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Bordeaux 2011: Primeurs Review

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April 2012

Well that was an interesting primeurs week. Bordeaux 2011 is a fascinating vintage, though not for the reasons most of the producers would have liked. It’s a tricky, difficult year for the reds, because of the topsy-turvy nature of the growing season and a series of extreme events. First was the heat of the spring, more like summer, which led to rapid and precocious development in the vines. It pointed to the earliest ever harvest in Bordeaux’s history. Continuing drought followed by rain led the vines on a stop/start cycle and bunch ripeness became irregular. Searing days of heat in June [40C] also burnt the grapes in some places. Violent hail at the very beginning of September threatened to destroy a year’s crop inside half an hour in St Estèphe and rain in Bordeaux then, and in mid-September, also threatened a spread of rot, the fear of which may have led some producers to harvest grapes lacking in phenolic ripeness. Those who waited profited. Anyone working from a recipe book in this vintage was destined for trouble. It’s being described by many as a ‘technical’ vintage. It is certainly one that seems to separate the men from the boys.

Given all this irregularity in the growing cycle you’d expect irregularity in the resulting wines and there is. Many very good reds have been made in 2011, don’t get me wrong, and some are extremely good at the very top level, but there are a host of wines verging on the green and vegetal. There is lots of acid about and many wines suffer mid-palate dryness with a raw quality to the tannins.  Those who’ve looked for composure, elegance and harmony have faired best to my palate. Those who have pushed things have misjudged it. Vintage comparisons are a little erroneous. 2011 is very peculiar. Nevertheless there are similarities with 2001, 2004 and 2008 for the reds but it’s a complex picture. There are wines in 2011 much better than in those vintages, but there are also quite a few you would not touch with a barge pole.

In the end the conditions only favoured probable greatness for the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac. Here there are many rich, fabulous wines to be had, in a vintage blessed with botrytis. Growers think this vintage may very well be the best of what is now clearly a trio of top back-to-back vintages spanning 2009-2011. Time will tell where 2011 sits amongst them, but it is undoubtedly excellent.

Amongst the reds the best terroirs and the most diligent and sensitive producers have generally triumphed. For me the left bank Haut-Médoc appellations Pauillac and St Julien did better than the rest. Margaux seemed very spotty – a lot of raw, stretched and extracted wines there – and only a handful stood out, Chateau Palmer being one. The Cru Bourgeois in this vintage too were also generally a very tough bunch and there was a lot of rawness in many reds in Pessac-Léognan too. The saving grace there was the whites, which have lovely spicy grapefruit and citrus aromas and lots of style. Of course there are exceptions everywhere. On the right bank certain producers in St Emilion have triumphed with very well made wines, generally it being those who didn’t plunge in with too much extraction. Less is always more in St Emilion and that seems especially so in a vintage like 2011. There was also much variability in Pomerol too. Some were light, spicy efforts, others felt raw and extracted. The best managed balance and harmony. I’ll be posting detailed notes by appellation in the coming days on all the 300 wines I got to taste.

DSC02809Which way on prices?

A brief word on pricing. There seems to be a realisation at all the Chateaux I visited this past week that price cuts this year are inevitable and necessary. There’s talk of it being up to as much as 50% in certain cases. Great, if that happens. Many properties though don’t have that much room for manoeuvre. I’m thinking here of the Cru Bourgeois and Petits Chateaux. Other properties that have raised their game recently, and their prices, privately feel that a step backward in price would undermine their achievements and their brand. But this vintage only makes sense to buy en primeur if the price cuts are serious. By all means tuck into the sweet wines in 2011, it is a lovely vintage, but if prices for the reds don’t drop at least 40% or more, you’d be far wiser using your money to buy 2001, 2004, 2008 and even 2009 [at the lesser level] to drink now. 2011 doesn’t represent an investment vintage, so unless this vintage is priced to drink, in the coming weeks I’d pass.

ST ESTEPHE

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Twenty-minutes isn’t a very long time obviously, but it’s a lifetime if, on the eve of harvest, your vineyard is sat beneath a storm producing hail the size of golf balls. As extreme vineyard events go the St Estèphe hail storm that struck on September 1, 2011 was a dramatic as they come. Not every producer was hit mind you. It was highly localised, passing some vineyards, clipping a few, decimating others.

Basile Tesseron at Chateau Lafon-Rochet described it as the viticultural equivalent of falling off the Empire State Building – a microscopically short event ending in oblivion. Chateau Cos d’Estournel was badly hit but it also significantly reduced the crop at nearby Chateau Le Crock. The immediate fear, apart from the reduction in yield and damage to those vines physically stripped of their leaves, branches and fruit, would have then been the secondary threat of rot on the remaining bunches. This fear would have been made more complex by the fact that the vineyards were approaching maturity but not quite ready to pick. Do you wait and get proper phenolic ripeness or risk losing the lot to rot? Or do you pick quickly but end up with green wines and unripe tannins? Add all this to a vintage that had been pitifully dry. Pouring over the meteorological charts for the next few days was probably all you could do – that and having a stiff gin and tonic. In the end it was a case of going with your instinct – close your eyes and feel the force Luke….

As it happened September turned out to be reasonably dry and sunny in the end so, despite suffering considerably in what was the most turbulent vintage in recent years, St Estèphe has nevertheless produced some very good reds, but there is inconsistency. Overall they are behind Pauillac and St Julien but  the very best, despite the drama and the threat of rot, have produced wines at least as good here as in 2008, and generally a quite a bit better. The key has been strict selection [in some cases up to 70% declassification into second wines as at Cos d’Estournel] alongside carefully judged wine making, not looking to over-extract. Obviously 2011 is not as knockout fabulous for St Estèphe as 2009 or as dense and long-term as 2010, but if you forget the charts and statistics and focus on what is in the glass, the only thing that should stop you buying the best wines here would be the price. Let’s hope producers release at least below the currently market rate of their 2008s otherwise en primeur buying in 2011 makes no sense at all.

In terms of quality there is no doubting the fine wines made this year at Chateau Calon-Ségur and Chateau Montrose which are very impressive. Chateau Cos d’Estournel looks very good but was nearly eclipsed by its second wine Pagodes de Cos, which to me, looked almost as interesting as the grand vin. Elsewhere Chateau Lafon-Rochet has produced the goods, but you certainly hope price comes down here considerably from ‘09/’10. I was also impressed by Chateau Phelan Ségur and Chateau Ormes de Pez. These wines are tannic and chewy and have more grip and sappy notes than recent vintages, but they do typify what St Estèphe is all about. Chateau de Pez felt a bit rawer as did Chateau Cos Labory. Chateau Le Crock was quite stern, though polished, while Chateau Haut Marbuzet focused on the fruit but lacked some finesse on the finish compared with some others. The 2010 Haut-Marbuzet tasted alongside showed very well indeed. Chateau Tronquoy Lalande, Chateau Capbern Gasqueton and Chateau Meyney, itself much improved in recent vintages, have all produced good wines with much style and polish.

Below are the notes and scores on all the wines I tasted from this appellation in alphabetical order. The wines shown courtesy of the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc were tasted late in the day in the distinctly chilly cellars of Chateau d’Arsac – a challenge for any wine to shine I’m afraid, but especially so in this vintage. I’ve put notes here but the scores have question marks because none of the wines showed well and I’d like to taste these in better conditions.

Chateau Beausite

Earthy looking; some stuffing by the looks of it; black fruits and some dusty qualities alongside oak on the nose; gutsy palate; fruit is here and some density; lots of material. Chewy and not that bad if a little angular. Tasted at Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc  3/4/12. 84-86?

