There’s no doubt that 2011 is an inconsistent vintage in Bordeaux. The same problems that affected the region generally also had a big impact in Pauillac. Here, as elsewhere, a combination of drought, a warm, dry spring, followed by a cool autumnal summer, with occasional severe heat spikes, knocked the growth cycle out kilter. Pauillac has some of the greatest terroir on earth of course. It makes it naturally well insured against the most meagre and challenging of years. Given too the extraordinary level of investment in the vineyards and the cellars over the past decade, plus obsessive attention to detail and daily micromanagement at the finest properties, it’s hardly surprising, then, that the best estates here deliver an extremely decent glass of 2011. So much so in fact you almost forget what a tricky harvest this was to grow and vinify. Almost….
The wines are a degree or so down in alcohol over recent vintages, not a bad thing in itself, but clearly they are much less full throttle and high octane than 2009 and 2010. Curiously though they share similar levels of density and extract, so with less sweetness and ripeness, it makes for a very different tasting sensation. Generally structure, acid and tannin are much more evident. When stood side by side with the past two vintages I would expect 2011 will feel a bit clipped and pinched.
The season stunted growth which certainly made the fruit irregular and generally delivered very small grapes which, even where phenolically ripe, were packed with material and tannin. Great care was therefore needed in the cellar to extract enough, but not too much. Harmony and elegance, the best virtues of 2011, characterise the best wines in Pauillac. Those that disappoint do so because they feel disjointed and leave an impression of chunky, dry tannin and overly strong puckering acid on the palate. To be fair such characteristics are much more easily found elsewhere, especially down in Margaux and the lesser Haut Medoc appellations but also in the reds in Pessac-Leognan. The irregularity is far less pronounced in Pauillac, and in neighbouring St Julien, than elsewhere.
The overall feeling? The Mouton stable has produced fresh, elegant wines. Chateau Mouton Rothschild itself looks very harmonious and not at all screaming in tannin as you might have expected. It was wonderfully enticing. Chateau Latour is very dense and concentrated, not as knockout as in 2010 obviously, but extremely well managed and mannered. From what I’ve seen reported on Lafite there has been some variability in assessments from others. I wasn’t disappointed. Overall Lafite, Carruades and Duhart are cool, elegant wines, weighing in under thirteen degrees [12.7% to be precise] but phenolically ripe and fabulously pure. Lafite itself, the last wine I tasted in Bordeaux, felt a perfect expression of the vintage and had wonderful purity. It seems [from twitter and elsewhere] some have their doubts. I don’t.
Chateau Pichon Baron looked very good, not at all far off the first growths I thought, Pichon Lalande as ever a little softer and Lynch Bages dustier in tannin than the last couple of vintages. If I had to chose a wine that shone more than the rest in Pauillac in 2011 however, and not simply on a qualitative level but also stylistically, it would have to be Chateau Pontet-Canet . It’s a beauty. This is wine with a heart and soul. For me it’s probably the red wine of the vintage. Certainly it’s one of the most arresting wines I had on the left bank. I’ll readily admit that I’m very taken with the holistic and bio-dynamic approach of Alfred Tesseron and his right-hand man Jean-Michel Comme. It’s not for everyone and I’m no slavish follower of cults, which is what the bio movement can seem at times. Yet with Pontet-Canet achieving results like these, producing wine of such harmony and balance, I do wonder how much longer it will be before the other leading Pauillac estates follow their philosophical lead. On the basis of what’s in the glass, follow they should.
Prices? Well Lafite has already released this week. It’s being offered at £5500-£5700 or so per twelve. That’s way down from 2009 and 2010, offered respectively at £14000 and £12500, when the different tranche prices were taken into account. Certainly Lafite is sending a message in pricing its 2011 lower than any physically available recent vintage on the market. It can afford to do so, of course, but on that basis an en primeur purchase at least feels potentially attractive, if you’re rich enough and depending upon where you sit on Lafite’s current market prices. The real question is whether the other Pauillac estates follow suit in that regard? If they don’t then, Pontet-Canet aside, I’d say don’t hurry to pick these up en primeur. Buy this vintage now only if it’s offered at a discount to available vintages, however good some of the wines undoubtedly are.
More detailed profiles will follow on the leading estates, but for now the notes and scores of all the wines tasted from the commune of Pauillac are set out below in alphabetical order [save for ‘second wines’ which are listed with the chateaux concerned]. Most wines were tasted twice at the UGC, others at the chateau indicated. As I mentioned previously, the Cru Bourgeois [just a few in Pauillac admittedly] were tasted in rather cold conditions at Chateau d’Arsac and didn’t show that well. I’d like to taste these again soon.
