Jane Anson reports on a tasting of more than 70 Bordeaux 2008 wines, including first growths, and hosted this month by the BI merchant in the 10th anniversary of the vintage.
Most years gently slide into oblivion after a while, and are noted only as anniversaries by those who got married, had babies, lost loved ones.
There are a few marked exceptions, and they are usually not for the best of reasons. 1929 would be an obvious one, 2001 another. The bookends of 1939 and 1945, clearly.
Joining those ranks was 2008, with the stock market crash that arrived on Friday September 29, when the Dow began its 50% drop (not beating the 90% drop in 1929, but still precipitous) and ushered in an economic crisis that continues to make its effects felt.
Re-cap on Bordeaux 2008 weather
On September 29 in Bordeaux, in contrast, the harvesters were feeling fairly relaxed. It hadn’t been the easiest of years. Extremely changeable conditions, starting with a difficult Spring that created diseases pressure, with some shattering (coulure) that led to uneven ripening later in the season. Frost in early April hit Merlots particularly hard (as well as Sauternes, which was almost as badly hit as in 1991 and 2017).
Summer was kind of upside down, with a hot July but a cool June and August, before an Indian summer came along to soothe frayed nerves.
The weather improved as of August 26, just in time for children to return to school, ushering in an Indian summer that lasted for two months, with any showers that fell over September tending to be light and manageable.
The 2008 harvest
There was some Merlot picking underway by the time the stock market went into freefall, and a realisation that grapes on sandy soils or cooler terroirs hadn’t exactly reached full ripeness.
This was also true of some Cabernets that displayed pyrazine green pepper notes and overall tannins tended towards rusticity in some cases.
But the best terroirs gave their grapes the ability to stay on the vines right up to mid or even late October, allowing for the long slow ripening that ushers in rich concentrated berries, silky tannins and great aromatic potential.
Pomerol’s early-ripening soils proved their worth, giving some excellent results, as did the well-drained gravels and those with generally low water reserves.
Over in the Médoc, you’ll see high levels of Cabernet Sauvignon in many wines – 82% in Calon Ségur, 94% in Petit Mouton, 85% in Cos d’Estournel – and also moderate alcohol levels that are a signature of the vintage, hovering around 13 and 13.5% in most Left Banks.
Where the 2008 wines sit now
Now a decade on, the 2008s are starting to be opened fairly regularly in Bordeaux, and I’ve tasted a number of them that have not managed to fully soften their slightly awkward early tannins.
They’ve made me begin to reassess my feeling back during en primeur that there were some highly promising wines in the vintage.
But the annual BI Fine Wines tasting in London gathers together the very top red wine names, 73 of them (no Lafleur this year, but that was pretty much the only one missing I think).
That there are some luscious wines that in the vast majority of cases these are to be enjoyed now and over the next decade.
2008 is not the biggest blockbuster year, and the best wines have sexiness and a ripe structure without going overboard, with acidity keeping the oak in check.
Overall I would call Bordeaux 2008 a silver year, following the Decanter World Wine Awards model, as you can see from the number of 91 to 94s that I have given.
There are not many 95-plus (14 in total, so under 15% of these top names compared to 24 on the Right Bank alone in 2015 for my recent in-bottle tastings), and 11 under 90 points (quite significant, again bearing in mind these are all starry names).
No 100s, but two at 98. So a good showing overall, with a few stand outs.
It pretty much confirms the hierarchy of that gilded half-decade as being 2005, 2010 and 2009 at the top, then 2008 comes in much higher than 2007 and just a tiny bit higher than 2006.
Bordeaux 2008 prices
And worth remembering that there are a good few of these wines out there in the cellars of those of us who don’t have our own chef or second home in Malibut (or more appropriately Cap Ferret).
That’s because, although the troops of harvesters might not have followed the news from Wall Street as they brought the grapes in over September and October, by the time the en primeur season had rolled around in 2009, the owner and directors of the chateaux certainly had.
They were nervous enough at the global economic picture to post huge price drops on the 2007 prices (which in themselves had come down heavily from 2006 and especially 2005).
We reported at the time that the ‘market was in charge’ and by mid April (astonishingly early in en primeur timescales) Latour had released an opening tranche at €110 per bottle, with Lafite and Margaux at the same price and Mouton at €100.
Haut-Brion risked annoying its stable mates with €130, which still gave early movers a huge opportunity.
Not everyone displayed the same restraint, but on the whole this was the last of the really affordable En Primeurs.
So the good news for those that risked the market and bought in the still-bumpy financial picture of 2009 is that there is plenty to enjoy here.
And for those looking to buy today, the prices on the Place de Bordeaux remain less punchy than the more heralded years like 2009 or 2010, but still higher than on release.
I’m looking at Lynch Bages 2008, for example, which is trading on the Place for somewhere upwards of €100 (for merchants buying ex-Bordeaux) compared to its exit price of €32, translating into a case price in the UK of just under £1,300, while Léoville Barton is being traded at over €70 on the Place de Bordeaux today where it came out at €27.
So, no longer the no-brainer that they were at the time, but in some cases the 2008s are worth the investment – and you’re not going to have to wait much longer to benefit from opening them.
Translated by ICY
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