Bordeaux 2011 En Primeur Blog #3

Tuesday, 3 April 2012 by Stephen Browett

Today we had to wake up while it was still dark and were tasting wine by 8.30 am. Don’t let anyone tell you that this job is like being on holiday! By 10 am (9 in the morning UK time) we had already tasted nearly 50 wines.

We started off in Margaux where, as usual there was a rather mixed bag. Some of the wines here are too lean to recommend with the tannic structures being too harsh for the lack of flesh on the bones. What we have been learning is that many of these 2011’s have high acidity levels and tannins that are just as strong as in 2009 and 2010 but they clearly don’t have the weight of fruit (and correspondingly lower alcohol levels) to make them balanced. Only one Château that we visited today (who have made a very good 2011) dared to show us the 2010 and 2009 at the same time. A big mistake really as we were immediately reminded that this vintage is simply not in the same league as those two fantastic years.

Nick, Harry and Alastair in concentration.

Prices were discussed several times during the day and we heard stories of reductions of maybe 10 or 15% on last year. If those rumours turn out to be true, then we will be advising our customers to skip the vintage and we won’t waste our time on what will be a fruitless en primeur campaign. That sort of reduction is simply not enough.

The people who we trust here, and who give us a genuinely honest opinion of the vintage, are few and far between. Fortunately one of them runs a First Growth (it would be indiscreet to mention his name of course) and he was prepared to give us straight answers to our questions about where 2011 lies in the run of very good vintages that Bordeaux has enjoyed since 1999.

Clearly it is not amongst the best, which he ranked in this order at his property:

  • 2009
  • 2010
  • 2005
  • 2000

These four vintages have produced clearly exceptional wines that justify their high prices.

2011 is somewhere in the middle of the next group of good vintages which he ranked like this:

  • 2001
  • 2006
  • 2011
  • 2008

And it is probably above these four:

  • 2004
  • 2007
  • 2003 (his Chateau is not in the Northern Médoc)
  • 2002

There are always exceptions to every rule of course, but it seems pretty clear to us that the wines that we have been tasting this week need to be sold en primeur to the consumer at lower prices than those at which any of the above vintages can currently be purchased. If the prices are close to the top four vintages then forget it, if they are around those of the middle group then only buy the few real successes of the vintages and if they are at the current prices of the bottom group then we might be able to get interested. If they are below those prices then we might have some genuinely good deals to offer.

Thomas and Harry compare notes.

We’ll talk more about specific wines when we are back in London but some of the highlights of today included these wines:

Chateau Palmer – we were poured this wine by the man who makes it – Thomas Duroux. With yields here of just 20 hl/ha and the smallest harvest since the legendary 1961 vintage don’t hold out for a modest price. A shame as it’s rather a nice wine.

At Château Margaux, Paul Pontallier gave us the quote of the day when he said that after 2009 and 2010, “Bordeaux was back to normal”. Wise words. However Paul did say that Châteaux Margaux 2011 is the most concentrated wine that they have ever produced (I didn’t quite get that, but it’s true that the yields are the lowest for 20 years). However, he could be right when he says that the Pavillon Blanc is their best ever. We also tasted some outstanding dry white wines at Haut Brion, La Mission, Domaine de Chevalier and de Fieuzal.

The red wine of the day, for me, was La Mission Haut Brion – a wine that had a genuinely ripe core of fruit that not only matched the accompanying tannins and acidity but actually came out on top. Most of our group thought that the Haut Brion was even better but I am sticking with the La Mission and hoping that Prince Robert doesn’t release it at a First Growth price this year.

Stephen and Ol with Jean-Philippe Delmas at La Mission Haut Brion

If some of the wines of the Margaux appellation were a little lean then we had some good experiences back in the Northern Médoc at the Union des Grands Crus tasting. There were some very good wines here including Gloria, Saint Pierre, Léoville Poyferré, both Pichons and another blockbuster sample of the black beauty from Lynch Bages.

We also found some fleshy samples in Pessac-Léognan including a silky smooth Smith Haut Lafitte and a masculine Haut Bailly.

Tomorrow we hit the road for the right bank. We’ll spend the morning in Pomerol and the afternoon in Saint Emilion. We’ve only tasted a few Pomerols so far (and none of the famous ones) but this is looking like the best appellation of the vintage. Let’s see if that’s true when we knock on Monsieur Moueix’s door tomorrow morning at 9am.



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