Rumors of a €250 ($333) starting price of Mouton Rothschild and Lafite Rothschild 2011—half the 2010 price—swirled faster than wine in the glass on Wednesday.
Mouton’s Julien de Sereys de Rothschild (Philippine’s son) and new commercial director Hervé Gouin were emphatic in their denial when I confronted them Wednesday afternoon. “There have been no price decisions yet,” said Gouin. “What I can tell you is that prices will be reasonable.”
So far this week, the consensus among buyers has been that 2011 pricing at 20-40% below 2010 levels would be reasonable. For Mouton and Lafite, €250 would represent a 50% reduction.
However, de Sereys de Rothschild and Gouin did confirm that the rumor about being first out of the gate with prices was almost a bull’s eye. “It will be a quick campaign this year,” Gouin said. “We want to announce [a price] at the end of April or beginning of May.” No hanging out until June as last year, they said.
What could be dramatic price-cut decisions throughout Bordeaux may have been triggered by two major factors in this week’s En Primeur tastings. First, the dearth of American buyers. A three-decade buyer, K&L Wine Merchants of Redwood City, California won’t arrive until next week, the first time in a decade to pass on En Primeur week.
Second, the Chinese were stung with their purchases of the 2010s. “The Chinese were ‘used’ in 2010,” says Peter Chu of Macro Asia Wines and Spirits in Hong Kong. And, as mostly first-time wine traders, the buyers were “not very clever” and so some “didn’t even go through with their 2010 purchases,” leaving the négociants stuck with too much expensive wine, he said.
So, where are the 2011 stars?
The wines that Mouton and the other producers in the northern Médoc will be selling are the red-wine stars of the 2011 vintage. This is where Cabernet Sauvignon is king, and where this great grape has powered through a difficult year with flying colors.
Lush, fleshy wines are the norm. The tannins are just as powerful as in 2010 but the acidity and the fresh black-currant flavors integrate them. Wines are shining in Saint-Julien, with Léoville Barton and Ducru-Beaucaillou in peak form, while less well-known properties like Belgrave in Haut-Médoc are showing improvement.
In Pauillac, Pontet-Canet continues its impressive run of vintages, followed closely by Mouton, Lafite and Latour, the first growths. The disappointments have shown a more tannic, less balanced character: Château Haut-Bages Libéral and Grand-Puy-Lacoste in Pauillac and Phélan Ségur in Saint-Estèphe, among them.
Everyone agrees that this is not 2009 or 2010. “It’s not as glorious,” Jean-Guillaume Prats of Château Cos d’Estournel in Saint-Estèphe says. “Technically it was difficult, we had to work hard. It was a wine I call ‘back to the future,’ like 1986 or 1996, but with so much more technical know-how. We have prosperity now, so we can afford to take risks.” Hélène Genin of Château Latour echoed the difficulties of the vintage. “We had 200 pickers, more than usual, because of botrytis in the Merlot.”
And yet, through all the problems of the year, great wines have been made, particularly in Saint-Julien and in Pauillac. At Château Pichon Longueville in Pauillac, managing director Christian Seely characterized the vintage: “At its best it has a wonderful freshness and a delicate character that is surprising and delightful. You have enormous tannins, but they are enveloped by the fruit. Get the balance right in 2011 and you have very good wine.”
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.
96–98 Château Pontet Canet (Pauillac). The fruit is very pure with a great depth of flavor. This wine has weight, and intense flavors of dark plum and sweet fruit. Impressive. —R.V.
95–97 Château Léoville Barton (Saint-Julien). This wine is immensely dark, powered by black plum and a ripe, complex structure; its elements are already molding into place. Expect great things of this wine. —R.V.
94–96 Château Cos d’Estournel (Saint-Estèphe). Powerful tannins are embedded into this wine’s huge velvet cushion of ripe black plum, spiced fruit and chocolate. The wine shows the juicy character of the vintage, which follows right to the end with firm tannins. —R.V.
94–96 Château Ducru Beaucaillou (Saint-Julien). This wine is big, dense and impressive with plenty of concentration as well as acidity. It is balanced, bringing the big, ripe black-fruit flavor and firm tannins together with great style. —R.V.
94–96 Château Lynch-Bages (Pauillac). Like so many wines in this vintage, this shows black-currant acidity. It’s lively and fruity, with the firm tannins providing a counterpoint. —R.V.
94–96 Château Montrose (Saint-Estèphe). Powerful yet still fruity, this is a true wine of 2011. It shows dark tannins and juicy fruit in equal measure. The wine has weight, complexity and power. A real success. —R.V.
93–95 Château Batailley (Pauillac). A perfumed wine that’s soft and ripe. It has delicious flavors of juicy fruit and black currant, as well as lively acidity. Its depth of flavor comes with layers of fruit rather than tannins. —R.V.
93–95 Château Clerc Milon (Pauillac). This is a structured and complex wine, with dominating sweet tannins. At the same time, there is fruitiness and juiciness that add freshness to the finish. —R.V.
