It was hard to imagine, after Bordeaux’s heaven-sent 2009 vintage, that the following year could match, or even outclass its riches. Yet 2010 does just that. It is, however, chalk to 2009’s cheese. Some will prefer the hedonistic, seductive style of the 2009s, but give me the structured, classical, fresher 2010s any day. While not as readily inviting as the ‘09s, 10 years on, many of the 2010s are surprisingly, delightfully approachable. Others need another decade to unfurl their brilliant colours.
If 2010 yielded more complex wines than 2009, this is a reflection of the respective growing seasons. Where the 2009 harvest was all too perfect and easy (sometimes lulling growers into a false sense of security, resulting in over-ripeness or over-extraction), 2010 was less straightforward.
Alcohol levels are just as high as in 2009, but are the result of a largely cooler, even drier vintage. This happy coincidence of dry, cool weather in August and September – with especially cool nights – led to small, thick-skinned berries with perfect polyphenolic ripeness. October continued dry, sunny, and now warm, allowing producers to harvest at will. Concentrated, expressive wines resulted, with high levels of very fine tannins.
Pauillac and Pomerol are the stand-out appellations. All three Pauillac first growths – Latour, Mouton Rothschild and Lafite Rothschild – are majestic. In Pomerol, the top two names – Petrus and Le Pin – are excellent, but happily for consumers’ wallets, it’s the next rungs down which really outperform – from Vieux Château Certan and La Fleur-Pétrus, to Gazin, L’Evangile, and Clinet.
Compared to those highs, the Margaux appellation falls a little flat, other than Château Margaux itself, its second wine Pavillon Rouge, and Château Palmer – the only three Margauxs to make my top picks, below. Likewise, Pessac-Léognan features three times, with Smith-Haut-Lafitte the appellation’s 2010 hero. Saint-Julien produced a solid, consistent range of excellent wines, while in Saint-Estèphe the esteemed two second growths – Cos d’Estournel and Montrose – stood out. Back on the right bank, Saint-Emilion (pictured above) was more successful than in 2010 (NB. sadly the Cheval Blanc was corked).
2010s were considerably more expensive than 2009s en primeur, and were the last straw for the stretched fine wine market, which saw prices plummet a month or so after the 2010 campaign, in the summer of 2011. This crash was led by Bordeaux, whose prices dropped by as much as 40% in the following three years. Original purchasers of the 2010 vintage will only recently have emerged from the red, and on some wines are still out of pocket a decade later. The 2010 vintage remains one of the most expensive recent Bordeaux vintages on the market, only 2009 reaching the same heights. A basket of 120 top 2010s averages £180 per bottle, £1 more for their 2009 counterparts, according to Wine Lister data. However, as they approach drinkability, the best wines undoubtedly merit their price tags.
Last year I advised caution choosing wines from the more heterogeneous 2009 vintage. In 2010 it’s harder to go wrong, with very few duds at the top end, but below are my top picks for those wanting to guarantee optimum gratification.