2008 Bordeaux

An overlooked vintage of a popular region


There’s no doubt that in many markets Bordeaux is hot once again. Given the amazing media hype of the 2009 and 2010 vintages, it might be easy to forget the situation the Bordelaise were facing late in 2008. Not only was the world’s economy melting down in just about every traditional fine wine market, but Bordeaux had just come off its 2005 high with a less acclaimed 2006 vintage, and the downright problematic 2007.  

The growing season of 2008 didn’t promise much hope. It featured, with the exception of July, a very cool, damp growing season. The vines suffered because of it, enduring bouts of rot, mildew and finishing out the summer in an un-ripe state packed full of the easily available water. The Bordelaise had but one hope, a long Indian Summer. Lo and behold, with just such a summer they were blessed.

Photo courtesy filtran via Flickr/CC
So the wines are great, right? So many times I’ve heard that the quality of season is determined during harvest that it can easily be taken as some sort of gospel. The truth is that even though Bordeaux enjoyed weather that allowed for latest harvest in decades, all is not love and roses in 2008 Bordeaux.

The grapes had an abundance of both acid and tannins in 2008, which were married to a fine, ripe yet fresh fruit profile. It was a year when delicacy and restraint were needed in the cellars. While many producers did in fact manage to express what Mother Nature had provided, a few seemed determined to squeeze a bit more out of the grapes than perhaps they should have.

This, unfortunately, is the tendency of the day. We rarely see delicate wines from delicate years. Instead, the upward push of pricing has created a marketplace where even a retrenchment of pricing leaves many Chateaux having to justify their tariff. The easiest way to do this of course is to produce something important every year, whether the year warrants it or not.

I have to admit to being a fan of 2004 and looking back fondly on 1999 precisely because of the style of wines those vintages produced. They were leaner, lighter and fresh. It is easy drinking Bordeaux if there is such a thing, and easy in the pocket as well. Today we have people shooting for the moon in many vintages and, sadly, missing.

I have tasted a few 2008 wines so far. This set of wines, tasted blind, only add slightly to what is an admittedly small set of data points. If I need to extrapolate based in this limited set of data, and obviously I do, I would have to say that I am very hesitant to recommend the vintage as a whole.

While some wines did very well, notably the Leoville Barton, Branaire Ducru and Potensac enjoyed in this tasting, many of the wines I’ve tried seem to be a bit muddled on the palate. I like the generally red-fruited nature of the vintage and the elegant, crisp mouth feel of the best wines, but quite a few seem simple to me while others come off as a bit chunky and clumsy. It was probably a more difficult vintage than many producers have lot, and this coupled with the generally aggressive pricing to be found in Bordeaux tends to leave me a little cold when it comes to the 2008 vintage.

In the end, I doubt I will buy any of these wines, though sale pricing may tempt me. This is not necessarily because they fail on their merits, but rather because the best wines are neither light and elegant nor robust and bold. They simply fall somewhere smack in the middle. Classic is what they should be called, and if you enjoyed the Bordeaux produced in the 1980s these wines should be right up your alley. Come to think of it, I enjoyed the wines Bordeaux produced in the 1980s so perhaps I need to reconsider by position on these wines. That can only mean one thing: more tasting is in order!

2008 Bordeaux Blind Tasting

Château Leoville Barton St. Julien (2008)
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Duluc de Branaire-Ducru Red Bordeaux Blend St. Julien (2008)
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Potensac X Owc (2008)
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Château Carbonnieux Red Bordeaux Blend Pessac-Léognan (2008)
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Château Lagrange St. Julien les Fiefs de Lagrange (2008)
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La Dame de Montrose (2008)
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Cantemerle Haut Medoc Red Blend (2008)
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Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: davidboyer
    208575 26

    Hi Gregory,

    I hate to seem like I'm beating you up but it really is not my intention. I know that you know wine very well and that you have a lot of experience with wine. But when it comes to Bordeaux, perhaps you don't drink it much or when you do it’s probably not your go-to wine.

    Your observations about the ‘08 vintage are quite accurate but I have to comment on your tasting notes. The problem is that you, like so many other people, are drinking these wines too young and some of them WAY too young. If you don't drink Bordeaux much, if you don't collect it, store it, drag it out and taste it along the way, it's difficult to get a handle on how these wines develop in bottle. Great vintage or poor vintage, these wines almost always need bottle time and the one's that can be consumed early are rarely worth buying.

