The Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux just rolled across America on a four city press and trade tour with more than one hundred different Chateau owners, representatives, and wines representing and promoting the 2008 vintage from thirteen different appellations. Normally, for fun, context, and some learning I’ll pour two different vintages of the same Chateau or two wines of the same vintage from two different Chateaus side by side. In this modest pair sized sampling, inspections can span hours without interruption from distraction or boredom. On occasion, our tasting group dives into a dozen Bordeaux, in two flights of six, from the same vintage and different producers (or vice versa), sending palates plunging off the high board of useful comprehension and falling hundreds of feet on the doorstep of fatigue. And just every so often, I get lucky enough to find myself in a daunting room like this one at the Boston Harbor Hotel, at 3pm in the afternoon with only two hours to spare and 120 wines to taste before my dinner meeting.
I managed to taste about 70 wines as I moved about the room in peripatetic fashion, sloshing and spitting, taking notes, chatting with old and new wine friends and colleagues while building a vintage impression and reaffirming one very important wine fact. First, the fact; wine is a living unpredictable thing and 2008 Bordeaux is proof. The wines are really good for the most part, excellent in many cases, and only pockets, not communal swaths, of blemished product were in evidence. The buzz around 2008 going into barrel was not encouraging on the heels of months of miserable weather, and since I had not been to France for Spring en primeur tastings and have not paid attention to the vintage’s progress, I made my way through the room without expectation only to be rewarded often enough with dark or deep purple colored claret, pure fruit, sweet tannins, beautiful berry flavors, pretty aromatics, and classic structure. Now for my impression: 2008 has turned into a certain buying opportunity and hints at classic long term greatness, only living in the shadows of the heralded 2009 vintage. 2008 is a recession year vintage, and the prices reflect that. First growths were available en primeur for under $3000 per dozen.
The tough grainy tannins makes for extra work, but the wines are manageable enough and seem integrated in a naturally classic Bordeaux style. It is admittedly hard tasting these wines so young with their edgy tannins and closely held profiles that make the sorting process a little frustrating and somewhat uneven. With that said, the right bank wines struck me as more approachable than the Cabernet dominated wines from the Medoc that are usually more aligned with my personal style preference. Many St. Emilion wines were simply mind blowing including Troplong Mondot and Pavie Macquin which are both hedonistic wines with mint, herbs, black cherry, and a silky round satiny and fat mouth feel for the latter with added notes of black licorice for the former. There seemed to be more consistency among the wines from Saint Emilion and both of these recommended wines are approachable today, definitely worth buying, but will benefit from a at least a good half a dozen years of cellar time. The 2008 Pavie Macquin is selling for about $65, almost half the price of the 2009 vintage. Same holds true for many of the excellent wines from Pessac Leognan and the Medoc. I tasted eleven different Sauternes and Barsacs and my hands down favorite was Chateau Suduirat, and at $60 it feels like a bargain.
With so many good wines worth recommending, here are my top picks from the vintage sampling:
Troplong Mondot - Saint Emilion
Leoville Barton – Saint Julien
Pichon Lalande -Pauillac
Pavie Macquin – Saint Emilion
Suduiraut – Sauternes
Lynch Bages – Pauillac
Domaine de Chevalier - Pesssac Leognan
Fieuzal (white)- Pessac Leognan
Larrivet Haut Brion - Pessac Leognan
Angelus - Saint Emilion
Beau-Sejor Becot - Saint Emilion
La Conseillante – Pomerol
Pape Clement – Pessac Leognan
Figeac – St. Emilion
La Gaffeliere – St. Emilion
Gruaud Larose - Saint Julien
Leoville Poyferre - Saint Julien
Talbot - Saint Julien
Pichon Loungueville - Pauillac
It is definitely safe to go back in the water following 2007 and buy these wines. They are classic Bordeaux, with a good balance of sweet fruit and firm tannin, certainly less tannic than, say, 1986 but not nearly as ripe or fat as 1989 or 1990. For all things considered, the are fairly priced for arrival and appear to have the bones to outlive my own useful palate.
Note: Critics like Parker, Laube, Tanzer and so many others too numerous to list here, that taste massive amounts of wine on a regular basis to perform exhaustive inspections of vintages and regions deserve a lot of credit. This is palate-taxing duty. The amount of focus and concentration that goes into tasting regimens like this is impressive. Doing it on a regular basis over the years is no small feat. Hats of to this cadre of tasters and critics that go beyond the small flight, side by side, and individual bottle tastings that I am most certainly more familiar and comfortable with.