En Primeur, Day Four: Pessac-Léognan and Graves, the Reds and Dry Whites

In a risky vintage, do Bordeaux whites have a winning hand in 2011?

Bordeaux reds from 2009 are arriving in your market in all their fabulous, fruity glory. The long-aging reds from 2010 are a year behind. When 2011 comes around, in two or three years, will you love them just because they are red and from Bordeaux?

That’s the question plaguing the global wine trade this week. Buying Bordeaux is always a gamble. Producers know that wholesalers, retailers and consumers—no matter what country they’re from—will not buy unless the wine is the right taste and the right price.

For the 2011 vintage, the gamble is even more risky. Consider the odd weather, the unusual harvest, the tannic red wine and the who-knows-what price. “It’s like playing poker,” said Stephen Carrier, managing director of Château de Fieuzal in appellation Pessac-Léognan, as he hosted the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux wine trade tasting in the château’s new cellar.

At least Carrier and other producers in Pessac-Léognan have an extra card up their sleeves, for this year’s straight flush is white. The Sauternes are a sweet treat though a hard sell, but the dry whites from Pessac-Léognan and Graves are at the top of their game.

Not so with the reds. The 2011 Pessac-Léognan and Graves reds are a universal disappointment, in this oldest of Bordeaux vineyard regions. The powerful tannins, which are supported by fruit in the northern Médoc, overwhelmed Pessac-Léognan.

Tasting whites

Tasting dry white wines Thursday in Léognan was like a return to the delicious, ageworthy 2007s but with extra weight. There is the freshness and mouthwatering fruit of the 2007 vintage (a washout for dramatic reds), and the 2011 richness adds notes of apricots and peaches to underlying citrus. Stars include chateaus Pape Clément, Malartic-Lagravière and Domaine de Chevalier.

While in 2007, Château Haut-Brion’s small-production white was my “Wine of the Vintage,” in 2011 it was spoiled by an alcohol burn and too much intensity. The blend changed: Sauvignon Blanc increased and Sémillon decreased due to replanting. (My take on Haut-Brion’s red will be in tomorrow’s notes.)

It’s a good thing Pessac-Léognan has white wines. The dry year finally caught up with the red grapes at harvest time, resulting in small berries, plenty of skin and not much juice—ultimately producing overly tannic red wines. In Pessac-Léognan, these wines lack flesh, and it’s hard to find fruit in the nose or on the palate with so much dryness and structure.

White wine isn’t often the story in Bordeaux. But dry or sweet, they can be delicious. And these whites could be the deal of the vintage. Maybe a royal flush.

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.

Pessac-Léognan and Graves Dry Whites; Other Bordeaux Whites

95–97 Domaine de Chevalier (Pessac-Léognan). A powerful wine that’s full of wood and ripe tropical-fruit flavors. It also has an intensely mineral structure that powers the wine right through to the concentrated finish. —R.V.

95–97 Château Malartic-Lagravière (Pessac-Léognan). This wine is rich with flavors of tropical fruit and citrus, with judicious wood aging and fine concentration. —R.V.

95–97 Château Pape Clément (Pessac-Léognan). Showing new wood spice, this rich and full-bodied wine also has weighty fruit, with creamy and herbaceous qualities. —R.V.

94–96 Château La Louvière (Pessac-Léognan). An intensely herbaceous wine, with delicious flavors of grapefruit, apricot juice and spice. The finish is lively and fruity, with mineral acidity. —R.V.

94–96 Château La Mission Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan). This is taut and tight, with so much spice and pepper from the high alcohol and wood aging. But it’s the intensity of fruit that makes this wine such a blockbuster. —R.V.

94–96 Château Smith Haut-Lafitte (Pessac-Léognan). Showing a judicious blend of new wood and ripe fruit, this is a wine that has a creamed-apple texture. It’s full of bright grapefruit, sweet apple and green plum flavors. —R.V.

93–95 Château Carbonnieux (Pessac-Léognan). Very herbaceous in character, this is a wine that is packed with powerful acidity yet remains elegant in style. It has minerality and tight acidity, and should benefit from aging. —R.V.

