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Top Picks in 2009 Bordeaux from the Union des Grands Crus Tasting in San Francisco

Today we take a brief detour from California to France. I attended the Union des Grands Crus Tasting of 2009 Bordeaux on Saturday, January 21 at the Bently Reserve in San Francisco. It was a consumer tasting sponsored by K&L Wines. The tasting environment was good. The temperature was ideal and, though the event was sold out, it was not excessively crowded. It was a three-hour tasting

More than 100 chateaux participated, but most of the top names were not in attendance. I had not expected to see the First Growths. However, many who attended in the past, including Leoville Las-Cases, Pontet-Canet, Ducru Beaucaillou, Cos d’Estournel, Palmer, Angelus were not their either. Nonetheless, there was an excellent array of wines. I sampled 45 myself.

About the Vintage

la-tour-from-comtesseThe 2009 vintage in Bordeaux has been widely celebrated for it’s quality, particularly that of the red wines. That has driven or more accurately, encouraged upper echelon chateaux to drive, prices very high. There has been hand-wringing (or glee, depending on one’s perspective) over the very recent set-backs for Bordeaux in the Asian market that caused “the bottom to fall out of values.” However, “value” has long been understood to mean “going price for investment wines” rather than “fair price for drinking wines.”

The good news for you and I is that great vintages bring great values. And now I do mean bargains. Over the past decade, top growths produced very fine, age-worthy wines virtually every year. However, many fourth, fifth and unclassified growths only excel in the best of vintages. 2009 was such a year and there are many excellent wines and genuine bargains to be had from that vintage of Bordeaux.

Even in 2009 though, Bordeaux was still Bordeaux. One might think, from reading popular magazines and newsletters, that the wines for this vintage ooze fruit and bear more resemblance to Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon than traditional Bordeaux. That is not the case. The wines are clearly recognizable as Bordeaux, distinct to their districts and lean far more toward savory than sweet.

It is true, though, that the wines are much less austere than in some years. Finding fruit takes little imagination. Drinkability will take little cellaring. Wine from a Chateau that normally requires 10 or more years of age will be ready in five or less. Many of the wines will age well but are ready to drink tonight.

My Favorites

There were a lot of excellent wines at the tasting. These are the ones that made me ask, “do I really need to go on with the tasting or can I just stand here and drink this all afternoon?” They are listed here in order by my degree of obsession.

Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere (St. Emilion): Plummy red fruit, violets, spice, dry tobacco and coffee. Full-bodied for Bordeaux with plenty of fine powdery tannins that give the wine structure for aging but silky accessibility now.

Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc (Pessac-Leognan): Yes, 2009 was a red wine vintage but, “wow.” Fabulously fragrant with white peach, wood and spice.

Chateau Malartic Lagraviere Blanc (Pessac-Leognan): A beautiful wine with white peach, light wood, delicate tangerine, vanilla and herb.

Chateau Leoville Poyferre (Saint-Julien): A very pretty nose with cocoa, soft wood, gentle dark fruit, and earthy spice. Very fine, chalky tannins let the flavors through. Elegant and lovely.

Very Highly Recommended 2009 Bordeaux (alphabetically by region)

Chateau La Lagune (Haut Medoc): 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot. Cherry, cassis, dusty huckleberry and cream. Substantial and drying by fine-grained tannins. Best 2015 - 2025.

Chateau Lascombes (Margaux): Woody incense, warm dark fruit, dry leaves and mocha with fine powdery tannins.

Chateau Lynch-Bages (Pauillac): Fig, black currant, graphite and earthy wood. Pretty with an elegant nose but structured palate of earthy spice with dominant, chalky tannins. Best after 2018.

Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (Pauillac): Exotic, earthy spice, tobacco and black fruit. Light-grained tannins on the palate with forest floor and coconut flavors.

Chateau Phelan Segur (Saint-Estephe): A leafy forest in Summer, earth, spice, and dried meat. Heavy, powdery tannins clamp down on the palate. Best after 2016.