Deep and saturated looking, vibrant edge; cream and blackcurrants, cassis, feels ripe; cool blackcurrant note, some summer fruit pudding; clean; blackcurrants and earth; density here; depth on the palate and chew but tannin good and nicely done again. Nice finish with good acid. Tasted 3/4/12 and 5/4/12 at UGC. 89-91+
Saturated but vibrant at edge; more stone fruit, somem plum; some Cab freshness too; as always feels a bit leaner on the nose than d’Armailhac; purity though to the fruit – blackcurrant with a black cherry edge; blackcurrants and cassis on the palate; some spice but purity again; cooler and fresher even than d’Armailhac. Nimble and not over-extracted. Very refined and polished. Feels fresh. 91-92+ Tasted at Mouton 3/4/12 [Second note] Deep at core; vibrant edge; stone fruit, blackcurrant, some plum; fresh again, some stalkiness as before; blackcurrants; quite structured palate with acid; tannin very nicely handled. Will settle well. Cool. Some twist at the end. Tasted 3/4/12 and 5/4/12 at UGC. 91-92+
Deep and dark; creamy nose, blackcurrant, some leather; bitter chocolate note; lacks the shining purity of some; palate tannic, feels disjointed and very chewy. Over-extracted and rustic I’m afraid. Tasted 3/4/12 and 5/4/12 at UGC. 83-85
Very deep, lovely colour, saturated but looks vibrant; lots of ripeness; some cream and loads of cassis and blackcurrant; refined; nice attack on the palate, lots of fruit; purity, coolness – fresh blackcurrant notes; harmony here; mid weight overall; easy tannins, nicely handled; some chew and bite on the finish. Good length. Good effort indeed. 91-92+ Tasted at Mouton 3/4/12 [Second note] Deep and saturated; riper notes, red fruits; some blackcurrants; cassis; creamy. Nice cool blue fruit Cab; some higher toned notes; nice extraction on the palate but not overdone; cool and pure. Little more angular and structured sample than at Mouton [which had been decanted]. Tasted 3/4/12 and 5/4/12 at UGC. 91-92+
Chateau Duhart Milon
Deep and saturated; earthy purple at edge; vibrant; blackcurrants and black cherry; earth and graphite; tauter than last few vintages but fresh and clearly pent up; dense and tight on the palate; seam of blackcurrant fruit. Pure if tight at this stage. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25%% Merlot 12.7% alc. Tasted 6/4/12 at Lafite. 92-93+
Deep; purple at edge; Cabernet nose, some smoke, blackcurrant; feels fresh; some oak influence; blackcurrant fruit on the palate; structured with acid and grip; classic if a bit old style; will come round and it was an extremely cold sample. 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot. Tasted 3/4/12 at Alliance des Crus Bourgeois. 83-85?
Chateau Grand-Puy Ducasse
Deep and dark; saturated but healthy looking; vibrant edge; nice fruit, blackcurrants, cassis and well integrated oak; pure; good entry, sweet fruit; elegance; wood on the palate but supple in its way; lots of cassis fruit. Little chunkiness to the tannins but nice length. Very good effort. 88-90 Tasted at Chateau Meyney 2/4/12 [second note from UGC] Deep, dark; nice cool cassis and blackcurrants and some earth; lots of flavour; good wine here; purity; nice palate some beauty to the wine, very clean and pure; lovely seam of blackcurrant fruit. A good buy potentially depending on price. Chewy on the finish but harmonious overall. Good length. Tasted 3/4/12 and 5/4/12 at UGC. 88-90+
Deep saturated colour, vibrant at edge; nice minerality, cassis, blackcurrants; summer compote; nice purity and clarity here; cassis and pure blackcurrants on the palate, very cool but plenty of fruit. Purity is the key word here. Very classy this vintage. Nicely done. Tannin harmonious. Tasted 3/4/12 and 5/4/12 at UGC. 92-94+
Chateau Haut-Bages Liberal
Deep, vibrant at edge; ripe cassis, blackcurrants, purity here; feels good; summer pudding notes; ripe fruit on the palate but quite structured; feels a little angular but will probably fill out. Structured but with probably enough flesh. Firm acid. Bite at the end. Tasted 3/4/12 and 5/4/12 at UGC. 86-88
Deep and dark centre; vibrant earthy purple meniscus; brilliant seam of pure blackcurrant fruit on the nose; very precise and intense; spot on Pauillac; very precise Cabernet; graphite; cool and fresh; very attractive blackcurrant flavours on the palate with much polish; dense and cool, layers here and great harmony on the palate. Little bite on the finish but harmonious, focused and wonderfully measured. Great length. 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot 12.7% alc Tasted 6/4/12 at Lafite. 94-96+
Carruades de Lafite
Lots of depth; purple at edge; tight to rim; blackcurrant, cassis and black cherry notes; quite open; lovely clean and pure palate with nice harmony; depth but surprisingly supple [much more Merlot than the grand vin]. Delicacy here. Not forced or pushed. 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Merlot, 3.5% Cabernet Franc 2.5% Petit Verdot 12.7% alc. Tasted at Lafite. 91-92+