93–95 Château de France (Pessac-Léognan). A finely balanced wine, with a ripe mix of mango, apricot and pink grapefruit flavors. It has a fresh edge along with a rich, full character. —R.V.

93–95 Château Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan). This wine has an intense herbaceous quality, with fruit and nutmeg flavors. It feels and tastes powerful, with alcoholic warmth and a taut and nervy character. —R.V.

93–95 Pavillon Blanc de Château Margaux (Bordeaux Blanc). Spice and green apple flavors dominate the palate of this crisp yet creamy wine. It has a fine, dense texture, and the fruit comes through with great intensity. The wood is neatly in support. —R.V.

92–94 Château de Fieuzal (Pessac-Léognan). A big, fruity wine that manages to balance its ripe tropical-fruit flavors with notes of spice and grapefruit. It has weight and is still settling down. Concentrated and intense. —R.V.

92–94 La Clarté de Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan). A herbaceous wine that has ripe yellow-fruit flavors. It is rich and fruity, and layered with grapefruit and sweet peach notes. It finishes tight, with minerality. —R.V.

92–94 Château Larrivet Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan). Creamed fruit aromas are followed by a herbaceous quality. The wine has some richness and new-wood flavors; mouth-watering acidity marks the finish. —R.V.

92–94 Château Latour-Martillac (Pessac-Léognan). This wine is tight and taut, with minerality. Its fruit is heavily citrusy, with a character that cuts like steel through the nervy texture. This shows aging potential. —R.V.

91–93 Château Bouscaut (Pessac-Léognan). A lively, bright wine that’s not too weighty. It has notes of mineral and citrus, with attractive acidity and just the right amount of balancing weight. —R.V.

91–93 Château Ferrande (Graves). With a dominant austere minerality, this wine has weight but not the delicious fruitiness of the vintage. The finish is marked by a steely texture. —R.V.

91–93 Château La Garde (Pessac-Léognan). This wine shows white and yellow fruits with a note of spice. It’s warm and rich, with mouthwatering acidity and a crisp lemon finish. —R.V.

91–93 Château Olivier (Pessac-Léognan). A wine with weight and richness, there is considerable concentration, with citrus flavor and ripe fruit densely set in the background. —R.V.

91–93 Château Rahoul (Graves). Despite some reductive character on the nose, the fruit on the palate shows good weight and richness. It should become a rich, citrus-flavored wine. —R.V.

90–92 Château de Chantegrive (Graves). This is a light and fruity wine, with prominent wood. It has a crisp texture that’s very bright, with some weight showing on the finish. —R.V.

90–92 Château Picque Caillou (Pessac-Léognan). A herbaceous, fruity wine, with its acidity well integrated into the ripe, bright fruits. The wine is light, fresh and crisp, with an attractive lemon-curd note —R.V.

89–91 Clos Nardian (Bordeaux Blanc). Ripe, smooth and creamy in texture, this wine has rich flavors of spice and green fruit. —R.V.

89–91 Château Cos d’Estournel (Bordeaux Blanc). This has a taut and very herbaceous character, with a crisp green-apple flavors and creamy feel. —R.V.

89–91 Château Haut Bergey (Pessac-Léognan). This is a fruity wine that’s packed with citrus flavor. With its light, bright and crisp mouthfeel, this is likely to develop quickly. —R.V.

Pessac-Léognan Reds

93–95 Château La Mission Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan). An impressive wood- and tannin-laden wine, with intense, solid fruit. It’s powerful, very dry and complex. —R.V.

92–94 Château Haut Bailly (Pessac-Léognan). Packed with dense tannins and firm fruit, this is a big, powerful wine. It is initially austere, but with time it becomes more rounded, with layers of wood tannins and rich fruit. —R.V.

91–93 Domaine de Chevalier (Pessac-Léognan). This wine’s concentrated tannins match the sweet fruit and ripe acidity. It shows structure and density, with its blackberry flavor already showing well. ––R.V.

91–93 Le Clarence de Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan). A very smoky wine, with firm tannins, intense spice and a dry bitter-chocolate character. Its freshness is currently overlain by the wood and fruit tannins. ––R.V.

91–93 Château Malartic-Lagravière (Pessac-Léognan). Showing the acidity and fresh fruit of the vintage, this wine has both structure and density. It’s well-made, showing just the right amount of fruit and a judicious use of wood. —R.V.

