the 2009 Bordeaux vintage: wine merchants in hysterics or hysterically good?

by Stevie on June 9, 2010

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this carpet is so silken that it feels like cashmere

I got the 2009 Bordeaux Vintage Report from K and L Wine Merchants in the mail the other day. They’re rhapsodically praising it with a mathematical formula printed in large lettering right on the cover:

“’2009 = 1947X + 1982Y + 2005Z’ or ‘PURE CASHMERE’”

Now I majored in mathematics in college so this complex formula didn’t alarm me at all. If we let X = 0 and Y = 0, then Z = 1.001995. Alternatively, X and Z can be set to zero, thus, making Y =1.0136226. Of course, you could change it around again with X = 57, Y = 786 making Z = -831.33267, more or less. You get the idea. If you were to graph all of the points defined by this equation, it would form a plane in three dimensional space, tending to slope downward as X and Y get bigger and upward as X and Y become more negative. Though I’m sure that is not what Clyde Beffa intended with the equation.

I think that Joe Z really has a point in the June K and L newsletter, which arrived the same day as the Bordeaux report, when he writes:

The wine world is populated with cliché, an unavoidable occurrence. The very act of subjective description (make no mistake, objectivity here is an aspiration and nothing more) lends itself to all manner of tired hyperbole that resides in the thin air of repetitive analogy.

At least this equation is a very creative description for a Bordeaux vintage.

The “pure cashmere” part has me perplexed. When I first started really paying attention to wine and wine writing, I was mostly focused on the Rhône, leaving little mental space for Bordeaux. It didn’t help that Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson in their World Atlas of Wine describe Bordeaux as “cerebral” and a “sheer intellectual challenge” in the very first paragraph on the subject. I drink wine to relax, for gosh sake! I’m not planning on getting a PhD. Could you be more specific?

And that’s the problem with taste descriptions of Bordeaux. They’re constantly vague; even more vague than those for Rhône and other French wines, if that can be possible. Listen to some of the terms in the K and L Bordeaux newsletter this month: “spicy nose and sexy entry,” “solid wine. Well made and a value,” “semi-new wave oaky, minty aromas,” “very lush and refined,” “sweet and racy,” “deep color,” “heavenly flavors,” “masculine and firm—though a bit tight?” “super sexy entry—soft and elegant.” The last two have to be my favorite of the bunch.

Of course, I‘ve selected these at random and somewhat arbitrarily. Some of the descriptions are more specific: “56% cabernet sauvignon, 38% (very ripe) merlot, 4% cabernet franc, 2% petit verdot,” “perfumey nose of black licorice and spice,” “seductive and rich on the nose, with blackberry liqueur and rich oak.”
Are we talking about hiring prostitutes (“super sexy” or “masculine and firm”), going to church (“heavenly flavors”) or shopping for expensive garments (“soft and elegant,” “pure cashmere”) here?

“Pure cashmere,” “pure cashmere,” hmmm… I do sort of get the fabric analogy at least. When we recently sampled wines at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in Napa, a lot of the reds did in fact taste creamy smooth; a feeling akin to rubbing your hands across silk or very fine cotton sheets. But is that what I’m really looking for in a wine?

I get the sense from these overly dramatic, fuzzy, vaguely sexualized histrionic descriptions that wine writers do indeed think that the 2009 Bordeaux vintage is a good one; one of the best in their collective memories, if I’m reading right. Well, that’s a good beginning. But will I like it?

Much Bordeaux, despite arguments to the contrary, needs either to be purchased before it can be tasted (as it flies off the shelves so quickly) and/or must age for a long time before it can truly be enjoyed. Since I’m a newbie, this leaves me with some problems. Bordeaux is pricy. The K&L vintage report itself reads like a quarterly mutual fund prospectus. And, unlike other expensive purchases, you can’t test drive it, like for a new car, or have it inspected before purchase, like for a new house.

I must rely on the vague but glowing hysterics of wine merchants and professional wine writers and just hope that indeed I will also find these expensive wines “sensual,” “super sexy,” “heavenly” and “masculine” when the time finally comes to drink them in five, ten or thirty years. You guys better know what you’re doing!

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Tom @ Tall Clover Farm February 16, 2011 at 7:51 pm

Clarence, I’m smitten, as are Boz and Gracie. Such a cute mug!

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