Chateau Calon-Ségur

Deep looking, earthy, vibrant purple at rim – healthy and fresh looking; seductive nose; red fruits, perfume; blackcurrants and loganberry notes; very polished; sweet entry to the palate, lots of depth here but this is a cool, elegant wine; some grippy notes but lots of sour cherry and blackcurrant flavours on the palate. Very good length. Fresh and harmonious. Interesting has the same vital statistics as 2010. Excellent effort. 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot, 100% new oak 13.2% alc. Tasted 5/4/12 at Calon. 93-94+

Marquis de Calon

Deep; earthy purple at edge; softer more loganberry nose; Merlot dominant so feels a bit thicker. Full bodied palate with some style and chew. Much bigger and more tannic than the others. Vibrant fruit qualities but more grippy. Lacks the harmony and nuances of Calon-Ségur itself. 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon 40% new oak. 13.5% Tasted 5/4/12 at Calon. 89-91

Chateau Capbern-Gasqueton

Deep and earthy red; purple at edge; attractive red fruits; some oak; little rose petal. Strong, meaty palate quite deep with lots of stalky, fresh Cabernet flavours. Pretty harmonious effort again here; blackcurrants, grip and good acid. Structured wine with good acid. 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot 13.2% alc 60% new oak. Tasted 5/4/12 at Calon. 87-89+

Chateau Clauzet

Deep and concentrated looking; sturdy blackcurrant notes; some plums; oak dominates the palate and feels very disjointed with too much wood tannin. A misjudged effort on this tasting but cold sample. Tasted at Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc  3/4/12. 82-84?

Chateau Cos d’Estournel

Deep and saturated; purple edge; colour tight to rim; full nose; fat and ripe, almost a bit of fig and an earthy, mealy note [not unattractive]; more unctuous than Pagodes; some spicy, briary tones but rich palate, pretty big. Harmony here, more grip than Pagodas and a very good finish. Richer than Pagodes but not necessarily that much better. 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot 5% Cabernet Franc 13.5% alc Tasted at Cos 6/4/12. 92-94

Pagodes de Cos

Deep and saturated; blackcurrant, black cherry and perfumed nose; very pretty; cassis and cream too; very attractive; creamy plush palate with lots of fruit, very accessible and harmonious; fine tannin and very polished overall. Little bite at the end but wonderful tannin profile in a tricky vintage. You wouldn’t know. A great effort. 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 13.3% alc Tasted at Cos 6/4/12. 91-93

Chateau Cos Labory

Deep and saturated look; lots of raspberry jam notes, with attractive lift; initially plenty of fruit but more one dimensional than complex. Palate rather chewy, some spice, but this feels raw on the palate, and less polished than the best. Rustic. Tannin not fine. Dryness on the finish. Tasted UGC 3/4/13 and again 5/4/12. 86-88

Chateau de Pez

Deep and saturated in colour, looks dark/serious; some blackcurrant, less expressive than Lafon-Rochet, Ormes dePez and Phelan Segur. Some cassis and blackcurrant notes; freshness and some purity; coffee at the back; nice attack, quite polished palate; black cherry and dark chocolate notes. Some dryness on the finish. Lacks roundness. Tasted UGC 3/4/13 and again 5/4/12. 86-88

Chateau Haut-Marbuzet

Dense colour; purple edge; deep briary and blackcurrant nose; earthy; some violet lift; little capsicum; some meat, savoury tones; attractive; big and full palate; lots of earthy blackcurrant fruit and cassis; bluer and cooler fruit tones than usual here; little raw on the finish but plenty of guts. More obvious structure but lots of oomph. 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot 5% Cabernet Franc 13.3 alc. Tasted 2/4/12 at Haut-Marbuzet. 87-89

Chateau La Commanderie

Deep and arterial looking; fresh, some leaf and earthy notes; blackcurrant palate; reasonable purity but tannin and acid accentuated by cold bottle. Good fruit here potentially. Tasted at Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc  3/4/12. 84-86?

Chateau Lafon-Rochet

Deep & dense; saturated look; lovely fruit, plenty of it; shows very well cassis, blackcurrants, polish and brightness; some earth and green pepper hints too; bite initially on the palate – some black cherry little more pointed than ‘09 certainly; grip and material but nicely handled. Nice and fresh. Good tannin. Tasted UGC 3/4/12 and again 5/4/12. 88-90

Chateau Le Boscq

Deep colour; vibrant edge; warm sexy worked nose; new wood, some sap; perfume and flower; quite hard and angular on the palate; chew and density but acid and tannin give the wine a puckering finish. May round out but currently hard, characters accentuated by being tasted cold. Tasted at Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc  3/4/12. 83-85?

Chateau Le Crock

Mid depth; deep centre; legs; mineral purity, cassis, some plum; focused palate and quite a bit of grip and texture. Feels a bit stern though made with the usual Cuvelier precision and dedication, owners of Chateau Léoville-Poyferré. Tasted at Léoville-Poyferré 2/4/12. 87-89

Chateau Lilian-Ladouys

Deep and dark; saturated but vibrant at edge; potentially attractive fruit, some layers and cassis; lots of oak on the palate; very dry wood tannin; lots of acid pucker. Cold sample admittedly but still feels way too extracted and dry. Tasted at Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc  3/4/12. 80-82?

Chateau Meyney

Deep and dark; saturated; quite ripe and full on the nose; ripe Merlot here; satisfying nose; generous and full; some earth; oak on the palate but will settle; lots of material and chew here; density and chew. Good length. All the elements. Should be pretty good. Meyney certainly back on form past few vintages. 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 46% Merlot, 11% Petit Verdot 45% new oak. 13% alc. Tasted at Meyney 2/4/12. 89-91+

Chateau Montrose

Saturated looking; tight to rim; black cherry fruit, deep but a little dumb initially; certainly not quite as knockout as 2010 was at the same stage but very brooding; aeration reveals black cherry and eau-de-vie notes but there are tightly wound layers here; nice entry, big and waves of fruit here; feels a little monolithic but nicely handled. Lots and lots of tannin – a boat load – but refined and seemingly not at all dry. This needs time though and pretty epic in scale for the vintage. More overtly tannic than 2010 but maybe that’s accentuated by the lower alcohol when 2010 would have had additional sweetness. This weighs in at ‘just’ 12.8 degrees. 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. Tasted at Montrose 2/4/12. 94-96

La Dame de Montrose

Saturated colour; cassis and blackcurrant; dark cherry and bitter chocolate notes; feels pretty sturdy; quite deep and lots of cherry aromas; nice palate, lots and lots of fruit on the palate; tannin and acid too; chewy but feels refined. Grippy and dense wine. Tannin does need to resolve but it’s not dry. Pretty big wine, big tannin and reasonable length. 72% Merlot and 28% Cabernet Sauvignon [the mirror opposite of the grand vin]. 12.8% alc Tasted at Montrose 2/4/12. 89-91

Chateau Ormes de Pez

Deep and dense; saturated; legs, tight to rim; purple; more strawberry lift here; red fruit; some VA from oak; then cassis and blackcurrant; little more lifted; lots of blackcurrants and fruit compote; layers; sweet and ripe; lots of fruit on the palate – some crushed rocks and minerality; denser and more complete in the mouth than Phelan Ségur; more material [but less charm]. Nice finish. No bitterness here. Tasted UGC 3/4/13 and again 5/4/12. 87-89

Chateau Petit Boscq

Deep and saturated; intense nose; blackcurrants, satin, meaty savoury characters; palate has density and nice blackcurrant fruit; grippy but not over done. Would like to see this at room temperature but looks goodish from what I can tell. Tasted at Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc  3/4/12. 85-87?

