Château Margaux may set the bar high, but the appellation’s wines are often a mixed bag. Comparing 2009 and 2010—when nearly every chateau produced great wine—to 2011 is instructive, revealing good terroir and winemaking in certain places and problems in others.
Overall, 2011 is a tough vintage to assess. The wine trade in Margaux on Tuesday was focused when tasting, then moved fast to the next appointment, much faster than in the last two years. The trade will have to be more selective, taste more wines and look for more price ranges than they did with the record-breaking vintages of the last two years.
When terroir and technique came together, Margaux chateaus produced delicious wines from what everybody agreed was a difficult vintage. “I arrived not knowing what to expect—there hasn’t been much commentary—and it has been a pleasant surprise,” said importer David Milligan of David Milligan Selections in Sagaponack, New York, who is also a U.S. director of the Bordeaux négociant Joanne Bordeaux. “The key [overall] is the wines have a lot more fruit, they are ready to consume young,” the longtime importer said on Tuesday.
The Margaux blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and, in some cases, an unusual amount of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, are fruity and juicy. The tannins, while firm, are not aggressive. Problems sometimes arose when winemakers thought the answer to a problem was to overextract the wine and give it too much wood, resulting in a bitter, burnt character. Get beyond those wines and, as Wine Enthusiast’s ratings show, the black currant fruits shine and the acidity gives a great lift.
The big problem for Margaux was quantity. At Château Margaux, Paul Pontallier voiced a general concern when he spoke of “disappointment at the small crop.” Château Palmer, located just across the vines from Château Margaux, reported yields only half the average, the smallest since 1961.
Given the strange weather conditions of 2011, with its long periods of drought, Cabernet Sauvignon survived and even thrived. By comparison, Merlot suffered rot and the grapes sometimes just burned in the heat. “Our wine is almost all Cabernet in the ’11 blend. I’d compare it to ’96,” said John Kolasa of Château Rauzan-Ségla, owned by the Wertheimer family of Chanel fame.
And while producers in Margaux are blending and preparing to sell the first quantities of the 2011 vintage, Kolasa’s already looking ahead: The almost empty rain gauge indicates that 2012 is set to be another dry spring. Frost is another fear. Cold nights could devastate the tender leaf shoots that are already appearing on the vines, and that could make 2011 a great proposition.
Bordeaux en primeur (still in the barrel) wines are sold as futures; available in bottle in the U.S. in 2014.
Bordeaux wines tasted from barrel are awarded scores in three-point ranges. When the wines are bottled in two or three years, the wines are reassessed, and final ratings are given.
95–97 Château Palmer (Margaux). A wine that has density, structure and firm tannins, with touches of wood. At this stage, it is solid and impressive; and the tannins draw the great fresh fruit into the heart of the wine. —R.V.
93–95 Château Kirwan (Margaux). Dense and ripe, this wine boasts sweet tannins and flavors of ripe plums. With the vintage’s tight, taut acidity, the aging potential is there. —R.V.
92–94 Château Prieuré-Lichine (Margaux). Firm and complex, it shows both ripe fruit and weighty tannins, and is still very closed and tight. This is a powerful expression of the vintage—a wine that should age well. —R.V.
91–93 Alter Ego de Château Palmer (Margaux). A wine that shows excellent structure, with ripe fruit and soft, warm tannins. It has weight while retaining its crisp acidity and intense black-currant flavor. —R.V.
91–93 Château Brane-Cantenac (Margaux). Solid and dominated by dry tannins from both wood and fruit, this wine has intense, juicy black-fruit flavors. It’s open and lively, but shows a core of dense dryness.—R.V.
91–93 Château Cantenac Brown (Margaux). This is a big, concentrated wine that shows intensity of well-balanced tannins and juicy fruit. It’s ripe, with obvious aging potential. —R.V.
91–93 Château Lascombes (Margaux). Big, bold and fruity, this shows plenty of rich blackberry-juice flavor and fine tannins. The fruit and tannins are well balanced, with a juicy character on the finish. —R.V.
91–93 Pavillon Rouge de Château Margaux (Margaux). Very floral, this soft wine has smooth fruits and black-currant acidity; it represents Margaux’s elegant side. —R.V.
90–92 Château Chasse-Spleen (Moulis-en-Médoc). Big and firm tannins are palpable from the start, with a ripe and fruity core underneath. It has concentration along with the typical juicy character of the vintage. —R.V.
90–92 Château d’Arsac (Margaux). This is a big, ripe and fruity wine that’s packed with flavors of spice and blackberry. It needs to age for its dry core of dense tannins to soften. —R.V.
90–92 Château d’Issan (Margaux). A dense wine that’s full of black plums and firm tannins. It has weight at the front and juicy freshness on the finish. —R.V.
90–92 Château Ferrière (Margaux). Firm and complex, this wine is smoothed by some new wood, but dominated by flavors of ripe black plum and berry. It has weight, its tannic core surrounded by a rich, soft texture. —R.V.
