Jan. 28 (Bloomberg) -- In the cavernous sixth floor ballroom at New York’s Marriott Marquis hotel, 110 top Bordeaux producers are busily pouring the region’s reds and whites from the 2010 vintage. Now that they’re bottled, the wines will start showing up on retail shelves. Should you buy now?
You don’t really have to rush. Yes, the quality is exceptional for many chateaux. But the futures prices were so high there will be stock languishing in warehouses. Bordeaux lovers spent their biggest bucks on the rich, opulent, highly-rated 2009s.
As I sip under huge ceiling lights that look like white clouds about to spit down snow, I’m as impressed with some 2010s as I was when I tasted them as unfinished barrel samples in Bordeaux two years ago.
At this annual Union des Grands Crus tasting, the third stop in a five-city tour, all the winemakers I speak to insist both 2009 and 2010 are great vintages but prefer their 2010s. A cynic might say, well, that’s the vintage they’re selling now.
When it comes to the best wines, I think they’re right. A difficult drought year produced powerful reds with higher tannins, acids, and alcohol than the 2009s. Yet the 2010s also have more structure, freshness, elegance, and purity of fruit.
Gabriel Vialard of Chateau Haut-Bailly splashes his delicious 2010 in my glass and describes the difference between ’09 and ’10 as one of style. “The ’09 is soft and velvety, accessible now,” he says. “The ’10 will age 35 years.”
Jean-Michel Laporte, who produced a seductive Chateau La Conseillante ($250), calls 2010 “more Bordelais.”
The wines from the commune of Margaux stand out, especially the perfumed, luscious, very balanced Chateau Giscours ($75), the best wine I’ve ever tasted from this estate.
“The 2010s are more electric, more detailed, like high-pixel images,” says general manager Alexander Van Beek.
The Chateau Rauzan-Segla is another smooth, harmonious success, but overpriced at $150.
I also gave very high marks to rich, concentrated Chateau Lafon-Rochet ($50), a good buy from Saint-Estephe, and rich, powerful Beychevelle ($98) from Saint-Julien, which is way better than its 2009.
In China, Beychevelle -- nicknamed Dragon Boat for the image on the label -- is in great demand and counterfeits abound. Starting with the 2010 vintage, each bottle will carry a certificate of authenticity with shimmering security codes.
Other top wines at the tasting include dark, rich Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste ($95), classic Chateau Lynch-Bages ($175), smooth, flavory Chateau Pichon Lalande ($230).
Sweet wines from Sauternes and Barsac are delicious. (The first growths, super seconds like the stunning Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, top Pomerols like Hosanna, and brilliant Chateau Pontet-Canet don’t show their wines at these UGC tastings.)
Not everyone got their wines’ balance and fruit right. Chateau Troplong Mondot ($155), like many merlot-heavy wines from Saint-Emilion, is oaky, overripe, and tastes of burnt espresso beans. It has so much alcohol -- 16 percent! -- that it smells more like a heady cocktail than wine.
Olivier Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier, whose savory 2010 red ($85) is another of my favorites at the tasting, is worried about prices being too high, and blames wine investment funds.
“Wine should be drunk with a smile,” he says. “If wine lovers pay too much, they don’t smile. They may buy once without a smile, but they won’t do it a second time.”
Many didn’t. “We sold massive amounts of 2009 futures, even at high prices, but only half of that with the 2010s,” says Gary Boom, managing director of the U.K.’s Bordeaux Index, in a phone interview. “People had already spent their money.”
He’s convinced wine critic Robert Parker’s high scores for the 2009s will continue to keep the 2010s in their shadow. Some negociants, he says, are starting to discount them.
Of the 110 million pounds worth of 2009 futures London-based Berry Bros & Rudd sold, 30 percent went to Hong Kong, says sales and marketing director Simon Staples. The 2010 futures brought in 67 million pounds, only 10 percent of it from Hong Kong.
I like to think Chateau Mouton-Rothschild’s artist pick to illustrate its 2010 label, American Jeff Koons, shows that the Bordelais are remembering how important the U.S. market is.
Sales of 2010 futures were down in the U.S., too. Chris Adams, CEO of New York’s Sherry-Lehmann, who sold about 30 percent less, calls trying to move the very expensive first growths ($1,000 to $1,600 a bottle) “heavy lifting.”
Chuck Hayward of online retail Bordeaux specialist JJ Buckley says they sold out of wines like Pichon Lalande, but their buyers were choosier, focusing on great values.
If you want to try top 2010s for yourself, sign up for BurdiGala on Feb. 22 in New York.
At this new annual Bordeaux celebration, chateaux like Palmer, Ducru-Beaucaillou, d’Issan, Pontet-Canet, Lynch-Bages and others will be poured at a lavish grand tasting ($250), followed by a gala dinner hosted by chef Alain Ducasse ($850).
(Elin McCoy writes on wine and spirits for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)
Muse highlights include movie reviews.
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