Chateau Phélan-Ségur

Lots of depth and colour; concentration on the nose; layers, nice depth; this looks good; cassis, plenty of fruit; ripe; some mineral; blackcurrant; lusher than it is usually at this primeur stage; quite dense palate, extract, though some elegance here; maybe lacks a little body and finishes a little looser than expected. Not overdone though. Will undoubtedly show better down the track. Tasted UGC 3/4/12 and again 5/4/12. 87-89+

Chateau Tronquoy-Lalande

Deep and saturated; legs; very tight to the rim; cassis, blackcurrant, very deep and feels strong; black cherry too; real creamy polish to the nose; sweet entry on the palate; edges here are rounded but the extract and material is substantial. Feels more refined than Haut-Marbuzet [tasted before]. Bite at the end. Great effort. Chewy and dense but tannin nicely handled. Strict selection here [just under half went into second wine Tronquoy de Sainte-Anne – notes below] 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot and 11% Petit Verdot 12.8% alc. Tasted at Montrose 2/4/12. 89-91+

Tronquoy de Sainte-Anne

Deep; purple at edge; less close to the rim than grand vin; thick and dense feel on the nose, some smoke; sweet entry; easy to begin with; quite thick but in pure form; soft tannins or at least nicely handled ones. Finishes a little short but more fleet of foot than you’d expect.  61% Merlot, 39% Cabernet Sauvignon. Tasted at Montrose 2/4/12.  87-88

PAUILLAC

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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 of kilter. Pauillac has some of the greatest terroir on earth of course. It’s naturally well insured against the most meagre and challenging of years. Given 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 tricky growing 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 finest wines in Pauillac. Selection too was the key. Just a third of the harvest when into Chateau Latour for example. 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-Médoc appellations and also in the reds in Pessac-Léognan.  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. I wasn’t disappointed. Overall Lafite, Carruades and Duhart are cool, elegant wines, weighing in well under thirteen degrees [12.7% to be precise] but feel 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. I don’t have doubts.

Chateau Pichon Baron looked very good, not at all far off the first growths I thought, Pichon Lalande as ever close behind. Chateau Lynch Bages felt 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, 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 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.

Chateau Batailley

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. Nice finish with good acid. Tasted 3/4/12 and 5/4/12 at UGC. 89-91+

Chateau Clerc-Milon

Saturated but vibrant at edge; more stone fruit, some plum; some Cab freshness too; as always feels a bit leaner on the nose than d’Armailhac [must be terrior – the blends are similar]; 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. 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot. Tasted 3/4/12 and 5/4/12 at UGC. 91-92+

Chateau Croizet-Bages

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

Chateau d’Armailhac

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]. 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot. Tasted 3/4/12 and 5/4/12 at UGC. 90-91+

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+

Chateau Fonbadet

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. 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot and 40% new oak. Tasted 3/4/12 and 5/4/12 at UGC. 88-90+

Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste

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 Libéral

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

Chateau Lafite-Rothschild

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+

Chateau Latour

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+

Pauillac de Latour

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

Chateau Lynch-Moussas

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

Chateau Mouton Rothschild

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+

Le Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild

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

Chateau Pontet-Canet

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 balanced 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 for my en primeur list. Wine of the vintage? A testament to the efforts, biodynamic and otherwise, of Alfred Tesseron et al. A beauty. Tasted at Pontet-Canet 6/4/12. 95-97

ST JULIEN

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St Julien is one of Bordeaux’s most homogeneous red wine appellations and the quality level is uniformly high. Whilst the commune didn’t reach the giddy heights of 2009 or 2010, in 2011 the wines are good and, if priced correctly, could be a reasonable purchase. That said at the top end Chateau Léoville-Las-Cases is quite fantastic, a wine made from extremely low yields and what was a very dry vintage overall. For me it tops the commune and is up with the very best wines of the vintage. Its strength and density are reminiscent of Latour, which it neighbours of course.

The other Léovilles – Barton and Poyferré – are not at all far behind, but very different as you’d expect. Chateau Léoville Barton is more classical with extremely impressive purity and fruit while Chateau Léoville Poyferré is sleek, polished and modern. Chateau St Pierre is more composed and structured this year as is its stablemate Chateau Gloria. Chateau Langoa-Barton looks very good value as ever with real purity, not far of Barton itself. Chateau Lagrange and Chateau Branaire Ducru have made correct wines which should flesh out. Chateau Gruaud-Larose typically meaty and, though not as memorable as the last few efforts, should be pretty good. There was some variability in Chateau Beychevelle, one sample structured but balanced the other coarser in feel. Chateau Talbot felt a bit dry on the mid-palate. Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou wasn’t tasted.

Again the weather conditions in this vintage were pretty unique but for me it feels like something of a cross between 2004 and 2006. As of writing no St Julien properties have yet released their prices but let’s hope they release below the market rate of 2006 and 2008 to make them attractive en primeur options. Once again more detailed notes will follow on the best wines here. For now the notes and scores from the tastings.

Chateau Beychevelle

Deep saturated; tight to rim; blackcurrants, deep, ripe lots of real freshness; structured wine on the palate; chew and density – nicely balanced and handled. Good. Second sample little coarser, more extracted in feel, dry tannin. 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc 2% Petit Verdot – harvest dates 14-29 September.  Tasted twice at UGC. 86-90?

Chateau Branaire-Ducru

Deep and saturated; nice pure blackcurrant seam, some fruit compote notes; leaner than Léoville Barton. Cool, fresh stalky blackcurrant. Pretty complete and maybe a bit slowburn. Cool blackcurrant palate; loads of structure and acid; tannin well handled. Grippy. Will work and Branaire not usually the most expressive en primeur. Tasted twice at UGC. 88-90

Chateau Gloria

Deep and arterial; loads of blackcurrant fruit on the nose, some spice; lots of depth, cassis as well as some stalky Cab qualities – these will round out during élevage; little tightness on the palate but waves of blackcurrant fruit; density. Bite on the finish. Grippier than last few vintages. Tasted twice at UGC. 88-90

Chateau Gruaud Larose

Deep and saturated; slightly malty, earthy note, peat here too; ripe; palate dense, layered and satisfying; chewy and deep. Intense palate, earthy, mealy meaty note again – quite typical. Chewy but tannin not over done. Pretty good and should settle further. Tasted twice at UGC. 88-90+

Chateau Lagrange

Deep and dark, saturated and tight to edge; slightly stalky note, blackcurrants, dense; layers here but pent up and not at all flamboyant or as fresh and blackurranty as Léoville Barton or Langoa but still some style; palate good, some density and chew with blackcurrant fruit; plenty of structure but not overdone. Some tannin at the end. Good effort. Tasted twice at UGC. 88-90+

Chateau Langoa Barton

Deep and saturated; tight to the edge; similar tones to Léoville Barton – loaded with blackcurrants, fruit compote, cream – very attractive and pure in a fresh way. Ripeness. Little bit of dark cherry and bitter chocolate. Blackcurrants on the palate; complete and composed; lots of layers; good buy here. Nice purity. Not dryly tannic. Fresh and with good length. A real success. 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc. Tasted twice at UGC. 90-92+

Chateau Léoville Barton

Deep and saturated, blackcurrant purity, fruit compote, fabulous purity – loads of blackcurrant aromas; sweet brambly entry, fruit compote then the structure and grip – tannin too – cooler blue fruits here but really fab fruit – blackcurrants and blackberry tones. Excellent effort. One of the standout wines of the appellation. Nice grip and tannin ripe. 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc. Harvest dates 12-23 September]. Tasted twice at UGC. 93-95+

