Bordeaux 2009: all over but the pricing

Robert Parker posted his reviews of Bordeaux 2009 yesterday on his subscription web site, In an article entitled “Once Upon a Time (1899, 1929, 1949, 1959, 2009),” he lavished praise on the vintage, particularly the cabernet blends of the left bank, and on many wines individually: 21 wines received scores of potentially 100 points. He wrote, “For some Médocs and Graves, 2009 may turn out to be the finest vintage I have tasted in 32 years of covering Bordeaux.” Many were accompanied by an asterisk, which indicate that they are the best wine from the estate that he has ever tasted as a barrel sample. For the number-obsessed, Bordeauxoverview has put together a grid of all the critics’ scores.

Of course, tasting is a matter of opinion and others have expressed their views (captured, in part, in our tweet roundup). Writing in the Financial Times, Jancis Robinson compared the ripeness and high alcohols she experienced to California, remarking “I have never written the word “Napa” so often in my tasting notes.” Parker, by contrast, praised the best Medocs for being “powerful and concentrated” and hailed them “historic.” He dismissed reports of high alcohol as being mostly “absurd.”

Tim Atkin, a British writer, put together a very skimmable report (here as pdf) calling the vintage “great but not uniform.” John Gilman had a similar view, adding that 2009 was a “fantastic” vintage for Sauternes. In his subscription newsletter, Gilman observed two stylistic camps among the top reds, one epitomized by Lafite that is suave and seductive from the get-go, and another, more structured style requiring bottle aging, embodied by Latour and Petrus.

There is a great deal of consensus about the first growths Lafite-Rothschild, Margaux, Latour and Haut-Brion. Mouton-Rothschild was a notch below for most tasters; Tim Atkin compared it to a Chilean carmenere and gave it 94 points.

However, some flash points have emerged, most notably Cos d’Estournel. Parker gave it a score of 98-100 with an asterisk calling it “extraordinary…one of the greatest young wines I have ever tasted” while Neal Martin who also writes for the Wine Advocate, lamented the alcohol level, compared it to a wine from the Douro, and scored it 89-91. Tim Atkin noted the 14.5% alcohol on the label, called it over-the-top, compared it to an Australian shiraz and gave it 95 points. John Gilman wrote that the was “one of the worst young wines I have ever had to taste, as it displays an utter contempt for both the history of its region and the intelligence of its clients…I cannot imagine having to drink it. This is a train wreck of monumental proportions. 67-68 points.”

The prices on futures will roll out in the next few weeks/months. Hit the comments with your thoughts on Lafite!

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20 Responses to “Bordeaux 2009: all over but the pricing”

  1. Sounds like I should be ok buying the 1st Growth, well except for the part where I can’t afford them lol

  2. Love John Gilman’s honesty.

  3. I hope the pricing doesn’t go completely out-of-control like 2005 did. The firsts, super-seconds (well, maybe in Cos d’Estournel’s situation), and Ch. Palmers will sell, but I hope the other houses price fairly. What the market will bear, I guess…

  4. 2009 First-Growth Bordeaux will be tasted and purchased only by people of rarified reputations and/or rarified means. As I fit in neither category, I am happy to watch this point-jousting and authority-brandishing in much the same way as one might watch celebrities and power-brokers cavort on Dancing With The Stars.

  5. It seems that prices for the First Growths will be at 2005 levels, and now that Parker has given his approval, neophytes who have never bought en Primeur before (not just the Chinese market) will plunge in.

    Cos may be one controversial wine but there are others (I hated the wine but admired its hubristic pretensions and it did have a strange internal balance).

    La Mission, a perennial favorite of mine, was extremely alcoholic (14.7%) and lacked its usual precision. Parker gave it potentially 100 points; I gave it (like the Cos)a score in the high 80s with lots of question marks.

  6. Kudos to you Dr. Vino for creating a great review. This to me seems more the story than the wines themselves. We appear to have a clear Fox / MSNBC divide in wine at this point along the lines of alcohol levels. Since you got your start in Chicago, perhaps you can play the role of Colbert?

