As Bordeaux 2011 En Primeur week drew to a close with a gala lunch in the Château Cheval Blanc cellars, there was one thing every taster agreed on: It has been one of the toughest vintages to taste in recent memory. Hard tannins and extracted red wines were all over the place, making a long tasting an ordeal rather than a pleasure. The difficulties were made worse by sample variation. Many of us found we had to retaste and request fresh barrel samples of a number of wines.
Yet hidden among the barrel tastings, there were pleasures to be found. At its best, 2011 has produced wines that combine delicious juiciness and fruit with velvety tannins, accented by delicious wood-imparted spice. These are the wines that have scored highly. And where white wines were made, the pleasure was magnified.
While it’s been hard to taste at En Primeur this year as a journalist, for buyers, taste is only one factor—price is still to come, likely within the next few weeks. Unlike the 2009 and 2010 vintages, 2011 requires intense attention. “It’s the hunt,” said retailer Philip Minervino, owner of the Lower Falls Wine Company in Newton Lower Falls, Massachusetts. This is a market where, as one American importer told me yesterday, preferring to remain anonymous, “the cellars are awash with older wines, why buy new wines?”
It seems that 2011 is going to be a hard sell. As John Kolasa of négociant Ulysse Cazabonne told me earlier in the week: “we need a quick campaign that starts straight after Easter. And we need a big name to come out with a sensible price.”
A word of caution: From past experience, wines of a vintage such as 2011 will not likely increase in value in the dramatic way the 2009 Bordeaux vintage did even for the top-classified wines of the vintage.
My advice? If the top growths are priced at 50% less than they were in 2010, then why not buy futures? The wines are still great. But for the rest, wait until the wines are bottled.
The Wine of the Vintage
Despite all the weather problems, this vintage has produced some great wines. These are the wines where producers worked hard—harder than ever—to cope and to get the grapes at optimum condition into the cellars. My wine of the vintage proved the great advantage of a biodynamic vineyard in a tough year, where drought was an ever-present factor.
For me, Château Pontet-Canet, in Pauillac, emphasizes all the virtues of the year with its pure fruit and great depth of flavor. Château Pontet-Canet is my Wine of the 2011 Vintage.
The Region of the Vintage
In this year, when some regions performed so much better than others, one in particular stood out. Sauternes and Barsac, home of sweet wines, had a stunning year. What was so exciting was the high level of quality, with normal underachievers putting on the performance of a lifetime. If you buy no other 2011s, buy these fabulous wines.
Bordeaux’s honeyed, rich and glorious sweet wines from Sauternes and Barsac are my 2011 vintage Region of the Year.
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.
The Nine Great Growths of Bordeaux
There are five classified first growths in the Médoc and Pessac-Léognan. There is one super first, the sweet white Sauternes of Château d’Yquem. And there are three great growths on the Right Bank (Chateaus Pétrus, Ausone, Cheval Blanc). Together, these are the great growths of Bordeaux. Here are my reviews of the 2011 vintage.
There are five classified first growths in the Médoc and Pessac-Léognan. There is one super first, the sweet white Sauternes of Château d’Yquem. And there are three great growths on the Right Bank (Chateaus Pétrus, Ausone and Cheval Blanc). Together, these are the great growths of Bordeaux. Here are my reviews of the 2011 vintage.
95–97 Château Ausone (Saint-Émilion). A deliciously-perfumed wine, with a dark and intense tannic structure. It is spiced and concentrated, with a plum character and great richness on the finish. —R.V.
95–97 Château Cheval Blanc (Saint-Émilion). This has sweet and soft tannins, with a smoky flavor that lingers on the ripe, opulent finish. Its initial richness suggests it could almost be consumed now, until you taste the massively-structured finish. —R.V.
95–97 Château d’Yquem (Sauternes). Rich, with intense flavors of botrytis, lemon and Seville orange peel. This wine has both freshness and sweetness, with a light touch. —R.V.
95–97 Château Lafite Rothschild (Pauillac). A powerful wine with dark and dry tannins. It has a great depth of fruit flavor, with immense and concentrated weight, and a structure that is for long-term aging. —R.V.