Chateau Léoville Las Cases

Deep black, dense; tight to rim; brooding and deep; sweet fruit but pretty backward; lots of depth; smoky note; layers and layers of fruit on the palate; saturated and dense but with very nice tannin. This really is St Julien’s answer to Latour and made from excruciatingly low yields of 27 hl/ha. Exceptional length. Very focused effort, bags of potential here in this brooding, powerful wine. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc. 13.4% alc. 80% new oak. Tasted 5/4/12 at the chateau. 94-96+

Le Petit Lion

Deep and dark; tight to rim; legs; some cassis, wet stone; bold palate, quite big and fat with lots of material; chewy and dense in the mouth; acid too; chewy and grippy. Sappy with bite. Goodish length 42.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 54% Merlot, 0.5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot 13.6% alc 22% new oak. Tasted 5/4/12 at the chateau. 87-89+

Clos du Marquis

Deep and arterial; tight to rim; quite deep and dense; wet rock, dense, some cassis; quite sturdy, tannic wine with very evident structure, density and grip; not too puckering on the finish so roundness to the tannins obviously. Feels pretty good potentially. 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot and 13% Cabernet Franc 13.6% alc 40% new oak. Tasted 5/4/12. 90-91+

Chateau Léoville Poyferré

Deep saturated look; very fine and pure on the nose; cassis; nice Cabernet; later opened up with a little more perfume; real focus here; lots of precision on the palate too; cassis again and real purity; density and purity; feels quite long haul potentially, certainly a little reticent over recent vintages. Good length. 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot 6% Cabernet Franc 13.7% alc 93-95 [Tasted 2/4/12 at the Chateau] Deep and saturated; very tight to the rim; creamy, polished and sophisticated nose; some lift from the oak; tight and precise; vein of fruit with real concentration; palate very loaded and precise; some density and dryness here but plenty of fruit to back it up. Little dry [drier than sample at chateau] on the finish but grip and chew suggests the fruit will cover the tannin and oak. Nice chew. 92-94+ [tasted twice at UGC 3/4/12 and 5/4/12]

Chateau Moulin Riche

Deep colour, tight to the rim, silky refined note; cassis, wet stones and minerality; palate refined little dryness, oak and acid all evident; needs to meld. Wood tannin evident. Nice length overall. Feels a bit lean but well polished. 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot 13.1 alc Tasted 2/4/12 at Chateau Leoville Poyferre. 87-88

Chateau Saint-Pierre

Deep and saturated look; tight to the rim; wonderfully full nose with lots of blackcurrants, sweet lift and purity with layers; very good nose; palate sweet and ripe with loads of blackcurrants; some chew and angularity at the back and this feels a dense and structured effort. Tannin a little firm but loads of fruit here, good length and extract. Tasted twice at UGC. 90-92+

Chateau Talbot

Mid depth, concentrated at the core; cassis, some blackcurrant, strong notes; some depth; nice entry, density  some earth and blackcurrants but a little dry in the mid-palate. Chewy finish. Not a bad effort but not the best. Tasted twice at UGC. 87-89.

MARGAUX

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I’m a Margaux lover but this appellation is utterly frustrating in 2011. The wines of merit are outnumbered by the disappointing here by a margin of almost 2 to 1. What’s gone so wrong? It was a challenging year of course but so it was for everyone else. Margaux, as one of the largest blue chip appellations, has a far wider variety of soils and terroirs than say Pauillac or St Julien, so this probably accounts for some of the irregularity. The drought conditions through the first half of the season, followed by topsy-turvy weather, cool summer but with a huge heat spike, would have also caused more problems in the vineyards here than elsewhere. This would have been especially the case on the lighter, gravelly soils that Margaux is famous for.

So we’re talking about dealing with grapes with an unusual degree of irregularity in ripeness. Sorting in the vineyard, selection in the winery all would have been essential, even at those estates that had managed this tricky growing season well. Yet the problems I felt I was encountering in tasting the wines were also as much to do with how the vintage was treated in the cellar. Far too many wines felt stretched and dry on the finish. There was too much extraction and too much wood. The best, as elsewhere, were those that went for elegance and balance.

One chateau above all others succeeded in its approach in the vineyard and the cellar – Chateau Palmer. Yes, I’m sure it was a case of great terroir and the smallest crop for fifty years – interestingly the lowest since the legendary 1961 – but delivering such a wine in 2011 shows extraordinarily expert handling.  It’s the mindset here that has enabled the production of the appellations finest wine, in fact one of the finest reds in the entire vintage.

Chateau Margaux itself trails the phenomenal Palmer in 2011 and by some margin. It’s a very good wine obviously, but not at near the 2009 or 2010 for me. Chateau Rauzan-Ségla and Chateau Brane Cantenac deliver the goods in this vintage. Chateau du Tetre and Chateau Giscours, in looking to produce wines of elegance and vibrancy, also seem to have succeeded to a degree. The rest?  Time and time again my notes read ‘dry palate’, ‘puckering’ or ‘wood tannins.’

Then there are the wines that feel more right bank than left, turbo charged by overblown winemaking. I’m thinking here specifically Chateau Cantenac  Brown, Chateau Lascombes, Chateau Malescot-St-Exupéry, and even Chateau Marquis de Termes to a degree. These estates, in possession of great terroir, just need to focus on the basics. Get the vineyard serve up good healthy fruit, tone down the winemaking and don’t tinker. If it’s a modest vintage, go with it. Don’t try to buck the harvest.

Prices? Chateau Palmer could name its own given the phenomenal effort here. I hope it doesn’t. It will be interesting to see if Chateau Margaux follows Lafite’s lead and comes down substantially in price. Chateau Rauzan-Ségla was one of the most controversial movers upward last year. It needs to come down by half at least. The rule is now clear. Consider only the very best wines en primeur and even then only those whose prices are at a substantial discount to 2008.

Chateau Angludet

Mid depth; primary fruit – cassis – but spiky and pure; this will mellow and develop; nice purity and a little honey at the very edge; ripe nevertheless; fruit again here some honeyed notes; mid-weight, acid and sappy palate. Angludet can be amazing value, but this sample is a bit disappointing. I think I trust it to come round but it’s not quite doing it for me at the moment. 86-87

Chateau Brane-Cantenac

Deep, earthy purple at edge; sappy, earthy note, hint of green pepper; violets here [hurrah!], some coffee bean – this will be an attractive nose; palate has freshness and fruit – cool Cabernet and some real perfume too. Has bite but depth and chew and could work really well. 37% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 56.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 0.5% Carmenere] 90-92

Chateau Cantenac Brown

Deep and saturated look; ripe and lifted red fruit quite sexy with satin feel – showy; palate stoney, mineral notes but also ferocious wood tannin and dry feel to the palate. Very oaked and dry palate. Disjointed currently. Chewy and extracted but there is the fruit. See if it settles. 86-88?

Chateau Dauzac

Deep and dense; some prettiness, some stone fruit; red fruits and some black too – not unattractive; some wet rocks; palate ripe and lots here, if modern styled; chewy and dry on the finish. Puckering. Acid? 85-87?