  7. Glad I found this site and the great references to the 2009 Bordeaux reviews. I agree with most of the comments here…price points will be out of the realm of purchase for me and just about every ‘Joe Vino’ out there for the Lafite’s, etc. And that is sad.

    More troubling is the wine market pricing being ‘set’ more or less, based on Parker’s reviews. I remember seeing the 2008 Lafite at less than $250/bottle prior to his ratings and then the price sky rocketed.

    I personally find the WS reviews more in alignment with my tastes and lean more heavily to those when I don’t have the ability to taste the wine prior to purchase.

    Finally *rant on* :), I left sports card collecting due to Beckett setting the prices (ther eis no doubt, no argument can be made, it is as CLEAR as day). I would hate to find myself leaving the wine arena for the same reasons, but frankly I am nearly in that camp. I have a good celler full of wines *I* like and may just start popping those corks for the next few years. Might I miss out on some great wines, sure but I’ll likely be just as content with the wines I have! *rant off*

    With tha said, I probably will avoid all Bordeaux in 2009 except a couple of my $20-50 standards which are already priced int hat range. I’ll continue to dabble in the ‘CA cult Cab’ arena and enjoy whatever wine is in my glass at the time!

  8. I often wonder if speculation on vintages is a matter of press spin? 2005 was touted as one of the best and was compared to the likes of 89 and 61 (2 great vintages) amongst others, and people spent thousands, nay hundreds of thousands on the vintage. Now after what is considered to perhaps be three mediocre vintages, does the wine world in hard economic times needs a boost? So is the vintage REALLY that good, or is it just a vintage that NEEDS to be that good?

  9. “I often wonder if speculation on vintages is a matter of press spin?”

    “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”

  10. This is great stuff, it’s like a soap opera!

  11. There are clearly a lot of great wines in the 2009 Bordeaux vintage- superb classic examples of claret that will age for a very long time and offer magical drinking experiences at their apogees. And it is not only in the realm of the First Growths and other comparably high-priced wines that the best wines of the vintage are to be found- just a partial list of 2009 stars would include wines such as Montrose, Tronquoy-Lalande, Magdelaine, Canon, Figeac, Corbin (a stunning value this year and a St. Emilion that really deserves to be much better known for lovers of old school claret), Cantemerle, Beychevelle, Lagrange, Talbot and Gruaud Larose are all excellent examples of the vintage that are everything a Bordeaux lover would expect from a top quality vintage. And many of these will be very reasonably priced by today’s Bordeaux pricing standards.

    But 2009 is emphatically not a classic vintage, and it is not a consistent vintage, so one really has to be careful with selection. It is not classic because the alcohol levels are notably higher than is customary in a top vintage- pretty much across the board a full degree higher than in 2005 (which was by no means a low alchol vintage)- and so one has to pick and choose amongst those estates who have managed the higher alcohol levels well and those that have produced hot wines. IME, it is a very rare wine that shows its higher alcohol level as heat on the backend that ages well over the long haul, and due to the very high tannin content of the 2009s, aging over the long haul is going to be a prerequisite. And there are plenty of 2009s that show heat and are candidates to crash and burn, rather than blossom with bottle age.

    The vintage conditions also were difficult enough to produce a lot of wines with overt signs of overripeness- which not only produces undesirable aromatic and flavor combinations such as prunes, kirsch and boysenberry syrup, but also takes away from any expression of terroir and really muddies focus and precision on the palate. The vintage’s very high natural tannin content has also been augmented at many estates with an overly generous blast of new wood- leaching wood tannins into already tannic wines and really calling into question their overall balances, so there are plenty of wines that will never blossom and simply whither in the bottle.

    Alas, there are plenty of commentators out there who have already a long public track record of not being particularly sensitive to overripe elements and excessive alcohol in wines from other regions- what do you think the odds are that they will be able to accurately evaluate this very atypical and inconsistent Bordeaux vintage? However, it is quite likely that they will not hesitate to tell you unequivocally that Wine X is a great wine- one of the best I have ever tasted…. etc, and then move on to the next vintage and leave you holding the bag on an unwanted case or ten of some structurally flawed wine that will have no future as anything but a commodity.

