Hyperbole is such a natural accomplice to each new Bordeaux vintage that the "vintage of the century" cliché is now routinely trotted out at the slightest sign that the new claret might at least be drinkable. The problem with crying wolf is that when a once-in-a-lifetime vintage does come along, how do you sort the hype from the reality and recognise its quality?
The newest kid on the Bordeaux block, barrel samples of which were swirled, slurped and dissected by the world's wine trade and press in the week before Easter, is the fourth "vintage of the century" this decade after 2000, 2003 and 2005. But could 2009 actually fit the bill?
"There are two remarkable things about 2009," says Château Palmer's MD, Thomas Duroux. "Firstly, it has the highest ever concentration of tannins, but you don't have the sensation of such concentration. The second thing is that whereas the 2005s were exuberantly sunny, exotic wines, 2009 is closer to the identity of the place."
According to Paul Pontallier, technical director at Château Margaux for nearly 30 years, "it has the dual personality of the densest wine ever and one of the sweetest ones". Margaux is indeed wonderful, but then as one of the first growths expected to fetch £5,000 a case, you'd hope it would be.
While my instinct is not to distrust Messrs Duroux and Pontallier, neither of whom is prone to exaggeration, the proof, as they say, is in the tasting. It will be up to two years before the raw wines even see a bottle, and much can change in a wine's development in that time.
Yet a snapshot of the young wine at this early stage does give an idea, albeit a blueprint, as to its future. Allowing the wines to speak for themselves then, the week's tasting soon brought home that 2009 is a potentially great vintage in which the region's two main grapes, cabernet sauvignon and merlot, ripened to perfection after a textbook year in the vineyard.
With careful handling and selection, there are many wines whose building blocks of fruit, tannin, alcohol and acidity are exceptionally pure and concentrated, delivering an abundance of intense cassis, cherry and blackberry flavours. Vintage comparisons are a bit of a mug's game, but those who like to make them are talking 1982, the greatest vintage since 1961. Yet while many châteaux have excelled, the quality is by no means even across the board. Incidences of underripeness, excessive alcohol and tough wines are all in the mix.
It would be wishful thinking to assume that the depressed global economy will keep prices down when the châteaux take all the feedback on board to announce opening prices between now and June. UK wine merchants will follow quickly on with their own en primeur offers, giving consumers the chance to buy early at a discount.
In today's global market, demand from collectors and investors for the most desirable 50-odd châteaux will be intense and prices most likely at least as stratospheric as the record 2005s. The silver lining lies in the plethora of deliciously drinkable wines soon to be offered in the relatively affordable £10-£25 range. There should be more than enough to put a smile on the face of even the most cynical of Bordeaux watchers. See my Top 100 Bordeaux 2009 wines at anthonyrosewine.com.Reuse content