Monday, January 31, 2011

2008 Bordeaux Tasting: Where's the Fruit?

 Grand Cru tasting leaves me scratching my head.

Bordeaux are supposed to be the finest, most refined, subtle, quietly complex wines in the world. At the 2008 Vintage trade tasting hosted January 21st at San Francisco's Palace Hotel by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, I discovered to my disappointment that the 2008 red Bordeaux are uninteresting because their crisp tannnins lack the balance of fruit. Age will soften the not-overdone tannins, but how can it reveal invisible fruit?

This is in contrast to the 2006s, which while they had stronger tannins to the point where tasting them was almost painful, yet at the same time they showed such depth and richness and density and complexity that you could easily see how age will soothe and reveal.

But not the 2008s. None of the reds charmed me, disarmed me, or rose above blandness, in my humble opinion. The St. Emilions showed slightly more fruit, as did the St.-Juliens -- or any fruit at all, really. I still wouldn't cross the street for them, or cross the room.

These are solid brands, too: Château Batailley, Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, Château de Rayne Vigneau, Château Doisy-Daëne,  Château Grand-Mayne, Château Grand-Puy-Ducasse, Château Haut-Bages Libéral, Château Haut-Bailly, Château La Tour Blanche, Château
Ch. Leoville Barton
Léoville Barton, Château Léoville Poyferré, Château Lynch-Bages,  Château Phélan Ségur, Château Pichon-Longueville, Château Smith Haut-Lafitte -- decent, well regarded wines, every one.

Plainly I am not an experienced taster of young Bordeaux. I didn't see anyone else wrinkling their noses or looking disappointed, so maybe it's just me. But I love Lynch-Bages, and the representative from that area (there was only one Lynch-Bages, I don't remember which) showed me nothing at all. The best reds poured were merely tolerable.

The whites, by contrast, were just fine, thank you very much. The Sauv Blancs, and the SB/Semillon blends, were good. The Sauternes were rich and sweet, complex and delicious, toe-curlers, every one -- not a loser in the bunch.

I'd list specific wines and notes but none of the reds rose above a "B," so there hardly seems any point. If you have a chance to pick up a case of some of these 2008s, wait a year before trying them. And good luck. I hope I turn out to be wrong (or simply misinformed).

And I might be, though style and approach should not be excuses for a lack of flavor and depth. "Subtle" is supposed to be a virtue, not an excuse. I understand the French downplay fruit because theirs are beverage wines, not cocktail wines -- but this is ridiculous!

Delicious Sauternes!
I was vastly amused to bump into Miguel Boscana, of Rosenblum Cellars, who poured his own disdain on the Bordeaux for utter lack of fruit. These wines, of course, represent the complete opposite of Rosenblum's fruit-forward approach to Zinfandels. He insisted that the French don't know how to, or haven't the weather for, or possibly lack the taste for, fruit in their wines.

French red Bordeaux are, it's true, a complete crap shoot for moderately active American wine drinkers: At their best they are stunning; on average they are disappointingly bland.

What am I missing?

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