95–97 Château Latour (Pauillac). This wine has a juicy character and firm tannins. Its fruit is packed around the dense core, showing weight and intensity. —R.V.
95–97 Château Mouton-Rothschild (Pauillac). Smooth, opulent tannins lend a velvety texture. This wine shows weight and spice, with potential power. —R.V.
94–96 Château Pétrus (Pomerol). This is elegant, fresh and structured, with its blackberry fruit shining right through the wood. Style trumps power in this wine. —R.V.
94–96 Château Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan). An impressively silky wine. Dry yet intensely fruity, the palate shows big fruit, smooth tannins and a perfumed character. —R.V.
94–96 Château Margaux (Margaux). Dry with a firm core of dark tannins and solid fruits. It is packed with tannins, showing tight acidity as well as a forward black-currant flavor. It dances with the appellation’s classic lightness. —R.V.
Saint-Émilion, Pomerol and Other Red Wines
95–97 Vieux Château Certan (Pomerol). A beautifully-perfumed wine with ripe, soft tannins and sweet fruit. It has density yet the tannins are so velvety and ripe. —R.V.
94–96 Château Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarosse (Saint-Émilion). Big and powerful, this is a wine that is supported by dense tannins. The feeling is dry and firm, with a brooding black-currant character. —R.V.
94–96 Clos Fourtet (Saint-Émilion). A finely balanced wine—its immense tannins are mitigated by the fruit and dark chocolate flavors. It finishes with a hint of smoky wood. —R.V.
93–95 Château Bélair Monange (Saint-Émilion). The wine shows dryness and concentration, with a core of austere tannins. Its juicy character slowly emerges. —R.V.
93–95 Château Canon (Saint-Émilion). A firm and tannic wine, it has the weight to support its tannins. It’s balanced, solid and dense, with a powerful shot of black fruits. —R.V.
93–95 Château Figeac (Saint-Émilion). A rich, smooth and velvety wine, this has richness and weight along with delicious acidity. There is a good depth of texture and structure along with a ripe feel. —R.V.
93–95 Château Trotanoy (Pomerol). A fine wine that shows crisp fruit and a dense, dry structure. This is solid, fruit-packed and firm. —R.V.
92–94 Château Angélus (Saint-Émilion). Very dry, firm and hard, this is heavily dominated by new wood. It’s only the underlying weight that suggests the black fruit potential. —R.V.
92–94 Château Beau-Séjour Bécot (Saint-Émilion). Mint flavors make the initial impression, with its fruit buried deep in the concentrated structure. Wood tannins dominate this polished wine, but its finish shows a juicy character. —R.V.
92–94 Château Certan de May de Certan (Pomerol). Firm and concentrated, this wine has great structure and density along with acidity and berry flavor. There is an attractive final spicy element. —R.V.
92–94 Château Hosanna (Pomerol). An impressive and powerful wine, with its tannins packed into rich flavors of bitter chocolate and black fruit. —R.V.
92–94 La Chapelle d’Ausone (Saint-Émilion). A big wine that’s packed with ripe dark-plum flavors, smoky tannins and richness. It shows a powerful, balanced structure. —R.V.
92–94 Château La Fleur Pétrus (Pomerol). Made in an elegant style, this wine has richness without weight. It is stylish with some freshness, bearing black fruits and a perfumed finish. —R.V.
92–94 Château Larmande (Saint-Émilion). Very concentrated, this has dark tannins and dense fruits. It has power, intensity and the essence of black plum skin. —R.V.
92–94 Le Dôme (Saint-Émilion). While the wood is prominent, so is its concentrated, perfumed fruit. With its immense structure, this wine is spicy and very intense. —R.V.
92–94 Château Madgelaine (Saint-Émilion). A dark, dry wine that shows its strong, firm tannins. The wine is well structured, with flavors of mint, new wood and a layer of blackberry fruit. —R.V.
92–94 Château Petit Village (Pomerol). A solid, chunky wine that feels powerful and dense. Its tannins overlay the ripe fruit, and the finish has a juicy character. —R.V.