Chateau Desmirail

Deep and saturated colour; lift and honey and some sawn wood notes; little vegetal hint but red fruits here too, ripe and a bit thick and worked on the palate; lots of blackcurrants and ripeness but a rather thick, leaden-footed quality too. Easy enough with some chew. 86-87

Chateau du Tertre

Healthy density, purple at edge; fresh cabernet nose, nice fruit, some cassis and blackcurrant with fruit compote/summer pudding notes; sweetish entry but nice cool, plummy fruit alongside stalky Cab freshness. This is appetizing and moreish. Good acid balance. Little sappy but pretty good effort here and feels like Margaux. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 10% Petit Verdot. 89-91

Chateau Ferrière

Deep and vibrant at edge; redcurrants, quite ripe, feels quite saturated in aroma, with cassis and a ealy edge too; layered palate, lots of flavour but also acid, fruit and wood tannin. Bit worked but should settle. 86-88

Chateau Giscours

Deep and saturated; more floral and perfumed with blackcurrant cassis; more delicacy and vibrancy than many; freshness – not to say there aren’t red fruits and some jam; palate has a satiny note with nice acid. Fresh will work well. Nice balance. 90-91+

Chateau Kirwan

Deepish; more freshness here than expected; nice Cab; layers to the nose; red fruits here too; quite stalky  and earthy note too [undergrowth]. Chewy and a little dry on the finish. 87-89

Chateau Labégorce

Saturated look, some cream, some cassis, also some jam and redcurrant; some thickness too and quite a lot of oak which makes it lack precision; quite thick and bold too on the palate; rich with lots of material and rather worked and some dryness too. Should let the fruit speak more though should settle. 86-88

Chateau Lascombes

Saturated colour; malty note; works better; intense, saturated but less jammy, still thick; lots of satiny red fruits on the palate – very big and saturated style; some oak and a little honey; thick and rich overall and lots of extract and material. Chewy on the finish. See how this goes. 88-90

Chateau La Tour du Mons

Mid depth, central core; vibrant edge; very floral and attractive; perfumed with some blackcurrants; earthy and cool palate, not too forced and quite nicely judged; some angularity but should round out. Goodish effort. Tasted 2/4/12 at Chateau Meyney. 87-88

Chateau Malescot Saint-Exupéry

Deep and saturated look; ripe, lifted, the same as Marquis de Terme; more jammy note; red fruits, thick on the nose; will appeal to some; palate creamy [MLF in barrel?], ripe red fruits, lots of guts and saturated with flavour – very worked. 2009 managed all this but with great violet fruit. This feels simply overdone. 87-89.

Chateau Margaux

Deep and saturated; creamy note; polished and perfumed; seam of black cherry fruit; focus here, elegance; quite spiky cabernet; chewy with density. Structured and quite tannic on the palate; more obviously so than past couple of vintages here. Very good wine and nicely handled. Not the ‘wow’ factor of ’09 or ’10 though. Expect it to improve during elevage though. 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc. 13.1% alc 93-95+

Pavillon Rouge

Saturated earthy purple; some perfume and spices; cream and polish; quite structured and chewy; grippy with noticeable acid. Fresh. Little bit of oak tannin on the finish. 89-91

Chateau Marquis de Terme

Deep looking; red fruits, ripe end of the spectrum; jam and juicy style; not quite me; prefer the cooler spectrum of fruit; creamy palate, in check but feels very familiar – junior Magrez. That said, there is plenty of guts and extract. Will be ok – just not me. 87-89

Chateau Monbrison

Mid depth; quite hard note on the nose, cassis too and some blackcurrant on aeration; weight; stone fruit; but hardness beneath. Feels lean.  85-86

Chateau Palmer Deep and tight to the edge; legs; immediately this feels a powerful wine on the nose; layers of fruit here and lots of depth; freshness and violet perfume too on aeration; wonderful palate with really bright, vibrant fruit qualities; pretty structured but there is a velvet jacket here too, hiding the muscles; layers of fruit; cassis; blackcurrant; violet notes. Precise in the mouth; very good length. Despite the obvious concentration feels elegant. Brilliant. 55% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon 13.5% alc 95-96+ 

Alter Ego

Deep and dense looking; lovely perfume on the nose; attractive fruit; vibrant; quite seductive and floral; deceptive wine; lots of strength and density here; real substance; this is a substantial effort. 48% Merlot, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Petit Verdot. 13.5% alc 90-92

Chateau Prieuré-Lichine

Deep colour; some dust and chunkiness on the nose; some violet too; palate some cream, weight and density – a gutsy style. 86-88

Chateau Rauzan-Gassies

Mid depth, red at edge; red fruits, some strawberries; has promise, palate some briary spicy notes and some mineral as well as some hardness [acid?]. Quite dense and chewy but rather tannic and lacks finesse. 85-87

Chateau Rauzan-Ségla

Deep central core of colour; more focus, depth and appeal; dark cherry notes, blackcurrants, some cassis – nice purity here; lots of layers and ripe fruit; structure, fruit and some acid on the palate – grippy yes but with nice fruit to balance. Some chew but this has the guts. 90-92+

Chateau Siran

Deepish colour – vibrant edge; some blackcurrant and cassis – some stoney fruit; not without promise; blackcurrants and density on palate; fruit here but also acid and structure; life; quite vibrant and sappy. Could settle nicely. Little puckering at end. 87-88

HAUT-MEDOC

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The top estates here have been great buys in the last few vintages. 2009 especially is an exciting vintage for the Haut-Médoc. I’m afraid it’s hard to get terribly excited about these wines in 2011. The best are lively and sappy but even at a discount you’re probably better paying more for the 2009s and 2010s still on the market. The highlights are clearly Chateau La Lagune, very much worth considering if the price is right [and way better than most efforts in Margaux too] and Chateau Belgrave which is also usually good value. Chateau Citran , Chateau Beaumont and Chateau de Camensac have also made pretty good wines, along with Chateau La Tour Carnet, if you can get past the lifted Magrez style. The big disappointment here is Chateau Cantemerle. It may come together but why bother? There’s still a lot of their extraordinary 2009 on the market for just a few quid more.

Chateau Beaumont

Deep and saturated; black cherry with fresh lift – almost Morgon or Moulin a Vent in style – sour cherry accent and bblackcurrants on palate; pure; nicely done; there is acid here and tannic grip but has life and bite. Not bad effort. 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot harvested 13-27 September. Tasted UGC.  86-88

Chateau Belgrave

Deep and saturated colour; tight to the edge; vibrant looking; nice pure and creamy blackcurrant notes, purity here and some minerals and traces of stone fruit; polished fine nose; palate has fruit, cassis and blackcurrants, clear and fresh; structure too and lots of acid but nice blackcurrant fruit and sap. Nothing vegetal here. Very good effort. Tasted UGC. 88-90

Chateau Cantemerle

Deep and attractive looking; earthy tones, some coffee, little vegetal note, mealy, earthy quality with beetroot tones; palate oak a little obvious and rather astringent palate. Dry, austere and quite disjointed at the moment. May come together but a disappointing showing. Long way off the potential of the excellent wines here in ‘09/’10. Tasted UGC. 85-86?