    One must remember that there is an awful lot of institutional inertia involved with handicappiing young Bordeaux vintages, and for one to pretend that all of this early tasting of the new vintage happens in a vaccuum is simply myopic. Reputations and market placement are at stake, and the people involved on either side of the equation are going to do what it takes to put the proper spin on the vintage. Given that there are a great many absolutely magical wines in the making in this vintage, it would be incorrect IMO to put down all the early excitement simply to hype and less than honorable marketing, as the best wines do truly deserve all of their accolades. But in the 2009 vintage, it is also imperative to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    It would be rather prudent for interested consumers to tread carefully and only choose the more classic examples of the vintage, so that they end up with truly great wines in the cellar for drinking twenty or thirty years down the road, rather than just a lot of experience of the wrong kind and in the end nothing drinkable from this fine year. There are plenty of easy ways to waste money, but in a vintage like 2009 which has so many really superb wines, it would be a shame to waste one’s money chasing the wrong wines this year.

  12. I am glad that I bought no classified growths in 2007. My first total pass in over 30 years.
    With the scores The Bordelais easily extracted from Parker will now come prices easily extracted from the next willing fool. This great vintage may yield some good values in lesser appellations but unless they are priced at or below 05, the 09 Classified Growths for me will be an easy pass.

  13. […] Parker hearts ‘09 Cos calling it “one of the best young wines he’s ever tasted”. Other prominent critics disagree, likening it to Aussie Shiraz and one (John Gilamn) calls it “a train wreck of monumental proportions”. Der? […]

  14. John,

    I just want to thank you for that heartfelt and thoughtful response laying outyour concerns with Bordeaux 2009. It was very eloquently put. Most of all I am delighted to see someone else raising concerns about the vintage instead of just chanting the hype in tune with everybody else.

    I tasted as many of the wines as I could during the primeurs week in late March (all now written up on my site ( I thought a good number of the wines were amazing, but as you say it is not a consistent vintage. I described it as one of “consistent inconsistency” because in almost every red wine commune you could find brilliant wines but you could also find shockers, especially the left-bank Merlot-rich cuvées or the right-bank wines which are of course mostly Merlot. There were many Cabernet-based wines I liked, perhaps different ones to you, but superb wines all the same, whether they were in the elegant style (eg. Calon-Ségur, where the Merlot content has been minimised) or the more powerful (too many examples to mention!). Some though in gaining the power and the alcohol lost something along the way, most probably drinkability (eg. Cos d’Estournel).

    What I am particularly pleased to see is an established critic drawing the attention of readers to the overt alcohol expressed in some of these wines. Some of them smelt of it, or tasted of it, some of them just burned in the back of the palate. I have tasting notes on my site describing wines with alcoholic heat which just screams “stay away” and yet I see others not even commenting on it. RP says of the left bank “Reports of excessive alcohol are, for the most part, absurd” and doesn’t even make a style-related comment on the right bank alcohols, other than to say that “14-15 degrees for St.-Emilions and Pomerols” is “slightly higher” than was found in 2005. Neither statement serves the consumer looking for balanced wines to add to the cellar, I think.

  15. The decision to lay out $$ for futures is usually decided in one of two camps: pricing and access.

    Those who approach futures from the pricing aspect are hoping that laying out money today will be less costly than laying it out for a wine when it is released retail. In this case, you are paying today for the privilege of having ownership of the wine in 2011.

    The other reason to consider futures is to secure ownershop of a wine that you believe will be very difficult to access upon release, due to supply:demand issues. This is a very common challenge with Red Burgundies…..very little production and very high demand. Fortunately for Bordeaux lovers, the production levels are generous (often 5-10,000 cases per vintage). Don’t ignore, by the way, that “investing” your money now for access to a product in two years must take into account the opportunity lost to invest that money elsewhere.

    Thus, it really boils down to whether your crystal ball is telling you that you can grab a great deal on the ’09 Bordeaux by purchasing futures. If you’re lucky, you may look back years from now and pat yourself on the back for well crafted intuition. At present,
    however, my crystal ball is mired in fog and mist and until it clears, I prefer to be patient. Even with China attempting to mop up excess high end wine inventory, thus placing a floor under pricing, I suspect that economic weakness throughout the rest of the wine world will keep prices in check.