92–94 Château Troplong Mondot (Saint-Émilion). Mint and new wood aromas lead to a palate that has dark and concentrated tannins. The wine is bright and fresh, with juicy black-currant and plum flavors. —R.V.
92–94 Château Trottevielle (Saint-Émilion). This wine is powered with acidity, dark tannins and smoky wood. Concentrated and dense, it has weight along with the delicious, juicy fruits. —R.V.
92–94 Vieux Château Mazerat (Saint-Émilion). A powerful wine, with dark fruits and structured tannins. Impressively rich, it is dense and black in character. —R.V.
91–93 Château Clinet (Pomerol). Blackberry fruits dominate this ripe wine. It is already delicious, with a round and well-cushioned structure. —R.V.
91–93 Château Haut Sarpe (Saint-Émilion). This wine has firm, solid tannins, but enough rich dark fruit to sustain all of the dryness. —R.V.
91–93 Château La Cabanne (Pomerol). Dry and dense, this wine has weight and a juicy character that slowly surfaces. A final burst of tannins marks the finish. —R.V.
91–93 Château La Gaffelière (Saint-Émilion). Lean and austere on the surface, this wine shows a bitter chocolate edge. It feels extracted, very dark and concentrated. —R.V.
91–93 Château Le Bon Pasteur (Pomerol). A smooth, rounded wine, this shows opulence with its rich blackberry fruit. —R.V.
91–93 Les Astéries (Saint-Émilion). This is a dark and dense wine, with big tannins and a solid structure. It shows great weight, with an intense minerality. —R.V.
91–93 Château Moulin Saint-Georges (Saint-Émilion). A delicious wine, with ripe plum and berry flavors. It pairs acidity and firm tannins with its fruit. —R.V.
91–93 Château Pavie Macquin (Saint-Émilion). A bright, fruit-forward wine that already shows its delicious blackberry flavors. It is ripe and juicy, with a layer of finely integrated tannins. —R.V.
91–93 Château Providence (Pomerol). This has an herbal character along with spice. It’s juicy, with intense acidity. —R.V.
90–91 Château Beauregard (Pomerol). Aromas of new wood mark this wine. On the palate, the tannins are gentle, with flavors of ripe black plum, nutmeg and milk chocolate. —R.V.
90–92 Château Bourgneuf (Pomerol). This has some weight and richness, with chunky fruit and sweet tannins. This wine is concentrated and very firm. —R.V.
90–92 Château Canon la Gaffelière (Saint-Émilion). A juicy and forward wine, with attractive spice and sweet tannins. It’s soft and gentle on the palate. —R.V.
90–92 Château Corbin Despagne (Saint-Émilion). This is an impressively rich wine that’s packed with forward fruit and spice flavors. It has power and dark tannins while retaining a fine sense of style. —R.V.
90–92 Château Fombrauge (Saint-Émilion). Big and serious, with a well-balanced wood and spice character. The tense tannins provide a nervy, tight counterpoint. —R.V.
90–92 Château Franc Mayne (Saint-Émilion). Sweet new-wood flavors smooth this wine. It is rich and ripe, with juicy fruits surrounding the firm core of tannins. —R.V.
90–92 Château La Couspaude (Saint-Émilion). A powerhouse of dark tannins, this wine is black in color and dark in taste. It has bitter chocolate flavors, with notes of new wood and intense spice. —R.V.
90–92 Château La Dominique (Saint-Émilion). Dense and concentrated, this is a massive wine that’s packed with tannins. —R.V.
90–92 Château La Tour Figeac (Saint-Émilion). This wine is powered by its perfumed Cabernet Franc character. It’s rich, with a well-integrated structure. —R.V.
90–92 Château Latour à Pomerol (Pomerol). This wine is laden with tannins yet shows juicy, crisp red-berry flavors. It finishes with great structure.—R.V.
90–92 Le Carré (Saint-Émilion). Powerful, ripe and dense with its tannins, spice and sweet fruit, this wine is juicy with blackberry notes and a dark, solid texture. —R.V.
90–92 Le Petit Cheval (Saint-Émilion). This wine is very warm and rich. It shows spicy fruit with the weight and dark tannins to match. Opulent, juicy and ripe. —R.V.
