Bordeaux 2011: a few surprises but mostly as expected
January 18, 2014
By Panos Kakaviatos
BORDEAUX 2011 FROM BOTTLE – Park Hyatt Hotel, Washington D.C. (1/17/2014) - as posted on Cellar Tracker, but with a few score revisions one day afterwards.
With some trepidation I tasted 2011 Bordeaux from bottle. It came after two “vintages of the century” in 2009-2010 and inaugurated three non vintages of the century in 2011-2012-2013. So based on my from barrel tastings back in 2012, I was not expecting much, and did not get much.
To be fair, some wines were better than expected. Interesting that some of the more so called modern styled wines excelled in 2011. Perhaps they could not go that far and the lengths they went to brought up succulence and flavor that was needed in this vintage, too often marked by attenuated and/or drying finishes. Estates that “played it safe” either came up with some decent wine for short term drinking (La Louviere, Maucaillou, Tour de By) or ended up being rather boring (Cantenac Brown, La Tour Carnet, Grand Puy Ducasse).
The key here is pricing. Many estates lowered prices but not enough to excite the trade, especially in more traditional markets, which had already felt very annoyed by the price peaks realized in 2010… So not many merchants bought any 2011 en primeur. Certainly the importer/retailer that helped organize the tasting for the Union de Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB) – Calvert Woodley – did not buy much at the time of release.
But for those who say that Bordeaux is passé, I can only indicate a packed house for this 3 to 6 pm tasting on a weekday in Washington D.C. Not the easiest time to come.Many people I spoke to said that they took a half day off work to come, so for an off vintage, Bordeaux has popularity. A positive sales indication is that Calvert Woodley included a price sheet for most bottles tasted – some 53 chateaux members of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux were represented. And important nation wide merchants like Total Wine certainly bought 2011s. “I like the pricing discounts on some of these wines,” proclaimed Total Wines representative Cyrus Hazzard at the tasting. And there was much discussion among tasters – from the trade or not – about the merits and demerits of the vintage.
For the most part, many of my impressions from barrel back in 2012 were reflected in this from bottle tasting. Underrepresented, Pomerol did well. The whites from Graves were perhaps the best, and indeed my highest scoring wine was Domaine de Chevalier white.
Interesting to note that Olivier Bernard, president of the UGCB, organised travels this year so that not all members travel to the same places at once. So instead of all members being in Washington D.C. on 17 January, others were doing a tasting at St John in the Virgin Islands, which explains the absence of some estates such as Leoville Barton or Grand Puy Lacoste. I will try to taste these “missing estates” in Duesseldorf, Germany in March this year.
One added note, thanks to Chris Kissack, I was reminded that UGCB tastings do indeed offer “a very blunted view of any vintage” because appellations are not thoroughly represented. This was particularly the case in Washington D.C. because far fewer members were showing their wines.
Finally, I use scores somewhat begrudgingly. It is not easy to assign a number to a wine, taking into consideration so many factors for Bordeaux: stylistic differences, price/quality ratios, under (or over) performance and my subjective tastes. So please pay more attention to the notes than to the numbers .
Wines in bold I liked in particular. Red and bold, even more. When underlined, too, the most.
White Graves and White Pessac Leognan
Likely the most consistent appellation in Bordeaux in 2011.
- 2011 Château de Chantegrive Cuvée Caroline – France, Bordeaux, Graves
- An illustration of why whites in 2011 were generally successful, this wine combined a rather brisk entry with a richer mid palate that lead to a clean if somewhat jagged finish. But the price is very right and I would buy it for fish or chicken, to take two general examples. (88 points)
- 2011 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
- My en primeur tastings confirmed here. Yet again Domaine de Chevalier proves itself as being among the top tier whites produced in all of Bordeaux. Medium to full bodied, with energy. Very focused, mineral, citrus and ripe yet not thick. Pristine comes to mind, with rounded richness around the linear line of flavor that results in a long and pleasing finish. Potential for a higher score, if you follow the numbers. These wines are built to last, as I had experienced in an all-white vertical reaching back to the 1970s in November 2013 in Merano Italy with owner Olivier Bernard. (95 points)
- 2011 Château La Tour-Martillac Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-LéognanVery brisk and high toned, with notes of pear and lime. But was it over steely? Look, I love mineral driven wines that do not depend of ripeness and fat to impress – well, I do sympathize with the Anti Flavor Elite . But this one is almost for ascetics. Tasting along with me was none other than famous Virginia winemaker Rutger de Vink who agreed, dubbing it “edgy.” I really like what owner Tristan Kressmann – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hmqhCqpoBo – has been doing at this estate and generally love his whites – I bought a six pack of his 2010 for example. But I wonder if the 2011 is too steely for its own good? Will it stand the test of time? The prices are good, so worth a try. (89 points)
- 2011 Château Carbonnieux Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-LéognanHere we have a rather strong buy recommendation, as this estate is not an “investment wine” and proposes regular pricing, en primeur for about 16 euros release price, and that was for 2010 as well as for 2011… This combined both richness and briskness nicely, with a medium plus body and a medium long finish. (90 points)
- 2011 Château La Louvière Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-LéognanOnce again, La Louviere delivers the good – in white and in red. For this white, muted citrus flavors and red apple on the attack precede a rather succulent mid palate, which leads to a short but pleasant finish. A good wine, indeed when taking (low) price into account. (90 points)
- 2011 Château Pape Clément Blanc - France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-LéognanAs you can read HERE this wine is better from bottle than from barrel. Cyrus Hazzard of Total Wine, also at the tasting, loved the opulence. I did, too. The wine seems to have “come together” becoming more cohesive, combining adequate acidity to balance the ripe apricot and somewhat exotic fruit richness. A special bottle, although I do not believe that it will last as long as the Domaine de Chevalier Blanc – another style altogether. Still, for lovers of opulent whites, this is your ticket to be sure! (93+ points)
- 2011 Château Olivier Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-LéognanA bit of a let down from what I had experienced from barrel, expecting more from Olivier in blanc in 2011 -
http://www.connectionstowine.com/bordeaux-2011/choose-carefully/#PessacLeognan. Not bad, mind you. There was an intriguing mint freshness from this wine, but also a slightly metallic finish that detracted. (90 points)
- 2011 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-LéognanFine evolution in bottle and echoing more or less the feeling I got from the wine from barrel in 2012 (http://www.connectionstowine.com/bordeaux-2011/choose-carefully/#PessacLeognan). Although it was a bit too cold when served, I could sense the balance between richness of fruit and acidity. It was clean, a touch plump (lacking the streamlined precision of Domaine de Chevalier) but just very elegant overall on the finish. A success. (92 points)
Red Graves and Pessac Leognan
We are starting to get a bit patchy, but a candidate for most consistent dry red appellation from Bordeaux in 2011.
- 2011 Château de Chantegrive – France, Bordeaux, GravesTaking no risks, this wine came across as medium bodied, with a somewhat thin mid palate marked by a touch of metallic but also with pleasing cranberry notes, more on a red fruit register than black. For the price, not bad at all. (87 points)
- 2011 Château Carbonnieux – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-LéognanA noticeable step up following Chantegrive. Eric Perrin explained that their Cabernets were “very ripe” albeit a small harvest. He said that for his terroir, the Cabernet was better than Merlot. This blend of 70-30 Cab-Merlot displays medium concentration and medium body, with a fine palate texture and a rather smooth albeit short finish. There is a certain elegance about this wine that makes it quite endearing. (88+ points)
- 2011 Domaine de Chevalier – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-LéognanSurprise? Not really. Owner Olivier Bernard has been fashioning some great reds from his estate, that has been better known for its whites. As I had tasted in a blind vertical a couple of years ago at the estate, he can make lovely reds in difficult vintages and this one is no exception. If the price is right, which I hope it would be for most readers, this is a buy. Fine concentration, medium plus body, sap and energy if not super bright, which would come from a better vintage. Still, this was among the best reds I had among the 50 or so I tried in Washington D.C. on 17 January 2013. (92 points)
- 2011 Château Haut-Bailly – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-LéognanMy tasting of this wine at Vinexpo is confirmed albeit a slightly better showing. http://www.connectionstowine.com/vinexpo-2013/haut-bailly-15-years/. Here in Washington D.C. I get more refinement and mid palate sap, plus a burgeoning richness reflected perhaps in the larger- than-usual proportion of Merlot (some 47%). A somewhat short finish however brings back memories of 2007. Give it time in bottle with potential for upward scoring. (91 points)
- 2011 Château La Tour-Martillac – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-LéognanThis I had actually tasted at Smith Haut Lafitte at a holiday season party and celebration of the end of the harvest in December 2013. It displayed fine sap and concentration and displayed pleasing mid weight palate presence, albeit a slightly short finish. But the price is right. (90 points)
- 2011 Château La Louvière – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-LéognanWhat can I say? La Louviere tends to be a very consistent wine that delivers medium body, ripe red or black fruit depending on the vintage. Here it is more black, but not of low intensity. The team got the right level of extraction and picked ripe grapes with good acidity. I must put this in a restaurant category. If not too expensive, do not hesitate. (89 points)
- 2011 Château Olivier – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-LéognanI am not sure if a note of cardboard seemed to indicate a flaw, but it seemed to dissipate. Disassociating that note, I detected mid level concentration, fine sap on the mid palate but a bit of drying tannin on the finish. Tasting through these wines fairly quickly, so I wonder if this was indeed simply a faulty bottle. ??
- 2011 Château Pape Clément – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-LéognanWhat’s going on here? The nose offers much promise of red and black fruit and you may think that this wine would have some freshness. The attack is decent and the mid palate of medium plus body. But it ends up being an over extracted mess, with far too much drying on the finish. I could be wrong here, but my experience tasting it in Washington D.C. was not too positive – certainly worse than the from barrel tasting in 2012… (87 points)
- 2011 Château Smith Haut Lafitte – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-LéognanWell, here we have a red that starts out just fine, with a cocktail of fruit red and black – and ripe. The mid palate is juicy and conveys a bit of spice from the oak I suppose, but nicely integrated. All is well until the somewhat drying finish that is medium. Considering the vintage, SMH did a good job here. (91+ points)
- 2011 Château de France – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-LéognanMore body than, say, Chantegrive, but lacks the symmetry of Carbonnieux. What I mean is that while the attack – and the aromas – offer initial promise, I sense a certain metallic quality and drying tannin on the finish that perturbs a bit. I hope to try this again in Strasbourg in February 2013. (86 points)
Some of the more modern styled wines actually excelled in 2011, bringing an extra bit of flavor and succulence in the mix.
- 2011 Château Beau-Séjour Bécot – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand CruThis has chutzpah. And I like it better from bottle than from barrel. Certainly a plump and somewhat modern style, but a very good one. The Merlot driven succulence (about 70% Merlot) comes to the fore. A pleasing and supple attack leads to a rich and pleasing medium bodied palate. Just slightly drying on the finish, which is abbreviated, gives the vintage away. (91 points)
- 2011 Château Canon – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand CruA success for the vintage and I was not surprised. There is a lovely harmony to this wine – perhaps understated or “playing things close to the vest” but one of the least aggressive or drying of all the reds. The attenuated nature of the vintage is detected in the short finish but the attack and mid palate are refined and fresh, with a ripe red fruit basket that invites further drinking. Enough tannic structure to ensure medium term aging as well. (92+ points)
- 2011 Château Canon-la-Gaffelière – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand CruWhat can I say? I liked this en primeur – http://www.connectionstowine.com/bordeaux-2011/choose-carefully/#SaintEmilion – and loved in from bottle. This is rich and flavorful and succulent and one of my favorite reds of the tasting in Washington D.C. The wine may be modern in style but somehow it all came together nicely in 2011. Sure, the finish is not very long, but everything else is, well, quite delicious. If the price is right and you like Canon La Gaffeliere, purchase this one for shorter term drinking while your more age worthy vintages sleep in your cellar! (92+ points)
- 2011 Château Figeac - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand CruPouring me the first vintage of Figeac under the supervision of Michel Rolland, technical director Frédéric Faye reiterated his invitation to come over and see the team. I have always loved Figeac and am not sure how the wine will change over time (see this article: http://www.decanter.com/news/wine-news/583758/rolland-vows-to-take-figeac-into-st-emilion-premier-league) but with Faye pouring, I must say that this 2011 was darn good. A break from the past was that the percentages changed: 40 per cent Merlot and 40 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, with less Cabernet Franc than usual… Good structure, mid palate concentration, pleasing tobacco leaf hints, a touch drying on the finish, but that may well be just the vintage character. (92 points)
- 2011 Château Troplong Mondot – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand CruI liked this more from bottle than from cask. Rich and savory and oak derived spice, not too far from the succulence of the Canon La Gaffeliere, but the finish was noticeably drying. In any case, I think lovers of this style will find their bonheur. (90 points)
- 2011 Château Franc-Mayne – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand CruThis was somewhat boring. I think Franc Mayne can make great wines, but perhaps the vintage overtook them? The attack is low key, the mid palate of medium intensity with some pleasant red fruit, and the finish attenuated. (87 points)
- 2011 Château Trotte Vieille – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand CruLots of Cabernet Franc, almost 50%. But I did not get any wow impression. It was tasty and of moderate intensity, and well made, but lacking excitement. Perhaps this just needs time to sleep in the cellar? (88 points)
Under represented by the UGCB, but overall pretty good and illustrates why some consider Pomerol the best dry red appellation in Bordeaux from 2011.
- 2011 Château Beauregard – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, PomerolLike the two other Pomerols at the Washington D.C. tasting, this wine performed better from bottle than it did from barrel. Fine red fruit aromatics precede a supple attack and a medium bodied and suave mid palate. The finish is just a bit chopped however, indicating the vintage’s limitations. (90 points)
- 2011 Château Le Bon Pasteur – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, PomerolA far better performance from bottle when compared to my experience tasting it from barrel in 2012, this was succulent and ripe and, well, delicious from the attack to the mid palate. Too bad that there was a bit of heady alcohol on the finish with some drying, but – this is splitting some hairs. We are talking about a wine that has that style in mind and for the vintage, I say it merits a success. (91 points)
- 2011 Château Gazin – France, Bordeaux, Côtes de BourgPerhaps my favorite among the three Pomerols in Washington D.C. While more subdued than the Le Bon Pasteur, it seemed to convey more harmony and balance through to the finish – and showed a marked improvement from what I had tasted from barrel (a good sign, or perhaps a sign that I was not tasting so hot in 2012 ). In any case, I think prices are not too high for Gazin in 2011, and would advise those who do not have that much Bordeaux in their cellars, or who are just starting to get into Bordeaux, to purchase a few of these, A good example of why some consider Pomerol to be the appellation of the vintage. (92 points)
Did not get a chance to taste but three from the choices here. By the time I got to these wines, La Lagune was gone, for example… Anyway, nothing to exciting here, but some fine price/quality ratios.
- 2011 Château Maucaillou – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Moulis en MédocA frank attack, a rather polished mid palate and a certain juicy lift on the finish. This is inexpensive and good. (88 points)
- 2011 Château La Tour Carnet – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Haut-MédocRich yet drying on the finish. Sure some tasters will focus on the richness, and why not? But I just think that its price tag should also include a more pristine finish… (87 points)
- 2011 Château La Tour de By – France, Bordeaux, MédocPromising fruit driven nose, with some pleasant oak derived spice at this stage precedes a midweight palate marked by fine sap. The length is medium minus but the price is right… (89 points)
A mixed bag appellation and the best were missing (no Rauzan Segla, for example, or Brane Cantenac or Giscours)…
- 2011 Château Cantenac Brown – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, MargauxThe nose promised some fine fruit and ripe notes. The attack started strong but the palate was fleeting and ended with drying tannins. (87 points)
- 2011 Château Desmirail – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, MargauxA little known estate that pulled more than its weight in 2011. Fine juiciness throughout if inoffensive and perhaps over polite, but what can you do with the challenges of the harvest? They did well. (88 points)
- 2011 Château Kirwan – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, MargauxTCA taint noticeable. (NR/flawed)
- 2011 Château Lascombes – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, MargauxWell, well, well. Better from bottle than it was from barrel although not really my style. As Ben Giliberti noted, he liked it more than usual (we share similar tastes). Rich and succulent from the beginning but you do get the oak treatment! It would be nice for the estate to tone that down a bit, and then you would get a better wine (at least for my palate). (88 points – more if you like the style)
- 2011 Château Siran – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, MargauxThere is a silkiness to this Siran that is endearing. OK, a bit of drying detracts on the finish, but it is not over extracted. Just a vintage nature and probably good for earlier drinking! (88 points)
All are good here, and Saint Julien is known for being consistent even in off vintages. I thought so from barrel – http://www.connectionstowine.com/bordeaux-2011/choose-carefully/#Saintjulien and think again, too, after tasting these five examples.
- 2011 Château Branaire-Ducru – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. JulienI rather like this from barrel and – knowing the estate style rather well – I suspect it is simply closed down now. There is a suave palate freshness one expects with ripe enough red fruits and a tonic if somewhat austere finish that I had noted from barrel, but more closed down from bottle. Hence my rather cautious note, but potential for upside. (90 points)
- 2011 Château Lagrange (St. Julien) - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. JulienWhat a nice surprise. What smoothness and pleasingly noticeable sap! The finish does feel somewhat pinched – a detraction – but I just love the mid palate so much that had to give it a 91! (91 points)
- 2011 Château Gruaud Larose - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. JulienInteresting! I had done a vertical in Duesseldorf for a wine shop there called Wine Live a few years back, for ProWein (German international wine fair). And this 2011 really falls into the category of 2007, but better. Gruaud Larose 2007 is quite elegant and refined but lacks power. The 2011 was gentle and smooth with fine aromatics on the attack through to a somewhat spicy mid palate, medium bodied. Not edgy or angular (charming comes to mind) but somewhat tight on the finish. Good, and certainly not great. (90 points)
- 2011 Château Léoville Poyferré - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. JulienLeoville Poyferre can really kick ass in off vintages. Take the 1999 for example. Well, 2011 is like that: dark fruit succulence, mid palate juice, and a delicious finish. If one want to be picky picky (2011, boys, come on!), then the finish does dry out a bit. But overall, I bet this will provide marvelous short term pleasure as your 09s, 10s, 05s, 03s, and 00s age. (93 points)
- 2011 Château Talbot – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. JulienA rather impressive showing from this estate, and better than my experience from barrel. Perhaps a bit muted but there is dark fruit and lead pencil and a certain pleasing hearty aspect on the mid palate, with a smooth and adequate finish. (90 points)
Perhaps not as consistent as Saint Julien, but a great performance from Lynch Bages.