    Bordeaux exacts a commitment from its proponents and time is one of the most important of them. I understand why people that don't collect Bordeaux or drink it often, tend to have negative reactions to it. What many people don't know is the remarkable pleasure these great wines can offer, its uniqueness, its honesty, replete with mind-blowing complexity from secondary and tertiary flavors and aromas. But those things don't happen overnight and drinking Bordeaux too young will almost always be a disappointing experience.

    Some of the wines you scored are pretty big in terms of structure so many of them were probably simply closed down at this point and some will not really come around for another six to ten years! Because the vintage wasn't great to begin with it may not make much sense to store a wine that long but almost all of them still will improve with age, some markedly. I just hate to see someone as influential as you are, in the trade and knowledgeable, react to Bordeaux in the same manner a novice would. Bordeaux is inarguably one of the very best wine regions in the world so I think your readers would benefit from learning more about how to understand it better so they too can experience its greatness.

    By the way, even though it seems like the '09 and '10 Bordeaux vintage was over-hyped, neither vintage was. I tasted through hundreds of them (barrel tasting) last year and these are absolute gems from top to bottom.

    Very Truly Yours,

    David Boyer


    Apr 24, 2012 at 5:28 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Hi David,

    No problem, you raise fair points.

    Allow me to respond by saying that people need to know about these sorts of wines before they buy them and hide them in the cellar, but that is almost a distraction. The vast majority of the wines will be consumed far before they are ready for my palate. Witness the success of Potensac both commercially and in this tasting.

    I like playing the prognostication game as much as the next guy, but at the same time I don't want to play any games or live in a fantasy world where one taste of a wine is considered to be the basis for an easy extrapolation of its life. I would much rather be conservative, and wrong in my assessments of these wines, hence my take on them.

    I can only say that I am calling these wines as I see them. I found the balance and depth requite for ageing in the Leoville Barton (arguable the meanest wine of the bunch) and the Ducru. The Potensac is drinking well today and the Carbonnieux shows promise but I do not think the rest of the wines were up to snuff, and I can not recommend that people invest in them based on what I tasted.

    As far as drinking much Bordeaux, no I don't drink that much any more. I purchased the wines regularly throughout the 1980s and the first half of the nineties, returning to the market for both the 2000 and the 2005 vintages, but, as you mention, Bordeaux is at its best with some age on it. I continue to enjoy the wines from the 80s and 1990, but the remainder of my Bordeaux is in slumber. That means I drink it regualrly if infrequently.

    With a focus on Bordeaux Blends this week I'm following up this peek at 2008 with a look back at Poujeaux and Meyney form the 1980s on Thursday. Lovely wines from when Bordeaux was both affordable, and less friendly that it is today. I hope you enjoy the reviews in that piece more than these.



    Apr 24, 2012 at 6:02 PM

  • Snooth User: Stevern86
    909211 36

    Interesting Dialog guys. Good points all around. I have been interested in wine for 40 years and have found many ups and downs with Bordeaux. I agree with David that 2009 and 2010 are as good as the hype. The years give you insight into the future of these wines based on how they are drinking now. I am buying all I can afford of the 09's and 10's from Bordeaux and burgundy. I think these beat the 2000 and 2005 vintages for me. They did not quite live up to the hype. I will give a little more to the 05 Burgundies. I think Bordeaux is poised for something of a comeback in the moderate price range from all the thin astringent stuff they have been producing. Many of those went from bad to worse over time. Also as I get older I appreciate a wine that drinks well a little younger too. At 55 I dont want to wait till I'm 70 to enjoy them. Who knows what will happen between now and then?

    Apr 24, 2012 at 11:19 PM

  • Totally agree!

    Apr 25, 2012 at 4:46 PM

  • Snooth User: magmag1
    1155896 8

    Given the Hype of the '09 Bordeaux wines, if you do your homework you can acquire some beautiful wines from the '08 vintage at a fraction of the cost. Regarding the list above, I have tried the 2008 Certan de May. It seems to me that this wine is quite expansive, with good staying power. And the auction prices seem about right too, as seen below...


    Nov 04, 2012 at 1:48 PM

  • Snooth User: MMack1
    1158624 8

    Although I think you're right MagMag1 that the '08 Certan de May is a nice wine, I happen to be more partial to the '08 Branaire DuCru, a truly beautiful wine, at around the same price. https://truebottle.com/index.html?a...

    Nov 11, 2012 at 2:52 PM

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