BORDEAUX, France — Prospects for another good vintage in Bordeaux appeared
grim as the harvest approached in September 2011.
"It was a complicated
vintage," explained Florence Cathiard of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, a top-notch
property in the Graves district of Bordeaux. "We had summer in spring, then
spring in summer and summer again in fall."
challenging conditions came on the heels of two spectacular harvests — 2009 and
2010 — that had driven interest in Bordeaux, and prices, to unprecedented
levels. The wine critic Robert Parker Jr., a highly regarded authority on
Bordeaux, signaled the gathering storm when he tweeted, "Absolutely no interest
in this vintage if my instincts are correct," prior to the recent en primeurs
tastings that are a ritual in the region every spring.
During the period
of primeurs, chateaux prepare barrel samples to be presented to visiting wine
buyers and journalists for critical evaluation. All of six months old at this
stage, most of the wines presented will not even be bottled for at least another
year. Bordeaux is unique in the sense that many of these young wines will be
sold as "futures" in the coming weeks, with payment made well in advance
(sometimes two years) of delivery.
Establishing the quality of the
vintage is therefore critical to making an informed decision prior to purchase.
More than 6,000 credentials were issued this year despite the low expectations.
About 150 of those were media from around the globe.
My take after five
days of sampling the wines presented under the auspices of the Union des Grands
Crus de Bordeaux is probably not the conventional wisdom, although Parker would
concede in a tweet that "2011s were better than expected."
This is a very good vintage, more typical, indeed, than either of the
two glorious vintages that preceded it. What you will discover in time about the
2011 vintage of Bordeaux is that the top chateaux from the better terroirs
produced wines with good balance between abundant fruit and firm acidity, and
mouth-puckering tannins that make the wines appear to be austere at the moment,
but which will soften over time and unleash the underlying fruit.
major difference between 2011 and the acclaimed vintages of 2009 and 2010 is
that quality is not across the board. Lesser terroirs such as Moulis-en-Medoc
and Haut Medoc achieved neither the ripeness nor the quality of tannins that are
the signature achievements of the better AOC, such as Margaux, Pauillac and
After a careful review of my tasting notes, I have
concluded the Left Bank outperformed the Right Bank, and the wines of Pauillac
and Margaux will be recognized as the class of the vintage in the years to come.
When I compare 2011 to past vintages, the vintage that most often comes to mind
Wine journalists didn't have much love for 2001, and the trade
gave it short shrift. Much as it was in 2011, the 2001 vintage was not one that
produced great wines from lesser terroirs or poorly managed chateaux. But the
consensus now is that the finest wines of 2001 outshine the wines made in the
much warmer 2000 vintage, which is universally regarded as one of the finest in
Bordeaux, even standing alongside the outstanding vintages of 2005, 2009 and
And for the white wines made in the Graves and Pessac-Leognan
districts, and the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac, 2011 will go down as
memorable, with exquisite structure and balance.
I did come away with a
few favorites, and I am pleased to report that most of them are in that rare
category of well-priced Bordeaux. All of my recommended wines were tasted
Wines are rated on a
100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding
quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's
enthusiasm for the recommended wine. Barrel samples are scored with a four-point
range because of the potential for changes in the wine prior to
Chateau Pape Clement — Nose of ripe plums,
violets. Firm tannins. Good acid. Very elegant. Outstanding potential. Rating:
Chateau Rahoul — Good concentration, good balance of acidity and
fruit, some minerality. A very good wine, well-made, classy. Rating:
Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte — Good concentration. Firm tannins.
Plum- and black-fruit profile. Very good potential. Rating:
Chateau Dauzac — Spicy nose. Good concentration.
Notes of violets and plum, with black cherry and black currant fruit aromas.
Very, very good. Rating: 92-95.
Chateau Giscours — Good concentration,
plenty of flesh. Not too weighty, with good mouth-feel. Fruit aromas of plum,
black cherry and black currant. Firm acid. Rating: 90-93.
Chateau Kirwan — Elegant wine. Inviting red-fruit profile, with a
hint of floral. Firm acidity with fine tannins. Good potential for aging.
Chateau Labegorce — Beautifully textured with fine
mouth-coating tannins. Good acid. Nicely balanced. Concentrated. Shows a
red-fruit profile. Excellent but will need time. Rating: 91-94.
Lascombes — Good concentration. Juicy core of spicy red fruits. Firm acid; fine
tannins. Very elegant. Rating: 92-95.
Chateau Malescot Saint-Exupery —
Concentrated black fruits on the nose. Not a hint of green fruit. Ripe tannins,
with good acid balance. Well made with excellent aging potential. Rating:
Chateau Marquis de Terme — Suave on the palate, with fine
tannins, firm acid. Good minerality. Floral nose, with complex layers of red and
black fruit. Rating: 93-96.
