol, with both Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion topping out at a declared 15%. It must be said that for them, it succeeded, with rich ripe fruit and an underlying minerality and freshness, coupled with a beautiful silky texture; smooth, supple and long finish, and stunning balance. The Haut-Brion remains too young, but it will be a lovely wine. Of the rest, only Château de Fieuzal and Domaine de Chevalier impressed me, the latter showing its typical balance, elegant form and a restrained 13.5% alcohol that showed many others that bigger is no guarantee of better.
To my delight, Margaux returned to the form I would expect, after a frankly disappointing 2009, and this page of my tasting book is littered with technical terms such as “lovely” and “yum” and little stars to show I liked it. The whole commune seemed to produce the elegant, perfumed wines for which they are so justly renowned, and it is hard to pick a favourite. Chateau Margaux itself needs time and air, as it was showing some reduction (easily cured by decanting), but had all the perfume, elegance and finesse I have longed to see in it. Some others worthy of mention were Boyd-Cantenac, elegant and floral with balanced tannins and a lovely lift; Cantenac Brown, which was a study in balance and elegance; Ferrière, which outperformed itself in 2010 with a long elegant (that word again) finish and beautiful balance; Chateau d’Issan, which was perhaps a little lighter than the others but still lovely; and Chateau Palmer which showed great richness and subtlety at the same time and was once again my favourite of the commune
This is probably the first time in many years of tasting that I have really got a proper sense of the commune of St-Julien and of what it is capable. The wines are ripe, fruity, and for the most part elegant, with a finesse that lifts this vintage above previous years. Balance on almost all was perfect. Unsurprisingly, Léoville-Las Cases was one of the two stars, although it had, as always, an intensity and linearity more typical of Pauillac than St-Julien. Its neighbour, Léoville-Barton, was the other, with a lovely fruit, a stunning balance, supple and silky texture, and a long, complex finish. If I was buying one wine this vintage for sheer pleasure, it would be this one. Its sister property, Langoa-Barton, was also marked by elegance, finesse and complexity. Many others are also worthy of note, including in particular Beychevelle and Branaire-Ducru. One word of warning is that Léoville-Poyferré I found overly bretty (brettanomyces, a yeast, which can add complexity, but can also leave a bitterness and a farmyard-y smell). Those who are less sensitive to brett may not mind it; those who are more should avoid at all costs.
Pauillac was characterised in 2010 by subtle and complex aromas and flavours, a long finish, and still firm tannins. These wines will last and last (for the most part). The wine of the commune is without a doubt Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. It has a lovely nose of dark fruit, with some vanilla, licorice and spice, coupled with one of the most lovely balances of the structural elements of a wine I can imagine – acid, alcohol, flavours and tannin are all perfect. It is astonishingly long and supple, with a lovely lingering finish. This is a wine that will live on in the memory for years, and I felt privileged to have tasted it. Chateau Mouton-Rothschild was also lovely, with elegance and finesse, but it was the Lafite that stood out.
Of the rest, my favourite was Pichon-Lalande. Initially, especially tasting it after the (also wonderful but much bigger) Pichon-Baron, it feels underwhelming, but then it creeps up on you, slowly revealing itself with huge complexity and length, lovely elegance and a stunning finish. Grand-Puy-Lacoste is also worth investigation, with complexity and elegance beyond its norm.
As I mentioned above, St-Estèphe suffered a severe hailstorm in 2010, which fortunately came at the “right” time (if there is ever such), reducing yields but not hurting quality, and the impact on the wines has for the most part appeared favourable. Parker gave the 2009 Cos d’Estournel 100 points, and “only” 97 to the 2010, but for me, it is by far the better wine, with beautifully balanced alcohol and acidity, firm but supple tannins, and an elegance that the 2009 was lacking. Calon-Segur is also a lovely wine, more approachable than might be expected, and Montrose is classic St-Estèphe, with dark fruit and cedary notes, firm and yet silky tannins.
In 2009, the right bank wines I found singularly disappointing with only a few worthy of consideration, virtually all of these in St-Emilion. This year, was, thankfully, much different. Almost all showed lovely fruit, with ripe tannins. A few descended into jamminess, and Troplong-Mondot at 16% alcohol was one of the worst, but most achieved a balance of flavour, alcohol and acid. Angelus was lovely, with great balance and finesse, although I was a little disappointed with the Cheval Blanc. Particularly worthy of note were Figeac, Belair-Monange and Canon-La Gaffelière.
Again, 2010 was a much better year for Pomerol, although by no means equally displayed across the commune. Of the best, Chateau Lafleur-Pétrus had a beautiful ripe nose, lovely balance, a full mouthfeel and, once again, elegance. Chateau Petit-Village was also lovely: my notes for this say simply “STUNNING!!!” while Trotanoy and Clinet were both supple, elegant, lifted and “lovely”.
Sauternes and Barsac
Sauternes produced a very good and consistent vintage in 2010. Virtually every producer made a good wine, as one producer rather mockingly noted to me tasting a wine he does not normally rate. It did not, however, have the tension, the intensity, the complexity and the excitement of 2009. Chateau d’Yquem is, of course, stunning: complex and interesting. Of the rest, Guiraud was my favourite, with a complex and intense smokiness lifted by grapefruit and marmalade notes.