Deep and dense; very polished and pure seam of blackcurrant cassis; freshness; minerality too; real core to this and precise and very deep; cassis again on the palate along with concentration; quite mid-weight but with great tension; tannin not at all chewy; nice balance; tannin really nicely done. Nice purity and a long finish. Excellent wine and in the vintage context. Just a third of the entire harvest here. 84.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 0.5% Petit Verdot 13.1% alc. Tasted at Latour 6/4/12. 95-96+
Les Forts de Latour
Dense, dark; vibrant purple at edge; very nice lift; perfume, cassis blackcurrants; dark cherry seam; lots of precision here; blackcurrants; lots of density; concentrated and nicely done; more reticent and much less octane here than 2010’s almost perfect, first growth Les Forts but this is an excellent 2011. Elegance, harmony and nice length. 61.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 0.5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot 13.08% alc Tasted at Latour 6/4/12. 92-93+
Deep, dark; legs; purple at rim; fresh, blackcurrant, purity; feels clean; some graphite; blackcurrant, minerality; rocks and graphite; nice balance; chew; acid here but good. Tasted at Latour 6/4/12. 87-88
Chateau Lynch Bages
Deep and saturated look; cassis, slightly higher tones relative to Pichon Lalande and Pichon Baron. Cool cassis and blackcurrant with cherry notes; cooler end of the fruit spectrum; pure palate with cool blackcurrants again; more dryness to the tannin than with other super seconds. Chewy finish. Tasted 3/4/12 and 5/4/12 at UGC. 90-91
Mid depth, deep centre; some dust and blackcurrant tones, certain malty quality beneath; some leaf too; palate chewy, some fruit but coarse tannins and a coarser finish. Oak on the finish. Bit raw and coarser than the best. Tasted 3/4/12 and 5/4/12 at UGC. 85-86
Deep and dense; earthy purple at edge; cool nose; blackcurrants, cassis; real poise; layers; very pretty oak too; nice perfume; very attractive nose; deep palate with grip and extract but very nicely handled; density but with harmony; tannins round and supple; nicely handled. Blackcurrant and cassis tones again on the palate; good length with espresso notes on the finish. Lots of length and genuine elegance here. 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc. Tasted at Mouton 3/4/12. 95-96+
Deep and dense; some mineral tones; rose petal perfume – quite pretty and open; also open accessible palate; finesse and real polish; creamy blackcurrant tones, little Turkish Delight note; tannins very round and well handled. Forward and open. Could be interesting if priced correctly. 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot. Tasted at Mouton 3/4/12. 90-91+
Chateau Pichon-Longueville [Baron]
Deep and saturated; sweet blackcurrant cassis; loaded nose; quite pent up but lots there; fresh and not overly worked; fresh palate; layers of ripe fruit with ripe blackcurrant and cassis notes; firmness and structure beneath. Nice chew, density and polish – up there with Mouton. Very nice chew and polish too – no hardness but plenty of depth and extract. Tasted 3/4/12 and 5/4/12 at UGC. 93-95+
Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande
Deep and saturated; cassis, cream and blackcurrant; feels pretty laden on the nose, nice [less sultry and low res than usual], some blackcurrant bite, black cherry note; earth; slighter cooler than last few years; palate full, ripe; nice cassis and blackcurrant; slighty sturdy note but polished. Creamy mouthfeel here and fine tannins. Not pushed to the floor. Some elegance. Good effort. Tasted 3/4/12 and 5/4/12 at UGC. 91-93
Deep and earthy; purple at edge; wonderfully vibrant, joyous aroma of blackcurrants and cassis; totally pure and ripe – easily the most precocious and vibrant aroma of any left bank wine tasted; very gentle entry; soft and harmonious palate; blackcurrant flavours; lovely and fresh. Beautifully balance vibrant wine without a trace of bitterness to the tannin. Easily as good as all the first growths and the only dead cert I have in my en primeur list. That makes it wine of the vintage in my book. A testament to the efforts, biodynamic and otherwise, of Alfred Tesseron et al . A beauty. Tasted at Pontet-Canet 6/4/12. 95-97
Tags: 2011, Bordeaux, Carruades de Lafite, Chateau Batailley, Chateau Clerc-Milon, Chateau Croizet-Bages, Chateau d’Armailhac, Chateau Duhart Milon, Chateau Fonbadet, Chateau Grand-Puy Ducasse, Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Chateau Haut-Bages Liberal, Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Chateau Latour, Chateau Lynch Bages, Chateau Lynch-Moussas, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Chateau Pichon-Longueville, Chateau Pontet Canet, Les Forts de Latour, Pauillac, Pauillac [Latour], Pessac-Léognan, Petit Mouton, St Julien, terroir