This year sees the gradual release of the 2009 vintage from Bordeaux. This vintage is reputed to be the finest since 1982, the legendary vintage that got Bordeaux back on its feet after a terrible few decades and barely a decent vintage in the 1970s. 1982 was the beginning of Bordeaux crafting wines from fully ripe grapes and saw movement away from the thin, acidic, herbaceous wines that were the standard issue for so many years. Major advances in diversity of wine consumption have both benefitted and caused problems in this fine vintage.
We spent a week in Bordeaux at the end of March tasting the wines, and were struck by the fact that so many winemakers had managed to get hard tannins in their wines. This should not be the case in a year that saw plenty of warm weather and sunshine enabling the grapes to fully ripen, which ought to have produced high levels of soft tannins that are integrated into the wine and not intrusive, but give the wine structure and define the wine on the palate.
After remarking on this to many winemakers we seemed to get the most frank and honest answer from Francois Mitjavile, the iconic owner and winemaker of Le Tertre Roteboeuf in Saint Emilion. Francois developed techniques and systems to produce exceptional wine that at times left other vignerons scratching their heads. His very late picking for example at Roc de Cambes, his property in the Cotes du Bourg, was viewed as madness initially, but this property is now viewed as the finest in the appellation. Francois told us that the current trend of consumers wanting lower alcohol levels in their wine has caused panic in many growers as the heat and sunshine in the summer of 2009 produced high levels of sugar, and therefore high potential alcohols levels. In an attempt to reduce the final levels of alcohol these growers had picked the grapes too early, and so not fully ripe – thus resulting in the hard tannins we were tasting. It’s a shame really, as 2009 had the potential to produce some of the finest wines seen in the last 30 years. For many estates that is exactly what they have made, if they didn’t panic.