93–95 Château Gloria (Saint-Julien). A powerful wine—its concentrated tannins contrast its underlying juicy fruit. This is a flavorful medley of prunes, dark plums and blackberries; the finish is marked with juiciness. —R.V.
93–95 Grand Puy Ducasse (Pauillac). A wine that shows rounded, opulent fruit. Its structure has a dark side that’s melded into its rich fruits. Weight and juiciness combine on the finish. —R.V.
93–95 Château Lafon-Rochet (Saint-Estèphe). This wine has richness, weight and dark tannins, with balanced fruit and a ripe mouthfeel. It’s powered by spice and blackberry flavors. —R.V.
93–95 Château Lagrange (Saint-Julien). Smoky aromas and new-wood flavors mark this wine. It has weight, as well as a concentrated core of tannins; and it shows long-term aging potential. —R.V.
93–95 Château Langoa Barton (Saint-Julien). This wine is powerful and concentrated, with its tannins showing. It is perfumed, ripe and offers density that’s impressive for the year. —R.V.
93–95 Château Léoville Poyferré (Saint-Julien). Ripe, fruity and powerful, this wine has intense Cabernet black-currant flavors, with plenty of richness and concentration. It shows the acidity and the bright fruit of the year. —R.V.
93–95 Château Pichon Longueville (Pauillac). Big tannins, smoky wood notes and prominent fruit mark this wine, along with acidity and freshness. It’s powerful, with the most gentle structure of concentrated dusty tannins and intensely-fresh blackberry-juice flavors. —R.V.
93–95 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (Pauillac). This is powered by tannins while also keeping its fresh fruit intact. There is a mineral texture that’s layered with a juicy fruit character on the finish. —R.V.
93–95 Château Talbot (Saint-Julien). A dark and brooding wine, its fruit is firmly embedded in the tannins. The wine seems to hold its fire, and is both dense and concentrated. —R.V.
92–94 Château Belgrave (Haut Médoc). This is a dark wine that’s dominated by firm and dry tannins. It has weight and power, with juicy plum flavors showing slowly under the tannins. Shows long-aging potential. —R.V.
92–94 Château Beychevelle (Saint-Julien). A very firm and closed wine, it shows its tannins rather than its fruit. With its weight, this dark wine should become rounded with age. —R.V.
92–94 Château Branaire-Ducru (Saint-Julien). This wine is based on tannins, yet it also has weight and a complex fruit structure. Its power lies in the density of its texture. —R.V.
92–94 Carruades de Lafite (Pauillac). Serious and structured, this is a concentrated dark-hued wine. It has all the acidity of the vintage while also showing firm tannins. A dry and powerful second wine. —R.V.
92–94 Château Croizet-Bages (Pauillac). Mint, smooth fruit and new-wood flavors overlay the firm tannins. Juicy and attractive, this wine has structure, complexity and an innate fresh character. —R.V.
92–94 Château d’Armailhac (Pauillac). Packed with dark tannins and spicy wood, the wine is rich, dark and very structured. It is powered as much by its tannins as its wood. —R.V.
92–94 Château de Pez (Saint-Estèphe). A very firm and closed wine. It has intense tannins, with the fruit following slowly behind. The structure is impressive, while the black-currant flavors are still to show. —R.V.
92–94 Château Gruaud Larose (Saint-Julien). While the wine does have firm tannins, these are layered with open, ripe fruits. There are blackberry flavors, and the wine shows good acidity and a firm finish. —R.V.
92–94 Château Lalande Borie (Saint-Julien). A ripe and spicy wine, with crisp fruit. The wine has an attractive fruitiness, and its tannins are not aggressive. This shows great final acidity. —R.V.
92–94 Les Forts de Latour (Pauillac). There is weight, richness and firm spice flavor here. The wine has a juicy character along with firm tannins. It shows the pure fruit freshness of the vintage, with a little extra weight. —R.V.
92–94 Château Lynch-Moussas (Pauillac). This is a dense wine, with complex and concentrated flavors of sweet plum, chocolate and licorice. It’s powerful, showing its extraction. —R.V.
92–94 Château Ormes de Pez (Saint-Estèphe). Ripe and sweet tannins combine easily with this wine’s juicy fruit and spice notes. All of the elements hang comfortably together. —R.V.
91–93 Château Beaumont (Haut Médoc). Initially severe, this wine shows weight coupled with firm, dry tannins. Dense and complex black-currant flavors dominate. —R.V.
91–93 Château Cos Labory (Saint-Estèphe). Along with its Saint-Estèphe tannins, this wine proves to be richly fruity and complex, with notes of spice. The finish shows the acidity of the year. —R.V.
91–93 Croix de Beaucaillou (Saint-Julien). This is big and solid wine, with firm tannins and juicy fruit. It shows spice and intense acidity followed by black-currant freshness. —R.V.
