The Great Claret Tasting at Southwold – The 2010 Vintage

Great Claret Tasting

Last week I had the honour and privilege to take part in the Southwold tasting of 2010 Bordeaux with twenty of the most experienced and knowledgeable tasters in the UK. Amongst us were Jancis Robinson (one of no less than six Masters of Wine present), representatives of all the major UK merchants, Neal Martin of the Wine Advocate and Steven Spurrier: in short, what I would describe as the elite of the UK wine trade. And me.

2010, along with 2009 and 2005, forms a triumvirate of great modern vintages. 2005 seems almost forgotten in some ways (though I personally believe it to be the best of the three), whilst the two youngest vintages, 2009 and 2010, seem destined to fight for the title of “greatest” for many years to come. It will
be a long fight, and there will be no shortage of split decisions from the judges.

If the hallmark of 2009 is ripeness, the hallmark of 2010 is harder to define. These are full on wines, where tannin, acidity, fruit and alcohol are all turned up to eleven on the dial. Yet the best remain fresh, lifted and beautifully balanced. It was a vintage that was hailed as close to perfection, and a vintage that was, well, ambitiously priced by the Bordelais in what now seems a different economic era. Tasting the finished product, safely in bottle for eighteen months or so, was an intriguing task. Tasting them blind added to the dedication involved but blind tasting is the only way to go and, moreover, I love it: nothing gets you quite so focussed on what is in the glass as not knowing what it is.

So how do they taste today?

The quick answer is: hugely impressive, if a little bit tricky. The longer answer is this:

This is clearly an exceptional vintage, and I mean exceptional. There are many wines that flirt with perfection; wines that are genuinely breath-taking in their beauty and their symmetry. If I had to pick an appellation, then in Pauillac in particular, the consistency is very, very impressive and this is the appellation whose characteristics seem to suit the vintage best.

However, much as this vintage remains an exceptionally impressive one, the wines do seem to have closed up since bottling, and this is a vintage for the cellar rather than the table at this stage.

The unique greatness of this tasting is that it is based on consensus of opinion rather than just one, though for the most part there was more agreement than disagreement. Agreement aside, herewith my picks:

Money no object:

It has to be La Mission Haut Brion. Just brilliant.

“A hint of classy austerity on the nose; a touch of pencil lead. Clearly a wine of some breeding. And layers and layers in the mouth, with a slightly savoury edge to the fruit. A very classy graphite texture to it. Long. Indeed very, very long and very, very classy, with the savoury edge coming back in the finish. Exceptional.” 19/20

Other candidates were Latour, Mouton, Margaux and Lafleur. All 19/20

Money of some object:

Ducru-Beaucaillou. I’ve long been a fan of Bruno Borie and he has been getting things absolutely right here since 2003. This is the most “complete” young Ducru I’ve tasted.

“Some serious quality here. There is some flamboyance on the nose but this is backed up with some serious depth underneath the gloss. This has weight and is seriously inviting. And extraordinary power in the mouth. Cassis and a bit of graphite. Solid and perfectly polished. And very, very, long. Yes.” 17.5/20 (though on reflection this is a little conservative).

Other candidates: Leoville-Poyferre, Beychevelle, Langoa-Barton. All 17/20

Money in mind:

Clerc-Milon. All of the Mouton stable are on form at the moment, and this is a very, very impressive 2010, with the poise of Mouton itself and inimitable Pauillac class.

“A cool mintiness again. And clearly some focus underneath. Poised. Complete and very Pauillac. Long and really lovely. Goes on and on and keeps its character. Very good.” 18.5/20

And an honourable mention has to go to an all time favourite, Batailley.

“This is right up there. All graphite and a classy Pauillac edge on the nose. This is not a bruiser: it is elegantly silky with a beguiling lift to it. Very impressive. Proper wine in that it tastes of pure Pauillac rather than fancy winemaking. The texture is like a fine woven steel embroidery: power and strength combines with a silky elegance. Excellent.” 17.5/20