Chateau Rauzan-Segla — Rich, ripe, powerful
and concentrated, with firm tannins and firm acidity. A blockbuster wine that
will need a minimum 10 years to reach its potential. Rating:
Chateau Siran - Concentrated, with good richness and weight
without being ponderous. Firm tannins but not coarse or green. Very good
acidity. Excellent aging potential. Rating: 93-96.
Chateau d'Armailhac — Juicy
mid-palate, rich cassis, fine tannins, well balanced. Lovely wine. Rating:
Chateau Clerc Milon— Good concentration and weight, with fine
tannins and nice balance. Very good potential. Rating: 88-91.
Lynch-Bages — Good concentration and weight, with juicy fruit, firm tannins and
very nice acidity. Good potential. Rating: 89-92.
Grand-Puy-Lacoste — Floral nose, with red and black fruit aromas, fine tannins
and good acidity. Nicely balanced. Wonderful potential with some age. Rating:
Chateau Carbonnieux — Powerful and rich,
very extracted, lovely fruit, with firm tannins and good acid. Will take a while
to come around. Rating: 89-92.
Domaine de Chevalier — Plum and black
currant fruit, firm tannins, good acid and exceptional elegance considering its
youth. Wonderful potential. Rating 90-93.
Chateau La Louviere — Very
elegant, though tannins are firm. Fruit is precise. This is a lovely wine with
good minerality. Excellent acidity. Outstanding potential. Rating:
Chateau Beauregard — Red-fruit nose. Black fruit
on the palate. Very complex, layered. Tannins are extremely firm. Acids are
good. Rating: 90-93.
Chateau La Croix de Gay — Very pretty fruit, firm
tannins, good concentration, excellent length, with a persistent finish. Quite
nice but will need time. Rating: 91-94.
Chateau La Pointe — Excellent
concentration, firm acidity, good minerality, good length, plum fruit aroma,
with floral notes. Very good potential. Rating: 90-93.
Chateau Franc Mayne —
Red fruit, floral nose. Lovely fruit on the palate. Excellent structure. Firm
tannins. Well balanced between fruit and acid. Outstanding potential. Rating:
Chateau Cap de Moulin — Red fruit nose. Very fine, very firm
tannins. Elegant, well-defined red fruit aromas. Sophisticated and elegance on
the palate. Well balanced between fruit and acidity. Tremendous potential.
Figeac — Red fruit nose. Good concentration. Hard tannins, but underlying fruit
is juicy and complex. Good acid. Excellent potential. Rating:
Chateau Balestard La Tonnelle — Floral nose. Sweet, ripe red
fruits. Good concentration. Outstanding length. Rich and voluptuous. Outstanding
potential. Rating: 91-94.
Chateau Pavie Macquin — Good minerality, suave
texture, firm tannins, good acid. Exquisite balance. Very attractive red-fruit
aromas. Rating: 93-96.
Chateau Clos Fourtet — Richness on the palate,
with firm tannins. Plush, layered fruit. Very concentrated. Good potential.
Chateau La Dominique — Meaty nose. Red fruits on the
nose, with hints of floral. Lovely on the palate. Firm tannins, good acid-fruit
balance. Rating: 89-92.
Chateau Canon — Inviting red fruit on the
palate. Firm tannins. Not overly aggressive. Structure and balance make this one
of the finest reds tasted in the Right Bank. Rating: 91-94.
Larcis Ducasse — Attractive bing cherry and plum fruit aromas. Firm tannins.
Good balance between fruit and acid. Excellent potential; a very classy wine.
Chateau Beau-Sejour Becot — Cassis nose. Ripe red-fruits
on the palate. Mouth-puckering tannins. Excellent potential to be a blockbuster
but will need quite a bit of time to come around. Rating:
Chateau Phelan Segur — Good structure,
pretty red fruit, fine tannins and good acid. Excellent potential. Rating:
Chateau de Pez — Juicy black and red fruits, moderate tannins and
good acidity. A very lovely wine with excellent potential. Rating:
Chateau Lagrange — Very good, extremely
well made, with focused, layered fruit complexity, fine tannins and excellent
acid balance. The finish is long. This is a sophisticated, classy wine. Rating:
Chateau Saint Pierre — Juicy fruit, good concentration, fresh
acidity, firm tannins, outstanding wine. Rating: 91-94.
Leoville Barton — Juicy mid-palate, good weight, well proportioned, with firm
tannins and bright, fresh acidity. Good potential. Rating:
Chateau Gloria — Lovely red fruits, with a floral note. Good
weight and concentration. Fine tannins and good acidity. Well balanced. A good
wine to cellar. Rating: 92-95.
Chateau Beychevelle — Sweet juicy fruit
with strong, aggressive tannins and bright acidity. Will need extended aging but
overall quite good. Rating: 90-93.
Follow Robert on Twitter at