Bordeaux 2011 – A Preliminary Overview from Someone Who Tasted
by David Allen MW
After spending four days as part of a group fully immersed in the bun-fight that was the 2011 en-primeur tastings and having had a few days now to reflect upon what we encountered, my conclusions are currently quite mixed, leading me to believe the fate of the vintage is dependent on how these wines are priced.
We were fortunate to try most of the significant wines of the vintage, many of which were pleasant surprises; I believe 2011 will for the most part prove to be an above average vintage. Many of the wines tasted at the top Châteaux were very good. At the same time only a tiny handful of wines were truly compelling in the way the top 2009s and some of the 2010s were.
If priced at reasonable levels this vintage has the potential to supply wonderful drinking winesfrom chateaux many of us thought we would never be able to afford to buy again. If not we would all be better off buying the 2007s, 2008s to drink and the 2009s and 2010s as investments.
I have read comments suggesting the trade are busy “bigging up” the vintage – this may be so in some quarters, but it would be a dangerous approach for the trade to unduly inflate the vintage’s merits as the quality of some of these wines already threatens to undermine producers’ inclinations to offer them at prices the market will find attractive.
The Character of the Wines
Major positives from the vintage are that most of the Red Wineshave concentration, fresh acidity and balanced alcohols – the combination producing quite classically framed wines.
These are not wines for particularly early drinking many have huge tannins and quite high levels of fruit ripeness, while likely to come round before the 2010s this cannot be described as a light or elegant vintage.
Aromas in many wines were subdued and savoury. Until we reached the UGC Margaux tasting I was beginning to wonder if I had a sinus problem as I was having to work hard to find fruit aromas on so many wines. Even the wines of Margaux seemed to be showing more ripe red fruit aromas and less violet perfume than normal. I would also point to the scarcity of the use of the term cassisto describe Médoc wines, where normally I would expect to use the term frequently I found fruit characteristics to be much more towards the riper dark cherries, damsons and mulberries end of the flavour spectrum.
In these circumstances it is not surprising that wines containing a high percentage of the fragrant Cabernet Franc, like Vieux Château Certan, Cheval Blanc and Figeac, performed well.
This was an excellent year for Sauternes, if anything I may have been stingy with my marks for these wines. The top wines had depth, richness, complexity, pure fruit, high sugar levels and good balancing acidity resulting from an early onset of botrytis. If speculators followed Sauternes this would be an investment vintage – excepting Yquem they don’t, so those of us who drink sweet wines should consider buying some.
There were many lovely dry whites made, not only in Pessac-Léognan but also among the rare whites of the Médoc and the dry wines of Sauternes. Wines were fresh with fair acidity and a good depth of flavour.
If you are considering buying and would like to see release prices it seems likely that everything will happen very quickly this year. We have received a few offers of minor châteaux in the last few days, but confidently expect to see some interesting wines released by the end of this week. One question is will producers wait to see Robert Parker’s scores before releasing or will they go ahead before he pronounces? – a decision they regretted in 2008. The likelihood is that all the significant wines will be offered before the Vinexpo wine fair in Hong Kong at the end of next month, so we seem unlikely to have to endure a protracted campaign like last year’s.
Christian Moueix has gone on record saying that his company will cut prices by between 30-50% on last year. Another rumour suggests Château Lafite will come out early and cheap, the significance of this depending on their releasing a reasonable quantity of wine, should they do so. It must be realised that it will be much harder for cheaper wines to cut their prices as significantly as those in the top flight.
What Should We Buy if the Price is Right?
While the First Growths seem likely to cut their prices substantially, even a 50% cut would still make them eye-wateringly expensive wines. Most were very good examples of wines from the estates but unless prices are extremely sharp I would suggest looking more at the following 14 wines – or for value look at the selection below that.
Please click on the name for tasting notes
Vieux Château Certan – Pomerol
Cheval Blanc – St Emilion
Pontet-Canet – Pauillac
Palmer – Margaux
Lynch-Bages – Pauillac
Grand Puy Lacoste – Pauillac
Montrose – St Estèphe
Léoville-Barton – St Julien
Langoa-Barton – St Julien
Rauzan-Ségla – Margaux
D’Armailhac – Pauillac
Doisy-Daëne – Sauternes
Rieussec – Sauternes
Figeac – St Emilion
What is Likely to be Great Value?
Brown (Red) – Pessac-Léognan
Sociando-Mallet – Haut-Médoc
Demoiselle de Sociando-Mallet – Haut-Médoc
Domaine de Chevalier – White & Red – Pessac-Léognan
Domaine de la Solitude – White & Red* – Pessac-Leognan
La Serre – St Emilion
Rauzan-Gassies – Margaux
Beychevelle – St Julien
Gazin – Pomerol