Chateau Citran

Deep and glossy looking; nice open nose, some crushed rocks, red fruits and lift; attractive satiny red fruits here, but not jammy like La Tour Carnet; palate bright, balanced fruit and acid, not overdone; some perfue – well balanced wine with some harmony. Chewy and sappy finish but nothing green here. Very good effort. Tasted UGC. 87-89+

Chateau Coufran

Deep, saturated and vibrant looking; some dark cherry notes but a streak of leafy green too; palate oaky and dry tannins. Feels disjointed currently. Grippy, sappy fruit. Will settle into a leafy number. Tasted UGC. 83-85

Chateau de Camensac

Deep at core; earthy purple; legs; ripe and intense; slightly mealy note here, full, layers to the nose suggest reasonable depth. Some minerality; ripe fruit on the palate; blackcurrant and cassis; quite high toned; middle palate a little dry but should fill out. Tannins supple however. Structured but there is flesh here. Nice-ish length and grip at the end. Tasted UGC. 86-88

Chateau de Lamarque

Mid depth, earthy; attractive good fruit on the nose, some ripeness here [Merlot] – some perfume and violet lift; palate quite high toned; fresh fruit and some blackcurrant; dips a little on the palate and somewhat dry and extracted bite at the end. Maybe little austere. Tasted UGC. 83-85

Chateau La Lagune

Mid depth, vibrant edge; plummy Burgundian note; quite vibrant with some minerality; fresh accent and blackcurrants and violet perfume on aeration; sweet, attractive blackcurrant and cassis; nicely measured; depth on the palate with some density but generally very round and polished. Nice finish, no astringency to the tannins, supple. Excellent effort. Best Haut-Médoc by a long way and head and shoulders above most of the Margaux appellation grand crus in this vintage. Could be a very good buy if priced right. Tasted UGC. 90-92+

Chateau La Tour Carnet

Deep and arterial, very Magrez; red, ripe lifted character; jammy strawberry note – very overt; palate a little worked and feels chewy but all there so the wine will be ok. Not as fine as La Lagune or as simply handled. Little green streak somewhere in there. Should be goodish though, if you like the style. Tasted UGC. 86-88

Chateau Malescasse

Mid depth; stalky blackcurrants and cassis; some perfume and an earthy undertow; feels sappy and fresh on the palate; bit angular and lacks ripeness; vegetal streak. Tannic and dry. Tasted UGC. 82-84

 

MOULIS & LISTRAC

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As you’d expect given the vintage Moulis and Listrac have turned in some structured, grippy wines and there’s not much resounding joy to be had here. Chateau Poujeaux is clearly the best effort and feels chewy and deep and should work out well. Chateau Chasse-Spleen feels a bit angular to me. In Listrac, Bordeaux’s answer to Madiran, Chateau Fourcas Hosten and Chateau Fonréaud have life and some style. Still if you find yourself considering any of these check to see if any 2009s and 2010s are still available. These are an absolute joy in these two appellations and will be a far better bet.

MOULIS

Chateau Brillette

Vibrant looking; purple at edge; cream, wet stone, sturdy feel; blackcurrants; bit dusty; blackcurrants again on the palate along with a lot of tannins; chewy. Alliance des Crus Bourgeois tasting. 83-85

Chateau Chasse-Spleen

Lacks the depth in the glass of some [not necessarily a problem given some of the saturation here]; backward, stalky Moulis on the nose; stalky Cabernet; whiff of the vegetal; blackcurrants, tannin and acid; bite to the palate; tannin nevertheless reasonably round. Angular and structured wine. Tasted UGC. 85-87

Chateau Duplessis

Black and arterial; sturdy nose; strapping and stalky, stone fruits and blackcurrants; grippy palate with lots of acid and tannin. Not that much fun. 80-82

Chateau Gressier Grand Poujeaux

Purple at edge; stalky Cabernet nose; some depth and complexity; blackcurrant fruit on the palate; chew and tannin but not that bad. Alliance des Crus Bourgeois tasting. 84-86

Chateau Maucaillou

Dense at the centre; ed fruits, satiny, elegant; lots of ripe Merlot; quite complex and deep; satisfying nose; minerals and wet rock notes; oak on the palate, feels quite dense and dry but plenty of fruit here suggests that this will round out but probably a bit over-extracted here. Tasted UGC. 85-87?

Chateau Poujeaux

Mid depth; concentrated at the edge; blackcurrants, some earth and lift; oak too and black cherry; feels deep; palate perfumed with blackcurrants and cassis and a whiff of Turkish delight; lots of extract and material; chewy style with bite and tannin. Should work out well enough though. Tasted UGC. 87-89+

LISTRAC

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Chateau Clarke

Mid depth; fresh looking; inky, Iron and multi-vitamin pill nose; wet stones; intense and dense palate; grippy and chewy with tannin and lots of bite. Mouth puckering here. Tasted UGC. 82-84

Chateau Fonréaud

Deep and saturated core; earthy, blackcurrants with a mealy edge; oak overtones; some pefume and rose hip lift; quite attractive; palate nimble, tannin not overdone; structured and grippy but refreshing finish. Feels nimble. Good effort here. Tasted UGC. 85-87+

Chateau Fourcas Dupré

Deep and dense; earthy purple at edge; blackcurrants and cassis; quite attractive – almost Pauillac like; fresh and nice purity here; palate good and dense with blackcurrants, tannin and acid; some pucker here. Tannic palate, that’s Listrac. Should settle. Tasted UGC. 85-87

Chateau Fourcas Hosten

Deep and earthy looking; vibrant edge; earthy, meaty nose, spices and blackcurrants; sweeter palate, lots of guts and chew; tannins feel softer here; not a bad effort. Slight streak of green here but this works overall. Satisfying finish. Tasted UGC. 86-88

PESSAC-LEOGNAN

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In 2011 Pessac-Léognan is a proverbial game of two halves. The whites are very attractive, the reds somewhat irregular. In tricky wet vintages, with its generally well drained gravelly soils, Pessac-Léognan succeeds. Look at 2007 when the region produced some good wines compared with other districts. Drought vintages can be more difficult for lighter soils and 2011 is a vintage of considerable drought – along with other fluctuations thrown in for good measure.

The region had pretty much the driest spring since 1949. The heat spike at the end of June in Bordeaux was also traumatic in its effects here, dehydrating some vines and causing them to shut down. With July and August wetter and cooler than normal the vineyards clawed back some of their progress, but as elsewhere, the net result was that by the beginning of harvest, for the reds at least, there was much irregularity in ripeness and berry size was very small. In some places amongst the whites the Sémillon struggled more than the Sauvignon Blanc.

At Chateau Haut-Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion the conditions had little impact on the Merlots but the Cabernets suffered in the drought. Green, pink, red and shrivelled grapes were sometimes to be found on the same vine. Yields for the Cabernet Sauvignon were amongst the lowest recorded. Selection was of paramount importance here as elsewhere – selection in the vineyard with longer picking periods to ensure only the healthy crop was harvested -followed by further selection at the winery. Great care was then needed to be taken in extraction during vinification not to pick up too much tannin from such small grapes dense in material.

There are some excellent reds in Pessac-Léognan in 2011 nevertheless. At the top estates, Chateau Haut-Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion have both made really impressive red wines with lots of strength and power. Domaine de Chevalier, Chateau Pape Clément and Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte are also excellent, especially so for the vintage. Good but pretty tannic wines have also been made at Chateau Haut-Bailly, Chateau Malartic-Lagravière, Chateau Les Carmes Haut-Brion and Chateau Bouscaut. Chateau La Louvière looks nicely balanced and fruit driven. Others, I’m thinking here the reds by Chateau Carbonnieux, Chateau de Fieuzal, Chateau de France, Chateau Haut-Bergey, Chateau Larrivet Haut-Brion, Chateau Latour-Martillac, Chateau Pique Caillou and Chateau Olivier, were to a greater or lesser extent disjointed, felt over extracted, very tannic and dry or otherwise underwhelming in some way.