90–92 Château Nenin (Pomerol). Powerful tannins and a distinct, solid core distinguish this very dark wine, showing sweet fruit notes with a blackberry juice flavor. It’s very fruity at the end. —R.V.
90–92 Château Pavie (Saint-Émilion). Here is a ripe and juicy wine that pushes forward with delicious blackberry fruits. There is a tense edge of acidity that then brings out denser tannins, but juiciness characterizes this wine. —R.V.
90–92 Château Villemaurine (Saint-Émilion). Powerful and concentrated, this is a wine with smoky flavors–very dark and intense. The fruit weight is well under the very firm and dry tannic character. —R.V.
89–90 Château Berliquet (Saint-Émilion). The tannins are tough, although the fruit character is juicy in this wine. This makes for a well-structured, solid expression, with intense and crisp acidity at the end. —R.V.
89–91 Château Cap de Mourlin (Saint-Émilion). Hugely tannic, this wine powers through the dry structure leaving fruit lost in its wake. There is a final dark bite on the palate. —R.V.
89–91 Château Faugères (Saint-Émilion). This wine shows mint and spice flavors, new wood and soft tannins. Fruity, attractively forward and ripe. —R.V.
89–91 Château Fleur Cardinale (Saint-Émilion). Here is a warm, ripe wine with dark tannins. It’s well spiced and fruity, showing crisp black currant fruits. —R.V.
89–91 Château Fontenil (Fronsac). Firm and dense with dark, dry fruits, this is a powerful wine for the year, while keeping an elegant, delicious style. —R.V.
89–91 Château La Croix de Gay (Pomerol). Here is a smoky, juicy wine, its tannins soft and gentle while also showing ripe spice and mouthwatering acidity. The dry tannins at the end provide structure. —R.V.
89–91 Château la Fleur de Boüard (Lalande de Pomerol). A wine that has the richenss of a Pomerol, it’s very ripe and concentrated, with the addition of chocolaty and smoky flavors. The fruit is ripe, edging towards extracted. —R.V.
89–91 Château la Grave (Pomerol). This wine has a classic fruit structure, very black currant in character. The wine is rich with a smoky core, with bitter chocolate notes and sweet tannins. —R.V.
89–91 Château la Serre (Saint-Émilion). This wine shows firm tannins, yet is also fruity. It feels light and fresh with attractive acidity and a crisp touch. —R.V.
89–91 Château la Tour de Pin (Saint-Émilion). With a firm edge and some bitterness, this wine does have softer tannins in the center, followed by juicy acidity and bright berry fruits. —R.V.
89–91 Château Lassègue (Saint-Émilion). Spicy new wood dominates this wine, with the weight of fruit to justify it. It’s solid, full-bodied and already balanced. —R.V.
89–91 Château Péby Faugères (Saint-Émilion). While there is 100% new wood, the weight of fruit in this expression is sufficient to power through. It will be an impressive wine. —R.V.
89–91 Château Quintus (Saint-Émilion). This wine is ripe and juicy, with full, soft tannins, jammy fruit and sweet plum flavors. It shows the acidity of the year with final notes of tobacco and smoke. —R.V.
89–91 Château Soutard (Saint-Émilion). Mint and plum-juice flavors mingle easily in this densely fruity wine. It combines sweet tannins and dark fruit with spice imparted from wood aging. It’s already juicily attractive. —R.V.
88–90 Château Balestard la Tonnelle (Saint-Émilion). Generously fruity, packed with sweet tannins and ripe fruits, this wine shows wood aging with licorice notes and a final burnt character. —R.V.
88–90 Château Cadet Bon (Saint-Émilion). A firm wine with a black currant character, it’s fruity, solid and chunky with gripping tannins. —R.V.
88–90 Château Corbin Michotte (Saint-Émilion). This light-bodied wine shows ripe fruit, some spice and wood. Not a great weight but it’s fruity. —R.V.
88–90 Château Gazin (Pomerol). This firmly tannic wine has a dry character that lays over lighter fruits. With soft spice and some sweetness, this wine is developing already. —R.V.