  16. I agree on the philosophy of wine futures, but it would seem the market has become tainted by the more ‘popular’ critical acclaim from vintage to vintage. As a buyer or a seller, if you are not one of the few privileged to attend En Premier, you are reliant on critic information. Thus comes the fog that one must fumble through to see a clear way to invest. Most of the time the mass indicators are in the ball park. It would seem from much of the discussion on this blog topic, that the indicators on this last vintage are still widely subjective and perhaps mass consensus is not to be trusted. This leaves wine investors with a time consuming and perhaps worthy task of reading and absorbing as much as possible about the vintage. Of course in this economic climate and in this regard, is any other course of action less appropriate? I have tremendously enjoyed the considerable and worthy comments on this discussion. My thanks.

  17. […] thoughts on barrel tastings of the various big-boy wines of the Left & Right Banks (check out a great summary of those courtesy of my friend Tyler Colman at, and the results are almost as strange, maddening and bombastic as the hype leading up to the en […]

  18. […] final dash of pricing the Bordeaux 2009 futures has concluded with a clap of thunder: controversial Cos d’Estournel at $3,600 a case, ditto for Leoville Las Cases, La Mission Haut Brion at $10,000 a case, and Lafite […]

  19. […] The second obvious cry for attention, April 27, was to publish over-the-top ratings for 2009 Bordeaux based on barrel tastings, including lots of 96-100s and 98-100s, and a new “*” addition, indicating that the wine he tasted in the barrel was the best from that producer he’s ever tasted from barrel. A lot of people are taking the * to mean that the wines so indicated have broken the 100-point Parker system—that he’s now going to 101 points, and beyond. Parker made a similar calculated move to grab attention in October 2008 when he declared that the 2007 vintage in Chateauneuf du Pape was “the vintage of my lifetime for this region,” which he followed up a year later with the claim that ’07 in CdP “may be the most compelling vintage of any viticultural region I have ever tasted,” a pronouncement that no other serious wine critic agreed with. That move was an echo of his extreme high scores for souped up, over-concentrated and high alcohol wines from Australia and Spain in years past that have turned out, more often than not, to be duds. At any rate, Parker’s extreme praise for Bordeaux made apparently in his image—i.e., super concentrated, extracted, and high in alcohol—stands in contrast to the more moderate praise and measured critique of the vintage that is coming from the other critics who tasted similar samples. (See the excellent summary yesterday by Dr. Vino on his blog.) […]

  20. […] More and more “release prices” have been announced from the chateaux in Bordeaux, for the wines that were tasted a couple of months ago at the “primeurs”. The tendency seems to be upwards, sometimes a lot. However, it is a little bit early to judge the total picture. But from what has been seen so far, prices will generally be above both 2008 and 2005. 2009 is considered a magnificent vintage by virtually everyone. 2008 was on the contrary a very difficult year with wines that were not awarded top points. 2009 is much compared to 2005 which was also one of the “vintages of the century” (with good reason), which is the reason for the 2009-2005 price comparisons. Some chateaux have raised their prices compared to 2008 with 50% or even 75%, whereas others only raise the price with 5-15%. A few, very few, have actually lowered prices. The development is interesting in particular in light of 2009 export figures. In most markets sales of Bordeaux wines fell. Total exports fell with 23%! Many markets (e.g. the US) were much harder hit. China was almost the only market where sales increased (and with a lot), as we have written about previously in the Brief. So, a sharp drop in exports and prices go up. Where’s the logic? Of course, sales statistics only talk about total numbers and the primeurs market is only a tiny, tiny portion of that. Only some 150 chateau are on this market, out of some 10,000 in total. Perhaps one should say that the classified growths (and the likes – the primeurs market essentially) is a market all by itself, quite unrelated to the rest of Bordeaux, and a market that less and less sell to the average wine lover or wine consumer but mostly to well-off collectors or ‘buveurs d’etiquettes’ (to borrow a French expression). On the other hand, for the average wine lover that is in a way of no real importance. There are so many other excellent and affordable wines available on the market today! Read more e.g. on and on […]


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