This is a longer version of an article also published in the Financial Times.
The 2011 bordeaux primeurs campaign has been not so much a damp squib as an IED so sodden as to be completely ineffectual. The quality of the wine is in general B+ to the As scored by both 2009 and 2010, and the prices announced so far have not been low enough, lower than any other current vintage, to attract a serious level of buying. The many dampeners have included the fact that potential buyers bought 2009s and 2010s so heavily, that these two vintages were released at such high prices that they have hardly gained in value since, and general mismanagement of the campaign. What with public holidays and Vinexpo Asia Pacific in Hong Kong, there were so relatively few suitable trading days in the principal primeurs month of May that one Tuesday saw no fewer than 48 different 2011s released on a single day. Inevitably, some of them slipped through the commercial cracks into complete obscurity.
Even at their dramatically reduced release prices, few of the 2011s you might have heard of are priced at much less than £400 a dozen (and the first growths are more than 10 times this). Then you will have to pay storage, taxes and delivery – and that for a B+ vintage that will not be ready to drink for many years.
To my mind it would be crazy to invest in smart 2011s when there are so many keenly priced 2009s lower down the pecking order that are already delicious but will continue to improve over the next five to 10 years. The great appeal of the super-ripe 2009 vintage is that it is so consistent, and there are great finds even in such unglamorous appellations as Bordeaux, Médoc and Premières Côtes de Bordeaux (an appellation that has recently been renamed Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux).
Now is the time to pounce on these. In the UK anyway, relatively inexpensive red bordeaux from the 2008, 2009 and 2010 vintages can easily be found in commercial circulation now – both on supermarket shelves and from many of the more specialist retailers such as those listed below. I strongly suggest that you take advantage of this before they all move on to the leaner 2011s that, lower down the Bordeaux ranks, are not nearly as toothsome.
It's a little early to broach the magnificently classic 2010 vintage in Bordeaux, whose wines have so much of everything, especially tannin, but I see that Britain's biggest supermarket has already moved to this vintage for its which is, I'd submit, two years away from being ready to drink. But it is only £7.79 and is available apparently in more than 240 branches of Tesco, making it extremely accessible. Meanwhile Tesco's big rival Sainsbury's can offer a choice of 2009s that are respectable enough: Ch La Tulipe de la Garde 2009 Bordeaux Supérieur at £10.15 and Ch Barreyres 2009 Haut-Médoc at £11.49.
But these supermarket offerings are far from the most delicious red bordeaux at these sort of prices. It is generally much more sensible to head for a more traditional merchant with a long history of dealing with the proprietors and négociants of Bordeaux. Haynes Hanson & Clark of London SW3 and Stow-on-the-Wold, for instance, seem to take particular care with their selection of less expensive bordeaux. Among their current range, I was particularly taken by their Ch Les Reuilles 2009 Bordeaux, a beautifully rich, Merlot-dominated blend from the Entre Deux Mers that should drink well over the next three years. At £8.30 it is hardly more expensive than the much leaner and less interesting Tesco Finest* 2010. HHC's Ch Roc de Levraut 2009 Bordeaux Supérieur is only 50p a bottle more but is almost as good as the Ch Les Reuilles 2009, though is rather softer and less structured. And the really smart buy from Haynes Hanson & Clark is Ch Poitevin 2009 Médoc at £13.30; a bottle that should continue to improve for a good five or six years.
This wine was judged worthy of Cru Bourgeois status, now awarded to individual wines each year rather than to individual properties for every vintage. I cannot stress enough what great value there is to be found among 2009 Crus Bourgeois (which are so much more consistent and successful than the 2008 Crus Bourgeois – I look forward very much to tasting the 2010 Crus Bourgeois once they are in bottle in late September). My colleague Julia Harding MW and I tasted nearly 200 of them last September and found several that outperformed some of the classed growths. One of my personal favourites was Ch Cambon La Pelouse 2009 Haut-Médoc which, coincidentally, can be found chez Haynes Hanson & Clark in three different bottle sizes for around £20 per 75cl, and also (from late June) in 189 larger Sainsbury's stores at £18.99. Another was Ch Labat 2009 Haut-Médoc which Laithwaites and the Sunday Times Wine Club are offering at only £14.99.
Each of the rival historic wine merchants of London's St James's Street seems, hearteningly, to put real effort into their selection of less expensive bordeaux, as well as clearly leaning on their sales of much more expensive claret for their profits. Berry Bros have their own-label generic bottlings and these are currently dominated by the luscious 2009 vintage.
I loved their generic Berry's 2009 Pomerol from Ch Feyit-Clinet and thought it delivered a massive amount of sophistication and pleasure for £19.95. The Cazes family of Ch Lynch Bages and Villa Bel Air have supplied the perfectly creditable, if very slightly oaky at present, Berry's 2009 Pauillac and Berry's Extra Ordinary Claret 2009 Graves at £19.95 and £13.65 respectively, but I slightly resent the fact that on the labels the name of the retailer is bigger than that of the appellation.
Berry's Good Ordinary Claret 2009 Bordeaux is £8.75 but at this sort of price you would be well advised to resist the temptation to advertise Berry's and cross St James's Street to pick up a bottle of fragrant, Margaux-like Luc Thienpont, Z 2009 Bordeaux at £8.28 from Justerini & Brooks which should drink well for the next three or four years at least. J&B can offer two more bargains in the form of celebrated oenologist Denis Dubourdieu's Ch Reynon 2009 Premières Côtes de Bordeaux at £11.78 which still needs a bit more time but is very serious indeed.
Other good buys include Jonathan Maltus's very well made but delicious already Ch Teyssier 2009 St-Émilion that is under £20 and quite widely distributed in the UK. But the best guide is to see our 928 reviews of 2009 red bordeaux in our collection of nearly 70,000 tasting notes on Purple Pages of JancisRobinson.com.
WHERE TO FIND GOOD-VALUE 2009 BORDEAUX
Berry Bros & Rudd
Cambridge Wine Merchants
Haynes Hanson & Clark
Justerini & Brooks
Nickolls & Perks
Stone Vine & Sun
The Wine Society