The opposite is true for the whites. Many were pure joy generally across the board, packed with spicy citrus flavours. Chateau Haut-Brion Blanc and Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc are knock-out –  Haut-Brion especially. Brilliant wines have also been made at Domaine de Chevalier, Chateau de Fieuzal, Chateau Pape Clément and Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte. I was also very impressed by the whites at Chateau Malartic-Lagravière, Chateau La Louvière, Chateau Bouscaut, Chateau Larrivet Haut-Brion, Chateau Latour Martillac and Chateau Olivier but there are others too. If you are interested in white wines from these properties then en primeur purchases would be recommended because of the generally tiny volumes of white wine made. The reds? Lets see about the prices, then be extremely selective.

The following, in alphabetical order, were tasted at the UGC event at Chateau de Fieuzal on 4/4/12. Chateau Haut-Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion and their respective wines were tasted at La Mission on 5/4/12.

Chateau Bouscaut

White: Pale gold/straw; some barrique influence, oyster shell, wax and citrus tones; lees; big grapefruity palate; lees and barrique notes; nicely worked. Real zip and life on the finish. Great wine, lively zip. 90-92

Red: Deep and saturated looking; some bitter chocolate, blackcurrants and black cherry notes; some stalky Cab influences on the palate with some riper notes but lots of dry tannin on the finish. This needs to settle and tannin will always be there. 86-87+

Chateau Carbonnieux

White: Colourless, palest green/mineral grey; elegant; some grass and meadow hints; palate typically neutral at this stage; breadth here though but currently bit lean. Lacks a bit of zip? Will round out I expect. 87-89+

Red: Deepish red; purple at edge; some fruit, blackcurrants and polish; very chewy palate; dry tannin and very extracted feel. Feels a bit thin, dry and tannic. 84-86

Chateau de Fieuzal

White: Palest gold/grey, almost colourless; more definition than Carbonnieux and Domaine de Chevalier on the nose; grass, lemon citrus, more lift, candy too; really refreshing palate with zip and zing; lively with lots of race. Lees tones and length. Potentially very fine. [30% new oak, 100% barrel ferment, 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Sémillon] 92-94+

Red:  Deep and dense; tobacco, malty note even a trace of honey; similar tones on the palate; earthy pretty chewy. Not impressive at all. Bad sample? Disjointed certainly. 85-87?

Chateau de France

White: Pale straw, gold; oaky note, very barrique influenced; grapefruit notes and oyster shell; real zingy palate and lots of fruit in an upfront [if oaky] style. Attractive. Dips a fraction at the end 88-90

Red: Deep, mid depth; some vegetal notes; mealy qualities, iodine and inky; very tannic palate, dominated by fruit and wood tannin currently and incredibly dry. 83-85

Chateau Haut-Bailly

Mid depth; purple edge; stalky Cabernet notes, purity and some stone fruit; little plum; creamy entry but then comes the tannin; dry and oak influenced palate though there is plenty of fruit here; quite grippy and chewy finish. Feels a bit puckering at present. Haut-Bailly always feels tannic en primeur to me so this will settle but doesn’t have the shout out loud fruit qualities of 2009 or 2010. 90-91+

Chateau Haut-Bergey

White: Colourless with hint of grey; lees and candy, cut grass and really delicate; more weight to the palate; some concentration and bite; lees and lanolin notes; dips a fraction on the finish but potentially very good. [100% barrique ferment, 50% new oak, 80% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Sémillon] 88-90+

Red: Mid red, depth; red fruits, some polish and ripeness; wet stone notes; feels very dry on the palate and extracted, this may come good but this is very chewy and tannic presently. 85-87?

Chateau Haut-Brion

Deep and dense; ripe creamy note initially; seemingly very deep; cassis, blackcurrants and a certain minerality; opens up well in the glass; real precise seam of fruit here; very clear and very clean; concentrated without being unctuous; later lots of blackcurrant cassis; black cherry and wet earth; deep palate lots of fruit, quite big and full; lots of fruit and tannins in fact; dense and structured wine; lots of extract and bite. Big wine overall, lots of structure and bite too but has plenty of fruit to go the distance. Tannic. 46.3% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34.8% Merlot, 18.9% Cabernet Franc. 95-97+

Le Clarence de Haut-Brion

Little looser at the rim than La Chapelle; little bluer fruits; spicier some stalky blackcurrant notes; earth; good sweet entry, blackcurrants; measured and proportioned palate; spice and blackcurrants again and acid and grip; well made and balanced. Good length. Tasted at La Mission 5/4/12. 90-91+

Chateau Haut-Brion Blanc

Pale green/gold; legs; this is immediately fabulous; bold, weighty and masculine; such weight; lees and toasty notes on the nose, some oyster shell and spicy grapefruit characters; very mannered; broad and full wine on the palate; lots and lots of density for a white but without obvious manipulation; feels big because of place; very big finish. Amazing presence. Dry white of the vintage? Simply fabulous. 57.9% Sémillon 42.1% Sauvignon Blanc 42.1% 97-98+

La Clarté de Haut-Brion

Pale gold; hints of green; some oyster shell, citrus notes, lees and wax; very attractive; spicy grapefruit characters too; wax on the palate, lees notes too; nice weight, attractive, full bodied white but there is some zip too. Very round and harmonious on the finish. Good concentration. Excellent wine. 78% Sémillon, 22% Sauvignon Blanc 92-94+

Chateau La Louvière

White: Palest straw, hint of gold; some grapefruit and citrus notes on the nose; hint of lees, apples and feels taut; some oyster shell; apple and minerality; very attractive; taut palate with race and zing; apples and citrus/lemon zest; some spices; very attractive and will fill out further I imagine. Nice length. Good wine and real potential. 91-92+

Red: Deep and dark; primary fruit nose; big stalky Cabernet; feels fresh and unworked [a relief in this vintage]; blackcurrant purity on the palate, nicely done. Clean and pure and works very well. Some chew at the end but overall very clean and not at all fatiguing. Good effort in this vintage. [65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot] 89-91+

Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion

Deep and healthy saturated colour; some purple at the meniscus; spicy, briary notes, earth and tobacco; very mannered too; creay; some black cherry and dark chocolate notes on the nose too; opens up with aeration – clearly lots of depth and layers; lots of oak too – but fruit also opens up; deep, concentrated palate; quite a bit of tannin, grip and lots of blackcurrant fruit, earth; quite measured. Very nice palate quite a bit of oak present. Toast and espresso notes on the finish. Good length. Oaky finish. 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33.7% Merlot, 11.3% Cabernet Franc .Tasted at La Mission 5/4/12. 94-95+

La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion

Deep, dense; earthy purple at edge; nice earthy note; feels warm; dark fruits, slightly burnt notes; sweet ripe palate; blackcurrants; some freshly sawn wood but not green, more the style; some extraction on the end; lots of bite and acid grip. Tasted at La Mission 5/4/12. 90-91+

Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc

Pale straw/gold; waxier, more neutral and less forward than Clarté; minerality and race; some oyster shell; more lees, wax and broad flavours but lots of density; weightier than the nose suggests; something very Grand Cru here. Some zip on the finish. 72.9% Sémillon, 27.1% Sauvignon Blanc. 94-95/100

Chateau Larrivet Haut-Brion

White: Pale, grey gold; oak influence and some spicy, grapefruit characters; lees; full bodied spicy grapefruit and citrus characters, green apples and real zip; will develop well. Lots of race and bite. Nice length. [90% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Sémillon] 90-92+

Red: Deep at centre; redcurrants and red fruits and lift [almost a bit new world]; some leaf and tobacco too; almost New Zealand leafy red here; blackcurrants and a whiff of vegetal; lots of tannin – very dry and extracted palate. Definitely a vintage for the whites here. 85-87

