Wine of the Year: Chateau Palmer 2009 Margaux
I must confess, I decided the 2010 Wine Talk Wine of the Year the moment I tasted it. It was late March and I was visiting Chateau Palmer in Margaux during the Bordeaux Primeurs. Barrel samples from the much-anticipated 2009 vintage were being evaluated throughout the region, and there was an air of excitement at every stop.
I was trying my best to ignore the inevitable hype. But I succumbed there on the sedate grounds of one of the greatest chateaux of Bordeaux. The 2009 Chateau Palmer Margaux was the finest Palmer I had ever tasted. The fruit was opulent. The structure was rich in tannin and powerful; the balance exquisite. I had the perfect Palmer in my glass.
This was no small concession from me, for I have followed this outstanding Bordeaux Third Growth for nearly four decades. The first Palmer I purchased was from the superb 1966 vintage. Over the years, Chateau Palmer has consistently outperformed its pedigree. There is little doubt that if the 1855 Bordeaux classification were redrawn, Palmer would move up, possibly to First Growth.
The 2009 Palmer will not be inexpensive when it is released for sale in the United States in approximately 15 months. The 2008 Chateau Palmer retails for about $150, but prices have soared on the quality of the '09 vintage. I expect the 2009 Palmer to come in at slightly under $200 a bottle, although the exchange rate could soften that price if the euro weakens over the next year or so.
Collectors are fond of Palmer because it improves with age for up to two decades or more. Cellared properly it can be a 50-year wine, a factor that enhances its attractiveness at auction.
Chateau Palmer was not without stiff competition. Any number of other 2009 Bordeaux could give it a run, as well as a number of other exceptional wines released over the course of 2010.
The best of the other contenders include the 2007 Phelps Insignia ($200), the 2008 Joseph Drouhin Chablis Grand Cru 'Les Clos' ($80), Marchesi di Gresy Barbaresco Camp Gros Martinenga ($85), Patz & Hall 2007 Hyde Vineyard Pinot Noir ($60) and 2006 Twomey Merlot, Napa Valley ($50).
Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value.
Starborough 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($15) -- Starborough is as reliably Marlborough in taste and style as any Kiwi Sauvignon you will find. With aromas of passion fruit and pungent citrus, it fits the classic Marlborough profile. Easy to quaff and a good match with steamed or raw shellfish, it's an attractively priced, versatile white for any occasion. Rating: 88.
La Follette 2008 Chardonnay, Sangiacomo Vineyard, Sonoma Coast ($30) -- This Chassagne-Montrachet style California Chardonnay is a lovely package for the price. It delivers plenty of ripe fruit and richness without sacrificing the acidity and minerality that separate outstanding Chardonnay from those that are merely good. This vintage is fairly toasty, but the wood notes enhance rather than overwhelm this spicy, exotic Chardonnay from one of California's top hands with this grape. Rating: 94.
Flora Springs 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, Soliloquy Vineyard, Oakville ($20) -- Flora Springs has long produced a stellar Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc under the proprietary name Soliloquy. There was also some level of confusion in the marketplace, however, about what in fact Soliloquy was. More importantly, what was in it. No more. The wine is now clearly labeled Sauvignon Blanc, albeit from Flora Springs' Soliloquy vineyard parcel in Oakville. The wine is stylistically a bit different as well, showing an intriguing combination of flinty minerality with a subtle richness that develops mid-palate. The aromas are a complex array of citrus fruits, such as grapefruit, and stone fruits, such as white peach. The 2009 is truly delicious and beguiling. Rating: 93.
La Crema 2008 Chardonnay, Los Carneros ($30) -- La Crema is something of a Chardonnay specialist, consistently producing excellent wines from this grape grown in various California appellations. The '08 Los Carneros Chard is a good example of the winemaker's deft touch with this grape. Although this wine has a robust alcohol by volume of 14.5 percent, the delicate aromas of lemon oil and spice shine, and the wine is creamy and mouth-filling without being too hot or too heavy. It's big enough, though, that it needs a rich pasta dish or an oily grilled fish to show its best. Rating: 91.
Flora Springs 2009 'Barrel Fermented' Chardonnay, Napa Valley ($30) -- This wine has always defied the conventional wisdom that the heart of the Napa Valley is too warm for Chardonnay. Much of the fruit for this wine had always been sourced from vineyards around Oakville and Rutherford, and in the 20-plus years I've been tasting it, there's never been a miss or anything close. The '09 is a beautifully balanced Chardonnay that exhibits aromas of pear and baked apple, spice, and a whisper of lemon oil that no doubt owes its presence to the wine's other vineyard sources in the cool Carneros district of the Napa Valley. Rating: 91.
Clayhouse 2009 Grenache Blanc, Paso Robles ($23) -- The Paso region struggles mightily with white grape varieties other than those whose origins are in the Rhone Valley of France. The Clayhouse Grenache Blanc is an excellent example of the sort of grape that works. It doesn't have to be overly ripe to be interesting, and at 13 percent alcohol, you might say it is on the lean side for a California white, especially from Paso Robles. This wine is clean and fresh, showing aromas of peach and citrus. I highly recommend it for patio quaffing in summer, but I would not hesitate to serve it with savory appetizers, either. Rating: 88.
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