90–92 Château Giscours (Margaux). Ripe, rich and soft, this wine has open, juicy fruit and attractive red plum flavors; it already shows its fruity character. —R.V.
90–92 Château Malescot Saint-Exupéry (Margaux). This wine feels solid, with its tannins forming a base for the juicy red- and dark-berry flavors. It shows a dry side and a dense finish. —R.V.
90–92 Château Monbrison (Margaux). A complex, firm wine, with its tannins on the surface and fruit underneath; it will be a slow wine to develop. —R.V.
90–92 Château Rauzan-Ségla (Margaux). Dense, with up-front tannins, this feels quite severe, with an austere, mineral character and a solid finish. —R.V.
89–91 Château Dauzac (Margaux). Initially lean, this wine then shows severe, firm tannins followed by rich blackberry fruits. Its dark intensity should offer good aging in a wine that will always have a serious side. —R.V.
88–90 Château Desmirail (Margaux). A solid, dark and complex wine, with intense tannins that are powered by wood spice and black currant. It has ample weight while showing some of the vintage’s poise and crispness. —R.V.
89–91 Château du Tertre (Margaux). Forward, with juicy fruit that offers plenty of acidity and seemingly-soft tannins, this is a wine that should develop easily and quickly. —R.V.
89–91 Château Labégorce (Margaux). Firm and dark, with tannins dominating the ripe fruit, this wine’s wood aging shows strongly now; and the fruit weight is not yet there. —R.V.
89–91 Château Poujeaux (Moulis-en-Médoc). This wine feels relatively light. It has juicy fruit and dark tannins, with a considerable note of new, smoky wood. —R.V.
88–90 Château d’Angludet (Margaux). Spice and new wood are the prominent elements. This wine’s fruit is bright and black-currant flavored, with its dry core still buried. —R.V.
88–90 Château Deyrem Valentin (Margaux). Soft tannins and a dense texture help to create a forward, fruity wine with a very juicy and spicy finish. —R.V.
88–90 Château Preuillac (Médoc). A wine that’s about structure and presence, it has velvety tannins and flavors of mint, spice and black currant.—R.V.
88–90 Château Rauzan-Gassies (Margaux). Full and juicy, it has sweet tannins that parallel the intensely-juicy fruit. It’s layered, with acidity that keeps the dryness at bay. Lively and fresh on the finish. —R.V.
87–89 Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux (Moulis-en-Médoc). A wine with serious tannins and intense acidity. It has tobacco and spice flavors, with its fruit in the background. —R.V.
87–89 Château Marquis de Terme (Margaux). Tobacco and smoke aromas mark the nose. On the palate, there is weight and solid, extracted tannins; its fruit is just showing through the dense, compact structure.—R.V.
87–89 Château Maucaillou (Moulis-en-Médoc). Smoothed by new wood, this wine has a ripe, almost creamy texture. Its blackberry flavors are ripe, juicy and forward. —R.V.
87–89 Château Mongravey (Margaux). Mint and eucalyptus aromas signal the new wood in this wine. The wood has smoothed out its tannins, yielding a wine with juicy fruit. —R.V.
87–89 Château Siran (Margaux). This wine shows very firm, very dense tannins. It is solid, with its fruit well buried beneath its dry surface. This will likely always be a dry wine. —R.V.
86–88 Château Fonréaud (Listrac-Médoc). Heavy on the toasty new wood, the wine has a rough character that comes through. It feels firm and very dry. —R.V.
86–88 Château Fourcas-Dupré (Listrac-Médoc). A wine that shows attractive acidity and soft red-berry flavors, as well as dark, edgy tannins. —R.V.
86–88 Château Haut Breton Larigaudière (Margaux). This wine is dominated by new wood, with caramel and sweet fruit flavors. It feels unbalanced, with the acidity way behind the fruit. —R.V.
86–88 Château les Ormes Sorbet (Médoc). Soft and fruity, the tannins offer a light counterpoint to the red- and dark-berry flavors. Its acidity is very present. —R.V.
86–88 Château Pontac Lynch (Margaux). A wine that’s likely to develop quickly. It has spice and sweet fruit flavors, with its acidity forming a layer between its tannins and wood. —R.V.
85–87 Château Greysac (Médoc). This is a light wine that will develop quickly. It has red-berry flavors, with notes of spice and bell pepper in the background. —R.V.
85–87 Château Paveil de Luze (Margaux). Ripe, soft and fruity, this wine feels light. It’s enjoyable for its juicy berry flavors and open acidity. —R.V.
To read En Primeur, Day One: Sauternes and Barsac, the Sweet Whites, click here.
To read En Primeur Day Three: Saint-Julien, Pauillac, Saint-Estèphe and Haut-Médoc, click here.
To read En Primeur, Day Four: Pessac-Léognan and Graves, the Reds and Dry Whites, click here.
To read En Primeur, Day Five: Saint-Émilion and Pomerol, click here.