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Bordeaux 2011: The Verdict
By Robert Whitley
Apr 17, 2012
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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."

Arriving stChateau Coutet to taste Sauternes & Barsac.The 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.

The 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 Saint-Emilion.

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 is 2001.

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 2010.

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 blind.


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 bottling.


Chateau Pape Clement — Nose of ripe plums, violets. Firm tannins. Good acid. Very elegant. Outstanding potential. Rating: 90-93.

Chateau Rahoul — Good concentration, good balance of acidity and fruit, some minerality. A very good wine, well-made, classy. Rating: 90-93.

Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte — Good concentration. Firm tannins. Plum- and black-fruit profile. Very good potential. Rating: 89-92.


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. Rating: 91-94.

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.

Chateau 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: 90-93.

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: 93-96.

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: 90-93.

Chateau Clerc Milon— Good concentration and weight, with fine tannins and nice balance. Very good potential. Rating: 88-91.

Chateau Lynch-Bages — Good concentration and weight, with juicy fruit, firm tannins and very nice acidity. Good potential. Rating: 89-92.

Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste — Floral nose, with red and black fruit aromas, fine tannins and good acidity. Nicely balanced. Wonderful potential with some age. Rating: 90-94.


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: 91-94.


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: 91-94.

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. Rating: 92-95.

Chateau Figeac — Red fruit nose. Good concentration. Hard tannins, but underlying fruit is juicy and complex. Good acid. Excellent potential. Rating: 90-93.

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. Rating: 89-92.

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.

Chateau Larcis Ducasse — Attractive bing cherry and plum fruit aromas. Firm tannins. Good balance between fruit and acid. Excellent potential; a very classy wine. Rating: 92-95.

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: 93-96.


Chateau Phelan Segur — Good structure, pretty red fruit, fine tannins and good acid. Excellent potential. Rating: 90-93.

Chateau de Pez — Juicy black and red fruits, moderate tannins and good acidity. A very lovely wine with excellent potential. Rating: 91-94.


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: 90-93.

Chateau Saint Pierre — Juicy fruit, good concentration, fresh acidity, firm tannins, outstanding wine. Rating: 91-94.

Cheateau Leoville Barton — Juicy mid-palate, good weight, well proportioned, with firm tannins and bright, fresh acidity. Good potential. Rating: 91-94.

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 @wineguru.