88–90 Château Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac (Saint-Émilion). Filled with new wood, spice and toast, this wine is open and rich, moving more to fruit than tannin. —R.V.
88–90 Château Haut Simard (Saint-Émilion). This wine is structured with firm tannins, ripe plum fruits and a touch of coffee, though acidity is also present. —R.V.
88–90 Château La Conseillante (Pomerol). Juicy and fruity, this wine shows attractive black currant flavors, rounded with the tannins already well integrated. —R.V.
88–90 Château La Pointe (Pomerol). A rounded, soft and rich wine, it shows sweet tannins and a ripe blackberry fruit character. This expression is juicy, ripe and fruity. —R.V.
88–90 Château Lafleu-Gazin (Pomerol). There is some warmth here, with the tannins providing a firm base for the crisp fruit. This wine shows some richness as well as intense acidity. —R.V.
88–90 Château Quinault l’Enclos (Saint-Émilion). A huge, extracted wine, it shows very ripe fruit dominated by dark tannins and a big black plum skin texture. —R.V.
87–89 Château Bellefont Belcier (Saint-Émilion). Smooth and rich, this wine is dominated by firm tannins, tarry fruit and new wood. —R.V.
87–89 Château Clos de Sarpe (Saint-Émilion). Here is a wine with weight and richness, aided by new-wood aging. It has toast and ripe black-plum flavors. —R.V.
87–89 Château Dassault (Saint-Émilion). Caramel aromas from new wood dominate this wine. It’s all burnt, toasty wood and dense tannins. —R.V.
87–89 Château Fonbel (Saint-Émilion). This is a juicy, fresh wine with a layer of spice. It has blackberry juice, sweet tannins and an intense acidity. —R.V.
87–89 Château Fonplégade (Saint-Émilion). This is a rich, soft, full-bodied wine with smooth tannins and fat plum fruits. —R.V.
87–89 Château Grand Mayne (Saint-Émilion). Here is a very tannic, extracted wine. It’s dark, full of bitter chocolate, all structure and no flesh. —R.V.
87–89 Château Guadet (Saint-Émilion). This dark-hued wine shows some fine tannins and has a solid fruit character and a bitter chocolate note.—R.V.
87–89 Château Laforge (Saint-Émilion). A fruity wine with plenty of dense tannins and a solid structure, this expression is powered by acidity, black fruit and a dark, dry finish. —R.V.
87–89 Château Larcis Ducasse (Saint-Émilion). Concentrated, with bitter fruit and wood characters, this wine feels hard and extracted, with a burnt finish. —R.V.
87–89 Château Teyssier (Saint-Émilion). Structured and firm with cassis and spice, this wine is layered with wood, acidity and a delicious freshness. —R.V.
86–88 Château Bergat (Saint-Émilion). Dark, dense and lean in character, this wine misses real fruit weight. The year’s crispness is evident. —R.V.
86–88 Château la Dauphine (Fronsac). Soft and fruity with red currant fruits and forward light tannins, this wine is attractive and already drinkable. —R.V.
86–88 Pezat (Bordeaux). Smooth, rounded, fresh wine with attractive black- currant acidity. The wine is bright, fruity and forward in character. —R.V.
86–88 Château Plince (Pomerol). Here is a light, juicy wine with intense acidity. There is some green fruit here along with firm tannins and tight black currants. —R.V.
86–88 Château Simard (Saint-Émilion). There is attractive juicy fruit with a soft layer of tannins in this wine. It’s bright with very crisp acidity and a fruity finish. —R.V.
86–88 Château Tour de Pin Figeac (Saint-Émilion). Dark with spicy fruit, tense tannins and very firm fruit, this wine is rather lean in texture. —R.V.
85–87 Château Cheval Noir (Saint-Émilion). Here is a big and solid wine, dominated by dark wood tannins. It is heavy on the toast. —R.V.
85–87 Château Coutet (Saint-Émilion). Here is an attractive fruity wine with good acidity and lively black currant notes. It’s soft and low in tannins. —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 Four: Pessac-Léognan and Graves, the Reds and Dry Whites, click here.