91–93 Château Duhart-Milon (Pauillac). Rich, spicy and dense, this wine shows a serious side. It has power and concentration, and the wood offers dryness as well as spice. Its fruit seems to be a separate layer at this stage. —R.V.
91–93 Château Grand Puy Lacoste (Pauillac). An attractive and fruity wine that offers soft, cushioned tannins, along with ripe, easy fruit. —R.V.
91–93 Le Petit Mouton (Pauillac). Mouton Rothschild’s second wine is showing increasing stature. This vintage shows spice, new wood and Mouton’s signature acidity. It has a soft, rounded texture, with a plump, warm feel. —R.V.
91–93 Château Pibran (Pauillac). This wine shows dense fruit and concentrated tannins. It has richness without great complexity; but it boasts spice, fresh fruit and tingling acidity. —R.V.
91–93 Château Saint-Pierre (Saint-Julien). Ripe and spicy, with delicious open fruit, this wine is rounded yet has a straight line of pure acidity. It has a light touch while showing depth of flavor for the future. —R.V.
90–92 Château Citran (Haut Médoc). A rounded rich wine, showing the juicy fruit of the year along with rich tannins. It is spicy, lively and impressive. —R.V.
90–92 Château Coufran (Haut Médoc). Rich and ripe, the wine has delicious Cabernet flavors. It offers ripe and rounded fruits with juiciness rather than great density. —R.V.
90–92 Château Fonbadet (Pauillac). With big sweet fruits from the Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine has weight, structure and the juicy charm of the year. —R.V.
90–92 Château Haut Marbuzet (Saint-Estèphe). With its new-wood smoothness, this is a luxurious wine. It has dry tannins, yet they are cushioned by the wood and black-currant fruit. —R.V.
90–92 Château Haut-Bages Libéral (Pauillac). This is a brooding, dark wine; its tannins are evident, with a complex series of dark, dense flavors. Its fruit is buried under all of its tannic scaffolding. —R.V.
90–92 La Dame de Montrose (Saint-Estèphe). Initially this seems soft, but with time the more powerful fruit character comes through. It has weight, with a dark chocolate and spice intensity. —R.V.
90–92 Château le Boscq (Saint-Estèphe). Dense and concentrated; the tannins are a worthy partner to the firm flavors of black plum skin. This wine is solid and chunky, with the year’s crisp fruit showing through. —R.V.
90–92 Les Tourelles de Longueville (Pauillac). This is a soft wine, with dominating fruit. It has flavors of black currant and spice, firm tannins and an attractive ripe center. —R.V.
90–92 Pagodes de Cos (Saint-Estèphe). With all the freshness of the year, this wine is ripe and soft. It has acidity and juicy black-currant flavor. The wine is spiced, with its ripe tannins well integrated. —R.V.
90–92 Château Tronquoy-Lalande (Saint-Estèphe). The tannins show in this wine’s very dry and firm core. There is minerality and a tight texture. Under the tannins, there is a juicy fruit layer with a black-currant character. —R.V.
89–91 Château d’Agassac (Haut Médoc). Spicy wood cuts through the ripe blackberry fruit. This wine is smooth and polished, with balancing acidity. Juicy fruits show on the finish. —R.V.
89–91 Château Larose Trintaudon (Haut Médoc). Full-bodied and warm, this is a smooth wine. It’s very accessible with blackberry fruit and delicious acidity. An attractive wine. —R.V.
88–90 Château Bellegrave (Pauillac). Offering great swathes of tannins and black-currant flavors, this is a wine with great freshness as well as a more spicy character. —R.V.
88–90 Château de Villegeorge (Haut Médoc). This is a ripe, extracted wine, with chocolate and firm tannins layered over the blackberry fruit. —R.V.
88–90 Château Lilian Ladouys (Saint-Estèphe). A wine with deep tannins and a very dry character, this is big and solid, but maybe lacking fruit. —R.V.
88–90 Château Malescasse (Haut Médoc). A wine that seems lean—it doesn’t have the fruit weight to support the tannins, offering instead a more structured character. —R.V.
88–90 Château Peyrabon (Haut Médoc). This wine shows flavors of smooth new wood and black plum. It’s soft and fruity, with sweet, ripe tannins. —R.V.
88–90 Château Phélan-Ségur (Saint-Estèphe). Very heavily laden with wood, the wine shows extraction and dark tannins. The fruit lies under the dominant toast. —R.V.
87–89 Goulée (Médoc). This is a big, fruity and soft wine. It is rich and opulent, with firm tannins and some extract. —R.V.
87–89 Château Lamothe-Cissac (Haut Médoc). This is a soft and fruity wine, its acidity prominent and its tannins well behind. Not for aging. —R.V.
87–89 Château Reysson (Haut Médoc). While the wood flavor dominates here, it does support the ripe blackberry fruit. This wine’s fruitiness will eventually be what marks the wine out. —R.V.
To read En Primeur, Day One: Sauternes and Barsac, the Sweet Whites, click here.
To read En Primeur, Day Two: Margaux, Moulis, Médoc and Listrac, 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.