What is the quality level of 2011 Bordeaux?
The quality level of 2011 Bordeaux was quite different than expected when we arrived in Bordeaux the first of April. Prior to our trip, we had been hearing mixed reviews and information from the wine writers and the vigneron. What we did know for sure was that the 2011 vintage beared no resemblance to the 2009 or 2010 vintages. Even though we travel to Bordeaux each year to evaluate the current vintage, it was particularly important to be on the ground, tasting the wines and receiving feedback from other industry professionals and winemakers for such a vintage. Why? In an uneven, non-homogenous year such as 2011, there are only a handful of Chateau (primarily First Growths) where you could almost blindly state that their wine is of an expected quality level and to buy the wine site unseen. Even these wines need to be looked at, analyzed and questioned as to their quality level to be sure they meet the standards expected from such a storied growing region in a challenging growing season.
With a cold and dry winter, a hot and dry spring that propelled the vegetative growth, and a hot June followed by a cooler July conditions imposed strict work on the soils reminiscent of 2003. After two legendary vintages, the 2011 is a vintage that required a strict selection and diligent work of the vigneron to achieve a crop of substance. The hallmarks of the vintage from a weather perpsective were the drought conditions that effected everyone and damaging hail storms which affected only a few. Palmer & Cos d’Estournel were some of the unfortunate ones that had their yields lowered due to hail storms and had to deal with the drought conditions. A number of Bordelaise referred to the searing heat of June 26th and June 27th. Temperatures at Palmer were measured as high as 101.8 degrees in the shade! With the intense heat and sunshine, even the properly managed vines with proper leaf cover still experienced “sun burned” grapes. The communes blessed with deep clay soils that hold water (St. Estephe & Pomerol) had an environmental advantage over communes with less clay soil content. This still did not guarantee success, particularly across St. Estephe.
Overall we found the best reds to be full of pleasure with pure fruit, elegance, low alcohols, nice crisp acids, firm dry tannins and long mineral driven finishes. In regards to the Medoc, Pauillac was king with its uniformity of powerfully structured tannins, rich deep black fruit cores and impressive gravelly notes for the best winess. Second would be the Saint-Julien’s which didn’t seem to have the power of the Pauillac’s but did display nice concentrations of black fruits with slightly less tannic austerity than Pauillac. Overall the Saint-Julien’s had a rich creaminess on the attack and nice length, although a few finished with an awkward sharpness. Aside from the top properties in Saint Estephe (Montrose in particular) and Margaux (Ch Margaux & Palmer) these appellations were an overall disappointment in terms of consistency. We found a muted dullness in many of the Saint-Estephe’s and although they had a good degree of
power there was an overall lacking of depth and balance. Something was simply missing? A few finished quite harshly with a medicinal component that I found unwelcome. Comparatively, Margaux was a notch above Saint Estephe. Second
only to Pauillac in overall quality and consistency for red was Pomerol. Vieux Chateau Certan was a marvelous revelation and set the bar high for the other chateau of this tiny appellation. Alexandre Thienpont, owner and winemaker, gave us some insight in to the 2011 VCC comparing it to 2009 & 2010. Referencing the easy to see quality and likeability of the 2 other historic vinatges: “Everyone likes barbeque, this (2011) is haut cuisine.” Alexandre was particularly keen on the Cabernet Franc he produced for the vintage.
Saint-Emilion was the biggest mixed bag of all the UGC classified tastings. We found very few compelling 2011’s from this appellation. Since St. Emilion is such a large appellation, we usually see variation from producer to producer each year. In 2011, you can see a marked difference from each property. If a vigneron harvested too early, he was met with underripe grapes. Also, this is the land of the “garagiste” where high extraction is the norm. Those producers that followed their normal extraction game plan with less than ripe fruit produced wines that were not in balance. Angular acidity or tannins that just overwhelmed the fruit that was present. One of the highlights of St. Emilion was Cheval Blanc. Not only for their 2011, which we all enjoyed, but also because this was our first visit to the new chais that was opened 2011. Depending on who you speak with, this is either a great piece of modern architecture or just the wrong type of building out in this quiet little commune. While we are not architecture experts, we all agreed that it is an impressive new facility.
The red wines of Pessac-Leognan and Graves were good. Light red wines with nice fruits, low alcohols and good acidities. These wines will be great to accompany meals but will never be mistaken for powerhouses. The overall quality of the reds for the appellation was one of the more consistent appellations around of the consistency level of Margaux so right in the middle of the pack.
Now on to the white wines of 2011. The news is good for fans of the dry and sweet white wines. This vintage is stellar. For dry whites: “Racy”, “zesty”, “lazer beam like acidity”, “mouthwatering”, “beautifully perfumed”, long and juicy citrus stone fruit” were written over and over again. One cannot say enough about the overall consistency, freshness and quality of these dry whites. Lovers of the Sauvignon Blanc grape will be rewarded for years to come. Philibert Perrin, one of the owners of Chateau Carbonnieux, stated that 2011 is one of the best white vinatges in the past 10 years.
Sweet Whites/Sauternes: This vintage will certainly rival the other recent great years (2007 & 2001) in terms of magnitude and depth of flavor. “Profound, complete & etheral.” These are opulent and rich while showing refinement and grace. While knocking you over with a bowl full of honeyed, exotic fruit these wines also deliver precise and delicate minerality. We highly recommend that Sauternes collectors and fans looks very hard at the 2011’s. You will be rewarded in years to come as these wines continue to evolve.
Here are our top wines by appellation, in no particular order:
St. Estephe – Montrose, Tronquoy de St. Anne, Haut-Beausejour, Lafon Rochet
Pauillac – Latour, Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, Pichon Baron, Grand Puy Lacoste, Pontet Canet, Grand Puy Ducasse, d’Armailhac, Duhart Milon, Haut Batailley
St. Julien – Leoville Las Cases, Ducru Beaucaillou, Saint Pierre, Branaire Ducru, Leoville Poyferre, Le Petit Lion de Leoville Las Cases, Beychevelle, Lalande Borie
Margaux – Margaux, Palmer, Pavillon Rouge du Ch Margaux, Issan, Kirwan, Marquis de Terme, Malescot St. Exupery
Pessac Leognan/Graves Red – Haut Brion, La Mission Hauit Brion, Latour Martillac, Domaine de Chevalier
St. Emilion – Cheval Blanc, Troplong Mondot, La Couspaude, Quinault L’Enclos, La Chapelle de Ausone
Pomerol – Vieux Chateau Certan, Petit Village, La Conseillante, Beauregard, La Pointe, La Croix de Gay
Pessac-Leognan/Graves White – Carbonnieux, Smith Haut Lafitte, Domaine de Chevalier, Malartic Lagraviere, Larrivet Haut Brion, La Mission Haut Brion, Haut Brion, Latour Martillac, La Louviere Blanc, De Fieuzal Blanc
Sauternes – Yquem, Rieussec, de Fargues, Myrat, Guiraud, Doisy Vedrines, Suduiraut, Nairac, Lafaurie Peyraguey, Filhot, Sigalas Rabaud