The 2009 vintage in Bordeaux became a legend almost overnight. A glorious growing season produced some monumental wines, and their release coincided with, and further contributed to, a fine-wine market bull run.
When the 2009s were released en primeur, average prices more than doubled compared to 2008. The reputation of the vintage, coupled with the seemingly unstoppable fine-wine market, meant that consumers were happy to shell out for the wines. The 2009 en primeur campaign was the biggest ever, with sales by volume and value through the roof, in part propelled by unprecedented interest from China. By mid-2011, cases of Lafite 2009 were changing hands for more than £1,000 a bottle.
The crash in July 2011 saw Bordeaux prices fall by as much as 40% over the next three years. En primeur buyers of 2009s – and especially the significantly pricier 2010s – understandably felt cheated. After all, the point of buying wine before it is physically available (if it isn’t to acquire an otherwise unattainable allocation) is to pay less for it.
The 2009 prices are nothing like they were at the top of the market, but today the wines are still more expensive than any other recent vintage. Readers willing to wait may want to consider buying 2014, 2015, 2016, and even 2010, which, apart from offering excellent wines for often lower prices, may ultimately present better investment opportunities.
However, 2009 is not to be missed for the hedonists among you. Revisiting nearly 70 of the region’s best wines at 10 years of age presented a unique opportunity to see if – or rather where – the hype was merited.
Bordeaux 2009s have a reputation for being tarty – or libertine, if you prefer. The best are flirtatious, yes, beguiling and intoxicating, but they are also incredibly fine, pure, and elegant. Crucially, they are more approachable than the indomitable 2010s, though the best will also grow old gracefully. One of Pomerol’s finest winemakers, Christian Moueix referred to 2009 as a combination of three legendary vintages, the 1982, 1989 and 1990.
Weather conditions were close to perfect: the summer was warm (but not too hot), dry (but not too dry) and above all long, providing producers with the luxury of choice as to when to pick the grapes. But sometimes too much choice can be a handicap, and some châteaux succumbed to the temptation of pushing nature’s gift of ripeness and concentration beyond reasonable limits. The properties which picked too late were left with monstrous levels of alcohol – already at record highs in 2009.
In such a generous vintage, winemakers had to be careful not to extract too much from the grapes if they were to maintain balance and elegance. The worst 2009s are tired: mutton dressed as lamb. Happily, they represent a small minority.
St-Emilion – ‘a theatre of excess’, in the words of winemaking consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt – was the worst hit. Merlot, its predominant grape variety, resists heat less well than Cabernet Sauvignon, the Left Bank’s leading grape variety. However, the appellation also produced some exquisite wines, among the best of the vintage, when carefully made. Meanwhile, its neighbour Pomerol seemed less afflicted by overheated Merlot.
The Left Bank was more consistent, particularly in Pessac-Léognan, St-Julien and Pauillac, although I found less to get really excited about in Margaux (with a few exceptions, including the eponymous first growth and its second wine). On the whole, Bordeaux 2009’s quality is less homogeneous than it might have been, and its wines should not be bought indiscriminately. Here are 36 top picks, from all appellations and styles, that will not disappoint: