Now the wines are in bottle St Emilion seems to have faired better in 2011 than the Médoc. These are solid wines with plenty of fruit, weight, chew and grip. Things are by no means homogeneous though. One thing to keep a beady eye out for in St Emilion is over-extraction. There are properties that are pushing things too much in this vintage, though the best proprietors mercifully have kept their foot of the gas in the cellar.
The 2011 growing season was tricky here too of course. A warm precocious spring followed by a cool summer with heat spikes lead to uneven ripening in the fruit. Things were also dry overall during August and September which led to thick tannins on the grapes. So things needed to be handled very carefully in the vineyard and the winery.
The smaller scale of production and vineyard size in St Emilion compared to the chateaux on the Left Bank helps make a tricky vintage more manageable here. The blends being Merlot dominant also offer more plumpness and weight over the more angular Cabernet blends over the Gironde in 2011. Still the vintage characteristics – vigour and grip – are present and the wines do have plenty of acid. This plays nicely in the best examples, adding freshness to the attractive fruit tones. Nevertheless there is still plenty of tannin lurking around some wines which I’ve a sneaking suspicion is often more due to extractive winemaking methods and use of oak than the nature of the fruit.
The highlights? Clos Fortet 2011 looks wonderfully pure with great blackcurrant and plum fruit flavours. It is nicely handled on the palate without a trace of over-extraction. Château Canon-La-Gaffelière looks spicy, ripe and forward, and I preferred this to Château Canon, currently rather brooding, dense and tannic and long-term. Château La Dominique always produces plump, fruit driven wines and this is true of their effort in 2011. There is purity and freshness here too. There is a serious and tight effort from Château La Gaffelière. There’s real depth to the wine.
Château Pavie-Macquin is big and bold with lots of heady rich flavours. It feels ‘worked’ but nevertheless is nicely handled and the tannins are ripe and round. The other wines from the Nicolas Thienpont stable are also lush and enjoyable. Château Larcis-Ducasse has strawberry red fruit aromas and forest floor tones and Château Berliquet is forward and ripe St Emilion, saturated with flavour. In this style too I’d put Château La Tour Figeac which is sweet, ripe and full – lots of pleasure to be had there.
Château Figeac produced extraordinary wines in both 2009 and 2010. 2011 here is less impressive. It’s a nicely polished wine and very fine but there’s tannin to shed and it needs some time to show its best. Château Trottevielle feels compact and angular. Château Beau-Séjour-Bécot is pretty bold and extracted. Overall it works but this too could do with two or three years to settle down. Château Troplong Mondot is very saturated in colour and aroma but feels extremely tannic and extracted on the palate. Not quite sure where this is headed. Long-term certainly. Let’s see.
There are a bunch of other St Emilions which didn’t hit the spot for one reason or other. Château Balestard La Tonnelle and Chateau Grand Mayne both felt stewed and figgy. Château Cap de Mourlin was extracted and puckering and Château Villemaurine a bit one dimensional and very dry on the end. Château La Couspaude feels a bit over-oaked and disjointed at present and Château Franc Mayne is quite a mouthful – chewy and full but lacks finesse. Let’s see how these wines develop down the track, but they are not my picks at present.
Below are the full tasting notes on all the St Emilions shown at the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tasting at Covent Garden on Wednesday October 23. As ever the notes are more important than the numbers.
Château Balestard La Tonnelle
Deep and saturated; figgy, bit stewed and rather late harvested in feel; some VA lift; lots of extract and chew on the palate; big and thick certainly though less extracted than Cap de Mourlin. Drink 2015-2021. 86
Château Beau-Séjour Bécot
Mid depth; ripe, spicy black fruits; some figs; chewy palate with grip and bite; depth here and extract – kinda works in a chewy style – plenty of black fruits here but lots of tannin too. Be interested to see how this develops. Drink 2015-2025. 89+
Deep and saturated looking; ripe, lifted aromatics – black fruits, liqource, plums and spices; chewy palate, pretty rich and oak influenced but works. Drink 2015-2021. 88
Deep and saturated; intense and pent-up on the nose; tight; some wet rock and cassis fruit; quite grippy on the palate but layers of fruit; chewy and tannic and needs time. Fresh acids here. Will be long-lived and needs a bit of time to come round. Never particularly forward here – the wines are usually intense and pretty structured – but this feels particularly tight at present. See how it develops. Drink 2018-2028. 90+
Deep and dark looking; ripe and seductive nose; lovely plumy, spicy fruit; nicely handled palate – sweet and ripe fruit with a spicy accent [Cab Franc]. Very good length. Tannin ripe and extraction nicely handled. Open already. Great success. Drink now-2026. 93+
Château Cap de Mourlin
Deep and saturated looking; creamy and ripe on the nose; some figgy tones and liquorice; ripe and initially easy but then the extract and tannin becomes overwhelming and finishes feeling very tannic and puckering. Not sure what’s going on here? Drink 2015-2021? 86?
Château La Couspaude
Deep and dark; lifted blackfruits, some leaf and liquorice; palate chewy and tannic at present – palate little saturated with oak tannin. Feels a bit over-oaked to me now its completed elevage. Drink 2016-2021 87?
Château La Dominique
Mid depth; ripe strawberry tones with cassis; stalky blackcurrants; attractive; plums and blackcurrants on the palate; cassis too; good structure and chew on the finish. Plenty of depth here. Nice wine, well handled in the cellar. Drink 2015-2026. 90+
Deep and dark; healthy looking; classy nose, Cabernet influenced [Franc and Sauvignon], blackcurrant, pencils; spice and some perfume; palate full with depth and chew; gritty but well done. Needs a bit of time but nicely polished. 90+
Deep and full looking; creamy and attractive nose; purity here; deep; blackcurrant, plums and spice; ripe and full entry on the palate with cool fruit nicely handled. Very good effort indeed – very full but goes with the grain of the vintage. 93+
Château Franc Mayne
Deep looking; lifted and spicy; ripe fruit, lots of extract and chewy tannin. Some bite on the finish. A mouthful certainly but lacks finesse. Drink 2015-2021. 87
Château La Gaffelière
Deep looking; stones and wet rocks; serious and dense; lots of fruit on the palate and extract too; not too dry on the finish. Nice length. Good effort from La Gaffelière. Drink 2016-2026. 90+
Château Grand Mayne
Deep and saturated; colour tight to the rim; more caramel on the nose; feels a little overdone; verging on the figgy and stewed; too thick and stewed on the palate for me. Finishes tannic and dry. Drink 2015-2021 85
Château Larcis Ducasse
Deep and arterial; ripe, sweet, strawberry fruit; some forest floor notes; ripe and rich on the palate with lots of fruit and chew. Lots of depth and layers. Good effort in a modern style. Not overdone. Attractive now Drink 2014-2025. 90
Deep and saturated look; ripe and rich; plums, spices and hints of marzipan and liquorice; big and bold on the palate – lots of lush fruit; rich. Chewy tannin but good bite keeps things positive. 91+
Château La Tour Figeac
Deep and saturated; open and full; opulent in fact; red fruits [strawberry]; quite big and saturated with fruit on the palate; still manages some grip with chew and acid on the finish. Drink 2015-2025. 88+
Château Troplong Mondot
Deep and saturated; very ripe, lifted and intense on the nose – menthol, spices and lots of extract evident; lots of matter on the palate and tannin on the finish. Very puckering on the finish. Have they overdone this in this vintage? Feels like it will need time to settle at the very least. Let’s see how it develops. Drink 2018-2030 88?
Mid depth; glossy look; attractive lift – Cabernet leaf from the Cab Franc; palate feels closed and grippy at present. Will settle but feels more compact and far less exciting than the great successes here in 2009 & 2010. Drink between 2016-2026 87
Deep looking; ripe merlot aromas; feels almost fat if a little one dimensional at this stage; big on the palate; quite fresh and ripe but very, very dry on the end. Over-extracted and chewy, it may settle but currently disjointed. Drink 2015-2021 85?
Tags: 2011, Bordeaux, Cabernet Franc, Chateau Balestard La Tonnelle, Chateau Beau-Séjour Bécot, Chateau Berliquet, Chateau Canon, Chateau Canon La Gaffelière, Chateau Cap de Mourlin, Chateau Figeac, Chateau Franc Mayne, Chateau Grand Mayne, Chateau La Couspaude, Chateau La Dominique, Chateau Larcis Ducasse, Chateau Pavie Macquin, Chateau Troplong Mondot, Chateau Villemaurine, Merlot, St Emilion