Highly Recommended 2009 Bordeaux (alphabetically by region)


Domaine de Chevalier Rouge: Aromatic wood, black fruit and espresso on the nose. Light-grained tannins and mineral on the palate.

Chateau Haut-Bailly: Earthy spice, blackberry and cocoa nip. Grainy tannins. This one’s all about structure right now.

Chateau Larrivet-Haut-Brion Blanc: White peach and tropical fruit. Lovely.

Chateau Latour-Martillac: Spicy black fruit and game. Light-grained tannins. Very approachable. 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot.

Chateau Malartic-Lagraviere Rouge: Dusty black currant and black cherry aromatics. Just enough structure with juicy cherry fruit and cocoa on the palate.

Chateau Pape Clement: Roasted meat, black cherry and bay leaf. Creamy with very fine powdery tannins that pull it up a bit short right now.

Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge: Exotic gamey spice and wild black fruit. Roundish but with lightly drying tannins. Ready now.

St. Emilion Grand Cru

Chateau Beau-Sejour Becot: Sandalwood, woody perfume and soft black fruit. Powdery tannins. Warming but very tasty.

Chateau-Figeac: Black currant, violets, herb, graphite and coffee. Lean with chalky tannins. More tannin than fruit at the moment, give it some time.

Clos Fourtet: Mixed black and red fruit, spice and wood. Velvety palate, warming.

Chateau Larmande: Earthy spice, old leather and tobacco aromatics. Chalky tannins and mineral on the palate. It’s all about the nose right now, but will loosen up with a few years cellaring.


Chateau Petit-Village: Nose of black currant, spice and oak. The palate surprises with polished tannins and chocolate-covered cherries. Ready to go, but will cellar.


Chateau Chasse-Spleen: Tight nose with exotic spice. Drying tannins matched by plenty of acidity. Restrained by very nice. Hold for three years.

Chateau Poujeaux: Dense berry fruit, graphite and powdery tannins.

Haut Medoc

Chateau Beaumont: Rare roast beef, spice and coffee. At about $19/bottle, this is another great value from Beaumont.

Chateau Belgrave: 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot. Cassis, spice and wood with a silky attack and medium-plus tannins. Very nice.

Chateau Cantemerle: Beautiful black fruit, spice and aromatic woods. Light, chalky tannins and good acidity. Highly Recommended+.

Chateau Citran: Spicy blackberry, black cherry and leather. Lightly drying, fine-grained tannins.

Chateau Coufran: Red cherry, spice, violets and forest floor. Fine, powdery but drying tannins. A very nice effort and really good value.


Chateau Desmirail: Earthy, woody spice and gamey, dark fruit. Chalky tannins and good acidity.

Chateau du Tertre: Subtle, lovely nose of woodsy cologne, dark fruit, incense, sandalwood and spice. Medium-plus powdery tannins. Powerful yet nuanced.

Chateau Kirwan: Juicy, cocoa-covered cherries. Round on the palate with soft tannins.


Chateau Beycheville: Gamey coffee and cherry. Powdery tannins. Interesting, should develop well in the glass.

Chateau Leoville Barton: Leathery spice, cedar and blackberry. Strong tannins. Best 2018 - 2030.

Chateau Talbot: Earthy spice, black fruit and forest floor with prominent, powdery tannins.


Chateau Grand-Puy Ducasse: Cherries, dark flowers and mint with plenty of chalky tannins. Best after 2015.

Chateau Pichon-Longueville (Baron): Tight with red fruit, pretty wood and cocoa. Very chalky, drying tannins. Best from 2018.

For even more detailed coverage of the tasting, see this article by Richard Jennings. Don’t be startled if there are a few points of substantial divergence between our reviews. A number of people at the tasting remarked on very noticeable bottle variation That’s not unexpected with Bordeaux. In addition, most wines were not decanted and just a few minutes of air in a half-empty bottle can open these young wines up quite a bit. The Canon La Gaffeliere is one example. Richard found it closed. Ten minutes later, it welcomed me with open arms.


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This article is original to Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. Photo of Chateau La Tour from Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande by Fred Swan. All rights reserved.