Hidden Gem of the Month: 2009 Cos d’Estournel Is a Legendary, But Controversial, Wine

2009 Cos d’Estournel

For many collectors, the 2009 Cos d’Estournel is one of the estate’s greatest vintages of all time. Photo Credit: Wikimedia CC user Megan Mallen

 If you want to get a room full of shy wine enthusiasts to talk, just say the words, “2009 Cos d’Estournel. I’ve seen collectors come close to fisticuffs over this seemingly unobtrusive vintage. This is the very definition of a polarizing wine; most collectors either think it’s the wine of the century, or that it’s the poster child for Bordeaux’s downfall. (If you’re looking for gifting wine ideas, this wine probably isn’t the one to choose). Perhaps more than any other modern Bordeaux wine, 2009 Cos d’Estournel means different things to different types of collectors. An enthusiast who loves an ultra-ripe, drinkable Bordeaux will find everything they need in this vintage, whereas those who prefer to stick to a strict interpretation of Bordeaux’s traditions will find the wine borderline offensive.

Regardless of which side of the fence you land on, the power and pure deliciousness of 2009 Cos d’Estournel can’t be denied. This is a wine meant for a bold, modern collector who appreciates tradition, but who also enjoys breaking tradition when the weather calls for it.

Bringing Bordeaux into the 21st Century

The 2009 vintage was the perfect year for Chateau Cos d’Estournel to experiment with new, modern winemaking techniques. Significant sunshine throughout the region produced extremely ripe grapes, and the resulting wine was especially high in alcohol. Getting Bordeaux’s classic, refined flavors out of these concentrated grapes proved difficult for winemakers–the wines simply wanted to be bold and fruit-forward that year. While some estates attempted to tame the ripeness through early harvests, Cos d’Estournel leaned into this natural fruit concentration. At first, winemaker Jean-Guillaume Prats thought about harvesting the youngest vines early in the season. Instead, he decided to pick grapes from the oldest vines first, since they’d already fully ripened, leaving the young vine grapes to ripen even further.

This wasn’t the only break with tradition on Cos d’Estournel that year. Prats also used the estate’s new gravity cellars on the 2009 Cos d’Estournel. Rather than touching the wine by hand, or forcing the grapes through the pressing process via heavy machinery, Cos d’Estournel now lets gravity do the work for them. All of the winemaking equipment is connected and flows in a downhill process. This means that winemakers don’t have to move the wine from tank to barrel manually, since gravity naturally pushes the wine from tank to barrel. The theory behind this new technique is that the wine tastes more pure, with a better definition of tannin and fruit flavors. Winemakers believe that since the grapes are treated more gently and given more time to move through the pressing and fermentation process, the process results in a more balanced wine.

Controversy Brews Over the 2009 Vintage

Warm sunshine, fully-ripe grapes, and new, improved winemaking equipment seems like it would be any winemaker’s dream, but for some critics, Cos d’Estournel’s transformation in 2009 was almost sacrilegious. Over the decades, the estate had become famous for a refined, almost reserved style of Bordeaux. Many of Cos d’Estournel’s fans associated the wines with beauty and elegance, knowing that every bottle would develop slowly over time in the cellar, even if they weren’t the stars of the show in their youth. In short, Cos d’Estournel represented classic, traditional Bordeaux. But the 2009 Cos d’Estournel doesn’t taste anything like any other vintage the estate has ever produced. While many Cos wines can be difficult to approach in their youth, the 2009 already impresses on the palate. This fact has left many critics wondering whether the wine will age well, or if it will fizzle out before it reaches its 20th birthday. So far, those concerns are unfounded–the wine looks like it will have lasting power.

Critics have also expressed concern over the New World style of 2009 Cos d’Estournel. By leaning into the ripeness of the grapes that year, Jean-Guillaume Prats produced a wine that tastes more like Harlan than the Cos d’Estournel of old, which brought out that old debate about New World-style wine versus Old World wine. Prats knows that this isn’t to everyone’s taste. In an interview with James Suckling, he said that he personally loves the New World style of California Cabernet, and that he makes wines that line up with his own tastes. He calls the wine, “Excessive, but also classic, balanced, and harmonious.” Despite the intense fruit flavors, in other words, Cos d’Estournel hasn’t lost the balance of flavors that made it famous.

Investing in 2009 Cos d’Estournel

To decide whether 2009 Cos d’Estournel is the right investment for you, you’ll need to consider the wine’s personality and its aging potential. First, think about whether you prefer New World or Old World wines. Fans of New World blends will find plenty of qualities to love in the 2009, including high alcohol and rich, dark fruit flavors that linger on the tongue for minutes at a time. But, if you’re more of a fan of Old World styles, you still might find something in the 2009 that appeals to you. Although the vintage is a fruit bomb, it also balances this out with high tannins and a healthy dose of acidity. It certainly won’t taste like any other Bordeaux that you have in your cellar.

As for its aging potential, Prats expects the wine to be in its prime over the next three or four years, yet it will continue to mature in the bottle for decades. He compares it to another legend, the 1945 Mouton-Rothschild. Like the 2009 Cos d’Estournel, the 1945 Mouton was easy to drink in its youth, which initially worried some collectors. However, this wine has proven to surpass all original expectations, and remains a legendary unicorn vintage for many collectors. It’s possible that the 2009 will have that same power.

In general, when it comes to buying 2009 Cos d’Estournel, stick with what you know you love. Just because fans of New World wines adore this vintage doesn’t mean that you have to invest in it yourself. However, I recommend at least giving the 2009 a second thought. It has more balance and elegance than you might realize.

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