- 2011 Château Batailley – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, PauillacNot the strongest showing from this estate, which has been doing very well in recent vintages. A certain underripe aromatic detracts from the start, but the mid palate makes up for this with medium plus body and a Pauillac grip that you expect. The finish has lift, too. Give it time in bottle and it may turn out better with some years aging. (89 points)
- 2011 Château Grand-Puy Ducasse – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, PauillacPut this one in the ho hum category. Yes, it has fruit and spice on the nose, with a certain earthiness, but all seems to muted and, well, a bit boring. You can peer all you want and think that it may be closed or something, but it seems just a bit flat, and with some drying tannin to boot. (87 points)
- 2011 Château Lynch-Bages – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, PauillacTop flight Lynch Bages. I liked Pauillac in general in 2011, and this wine does not disappoint. OK, a touch drying on the finish but that is splitting some hairs. Veritably full bodied, this wine displays succulence and power, what one can expect from a quality estate like Lynch Bages. In recent vintages, I have decried a certain later picking and oak extraction, but 2011 seems to be marked by balance. (92+ points)
- 2011 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, PauillacNot sure about this one here. I generally adore the Comtesse, but feel like the green pepper aspect is almost too present. Some could interpret it as herbal, but I think we have some underripe tannin. What makes me hope for the future is that the mid palate is juicy and the texture is finely grained and displays elegance one expects, but I think that they did a better job in, say, 2008. This does remind me of 2007! (91 points)
An under representative sample.
- 2011 Château Les Ormes de Pez – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. EstèpheStarts out rich and flavorful and thus not bad at all. But like other reds in 2011, ends drying and attenuated on the finish. 2007 redux. (87 points)
- 2011 Château Phélan Ségur – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. EstèpheThis one is a better Saint Estephe as it displays more sap and energy. Just barely 90, if you will, because the finish is no great shakes, but this has medium plus flavor intensity and a robust palate. Fits the bill. Get me a steak. (89+ points)
I think that Sauternes was patchier in 2011 than some people have said…
- 2011 Château Bastor-Lamontagne – France, Bordeaux, Bordeaux ContrôléeI did not really like this from barrel and that sentiment is echoed from bottle. While there is some verve on the finish, albeit muted, what bugged me is a cloyingly sweet palate, but I suppose some tasters who seek richness at all costs would like it more. (88 points)
- 2011 Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey – France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, SauternesNot sure what to think. I found it a bit over sweet, yet again. And this is reflected in my notes from barrel. It is not bad, mind you. 2011 was generally quite good for Sauternes but some may have been too sweet for their own good. (90 points)
- 2011 Château de Rayne-Vigneau – France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, SauternesWell, now, I really liked this from barrel and the feeling from bottle is the same. An excellent showing that may merit a higher score with time in bottle. Why? The palate has lots of energy, salty freshness and zing. With lovely botrytis derived notes of black tea, orange peel in cinnamon. I would have given it a higher score if it were not for a somewhat thin finish, but overall I love the elegance and freshness. (92 points)
- 2011 Château de Fargues – France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, SauternesI liked this more than I did from barrel. A somewhat lower note perhaps than one would expect because I did find it somewhat over sweet. Let’s put it this way: the opulence on the nose and on the attack – with apricots and pineapples and spice – could have used more zing on the palate… Still, I could see this wine’s appeal. (91 points)
To conclude, I would say that you cannot go wrong with certain dry whites from Bordeaux in 2011.
For the Sauternes/Barsac, I still think it is a patchier vintage than some believe, so choose carefully - although this was hardly a representative sample, and Yquem was brilliant as were the two Doisys for example.
For most reds, it is a short to medium term drinking vintage. Some performed better than others, and some may surprise us down the road. No surprise that 2011 is not a super vintage, but some reds can find their places in your cellar.