91–93 Château Smith Haut Lafitte (Pessac-Léognan). This wine has density, with very dry, massive tannins. This is a wine for long-term aging; it has a solid texture, with its fruit well buried.—R.V.

90–92 Château Carbonnieux (Pessac-Léognan). This is a wine that’s likely to age relatively quickly. It shows sweet wood and black-currant flavors that combine with a spicy element. —R.V.

90–92 Château de Fieuzal (Pessac-Léognan). This is a big, ripe, fruity wine, filled with smoky wood, spice and black-currant acidity. It is rich and fruit filled. —R.V.

90–92 La Chapelle de la Mission Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan). While certainly powered by tannins, this wine does have a rich, fruity character as well. The finish brings juicy flavors that cut right through the tannins. —R.V.

90–92 Château Larrivet Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan). Initially, this wine shows spice and round fruit notes, followed by a tannic structure. The wine has weight, with a feeling of balanced wood and plenty of juicy flavors on the finish. —R.V.

90–92 Château Pape Clément (Pessac-Léognan). This is a closed wine, dominated by dark, dry tannins and spice. The wine misses fruit with its solid core of dryness. —R.V.

89–91 Château de Chantegrive (Graves). There is a good balance here between the ripe blackberry fruits and the solid tannins. This wine shows new wood and a touch of green flavor. —R.V.

89–91 Château de France (Pessac-Léognan). A very tannic, bone-dry wine, this shows a hard edge that doesn’t marry well with the fruit. Always likely to be austere, it’s powerful and dense. —R.V.

89–91 Château les Carmes Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan). Initially hard edged, this wine evolves to show a more accessible, fruity character. There is weight here, powered by fruit tannins and a solid texture on the finish. —R.V.

89–91 Château Olivier (Pessac-Léognan). This is a solid wine with a dense texture and powerful tannins. Its big structure supports ripe fruits, with sweet berries and fine density at the end. —R.V.

88–90 Château Bouscaut (Pessac-Léognan). Light, fresh and fruity, this is a wine that shows a delicate character that’s unusual for the vintage. It has blackberry fruits, some soft tannins and new-wood flavors. —R.V.

88–90 Château Ferrande (Graves). Fresh acidity dominates here. This wine is light in texture and the tannins have a rounded edge. While it is dry, the wood imparts notes of caramel. —R.V.

88–90 Château Haut Bergey (Pessac-Léognan). Showing spicy wood with firm, black-currant tannins and gentle fruit, this wine is rounded, soft and accessible. —R.V.

88–90 Château la Garde (Pessac-Léognan). Spicy new-wood flavors and dry tannins characterize this wine, with only a hint of dark berry fruits. This is smoky, toasty and dominated by its structure. —R.V.

88–90 Château La Louvière (Pessac-Léognan). This wine is on the lean side, although there is attractive black-currant fruit at the core. The wine is developing its weight into an expression that will be more substantial. —R.V.

88–90 Château Latour-Martillac (Pessac-Léognan). Firmly tannic on the initial taste, this wine shows bell pepper and juicy black-fruit flavors. It is light and fruity, and finishes with dry tannins. —R.V.

87–89 Château Rahoul (Graves). Here is a well-made, accessible wine, full of blackberry fruits, sweet tannins and a soft, spicy texture. Not for long aging. —R.V.

86–88 Château Picque Caillou (Pessac-Léognan). Very concentrated and dominated by acidity, this wine is on the dry side. It misses weight and opulence, offering an austere texture. —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 Three: Saint-Julien, Pauillac, Saint-Estèphe and Haut-Médoc, click here.

To read En Primeur, Day Five: Saint-Émilion and Pomerol, click here.

Published on April 5, 2012
Topics: Wine Trends
About the Author
Roger Voss
European Editor, Reviews wines from Portugal and France

Roger Voss covers Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, the Loire and South-West France as well as Portugal. His passion is matching food with wine, bringing the pleasures of the table to wine lovers. He has written six books on wine and food, and was previously national correspondent on wine for the London Daily Telegraph. He is based in the Bordeaux region.

Email: rvoss@wineenthusiast.net




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