Chateau Latour-Martillac

White: Palest grey/gold; grapefruit, lees, nice and concentrated nose; some attractive barrique influence; big bold spicy palate; lees, full of grapefruit, citrus and waxy flavours. Very good. Real zip here. Vivacious. Nice length. [65% Sauvignon Blanc, 35% Sémillon] 91-93+

Red: Deep and dark; purple edge; creamy ripe , modern; some earthy, mealy tones; pure blackcurrant fruits, some leafy tones; dense and tannic finish but there is a lot of blackcurrant fruit too. See how we go. Jury still out. 85-87

Chateau Les Carmes Haut-Brion

Deep and concentrated; purple edge; some briary and rose petal notes; some jam and earth; not un attractive; some polish and poise; lots of red fruits and blackcurrant cassis but lots of spices; lots of acid and tannin too. Little Madiran like. Chewy and dense but with enough fruit. Should age well and a good effort for the vintage down here but maybe there will always have chunkiness to the tannin. 88-90+

Chateau Malartic-Lagravière

White: Pale green/grey; some flint, candy and lees notes; depth; should be good; round palate; attractive with depth; barrel influence [imparting roundness as much as anything]. Leesy palate, some zip. This could be very good. [80% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Sémillon] 91-93+

Red: Deep and saturated; legs; purple at edge; lovely lively red fruits, modern style; upfront and ripe through; some liquorice; lots of fruit and extract on the palate but lots of tannin too; currently feels disjointed on the palate; more than enough fruit here but this is pretty dense and chewy. 88-90

Chateau Olivier

White:  Pale green/grey; grapefruit, spice and some candy; oyster shell; palate round and attractive, lots of grapefruit and citrus; lively and zesty. Good depth and has length. Very nicely done. 90-92+

Red: Mid depth, purple at edge; nice briary sappy black cherry notes; cool and fresh; palate has nice fruit and obvious structure; lacks a little balance [wood tannins dominating]. Dry tannins. Feels a bit extracted relative to the fruit. Should settle. 86-88

Chateau Pape Clément

White: Pale silver/grey; some candy and citrus notes; quite restrained but lots of depth here; round palate with zest; concentrated; come candy notes, citrus and wax; appetizing and taut. Dense. Wonderful depth and density. 92-94

Red: Deep and saturated, tight to edge; legs; creamy blackcurrants on the nose, sexy, but not too much Magrez makeuo; black cherry; lots of fruit saturation – can’t beat a good terroir – but real polish and brightness here; grip and concentration to the palate; dense and structured but plenty of fruit. Lots of material. Very good effort. 91-93

Chateau Pique Caillou

White: Pale grey; little cloudy sample; wax, lees and apple notes; wax too and grapefruit characters; zesty palate; real grapefruit tones and nice zip and zing. This will be good value. 88-90

Red: Dense, dark; cherry and some oak and black cherry fruit; slightly overdone nose; lacks purity – too much oak currently; grippy, sappy palate; little too much extraction – dry palate. Will probably be OK but always will be chunky. Again whites far better than reds at this estate, as with so many in Pessac-Léognan in 2011. 85-87

Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

White: Palest grey/gold; grapefruit, zest and some polish; restrained; big palate; lively and zesty with some barrique notes along with citrus tones, spices and grapefruit; roundness; good fruit and length. Very good effort. 92-94+

Red: Mid depth; some purple tones; creamy blackcurrant fruit with some earth, attractive; very polished with nice purity and earthy blackcurrant tones on the palate; nice entry, mid-weight and nicely done; not over handled or over-extracted. Elegant and satiny. Perfectly judged 2011. Harmonious. Head and shoulders best red at the UGC. 92-94+

Domaine de Chevalier

White: Lightest grey/gold; quite leesy, weighty nose; still fairly neutral; very spicy palate and broad; palate more expressive; citrus and grapefruit hints and some floral tones; palate has nice bite and acid and really good length. Palate wonderful if aromatically little dumb at this stage. 93-95+

Red: Deep and saturated; close to the edge; some clean fruit; blackberry and blue fruits; attractive and better handled than some; cherry and red fruit tones too; blackcurrants dominate the palate, fresh and lots of fruit here. Impressive effort. Structure too but lots of fruit to match. This will be very good. 90-92

ST EMILION

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The vagaries of the 2011 season effected St-Émilion in pretty much the same way as it did the rest of Bordeaux. An extremely precocious spring got the vineyards off to a flying start. Extremely high temperatures at the end of June, recorded at 44C in the shade at Chateau Figeac, caused problems and would have stalled vine growth. Cooler and wetter weather in July and August helped spur things along but clearly the fluctuating climatic conditions necessitated a huge investment of labour in the vineyards in terms of canopy management and the like to maintain a healthy crop. There was also some localised rain at harvest which would have proved problematic although here, as elsewhere, September was generally sunny and warm.

Given all this, there was always likely to be a degree of irregularity in the grapes at harvest and sorting in the vineyard and at the winery proved essential. As the overall character of the vintage was one of drought, berries were generally small and light, indicating a high degree of material and low juice level. Cabernet Franc faired especially well in 2011, its later ripening cycle enabling it to make the most of the very fine weather in the latter part of September. At Chateau Cheval Blanc the Cabernet Franc in fact ended up achieving higher sugars than their Merlot. The vintage, then would most likely favour those estates with significant percentages of Cabernet Franc in the blend and also favour those properties on gravel or clay soils, better protected from the drought than those on lighter, sandier soils.

Overall after tasting eighty or so wines from the appellation the quality seems pretty high and arguably more uniform at the very top estates here compared with the left-bank. For my palate those that aimed for elegance and harmony once again succeeded. Less is more in St-Émilion and 2011, with all its density and material, wasn’t a vintage to over extract in the cellar either. Those that haven’t have profited. At the lower level, where fewer resources available for the extra vineyard work and strict selection that 2011 necessitated, or where techniques in the cellar have been too extractive, things are much more inconsistent.

Specifically I was very impressed by the quality of the wines at Chateau Cheval Blanc, not just the grand vin itself but also by Chateau La Tour du Pin and Chateau Quanault l’Enclos. Le Petit Cheval was also very attractive. Also impressive was the line up from the Groupement de Premiers Grands Crus Classes de Saint-Émilion, generally a very consistent and fine bunch, Chateau Angélus being superb and Chateau Canon not far behind. I still can’t fathom Chateau Pavie mind you. The UGC tastings were a little more fluctuating – the fresher more vibrant wines get my vote over the plodding, heavy-footed brigade. The Cercle de La Rive Driote held an extremely well organised press event at Chateau Barde-Haut. The wines were a little up and down, but many were notable and the more vibrant and enjoyable of which are listed in addition below. Notes on over sixty wines forms a rather lengthy post – apologies.

Prices? 2009 and 2010 were really good vintages here in St-Émilion. 2011 is not in the same league but the best wines are very good. Production is much lower too here than in the Haut-Médoc where the properties are larger. All these factors will come into play in pricing but let’s hope proprietors pay heed to the demand for substantial cuts to make these wines at least feel attractive en primeur.

The following wines were tasted at the UGCB event at Chateau Soutard, the Groupement de Premiers Grands Crus Classes de St-Émilion at Chateau Canon, the Cercle Rive Driote event at Chateau Barde-Haut and at JP Mouiex in Libourne. Others are as indicated.

Chateau Angélus

Deep and saturated; legs and tight to the rim; very dense looking; sexy floral nose, perfume, vibrant and very appetizing; nice accent on the fruit; cherry and blackcurrant; very nice; elegance that suggests life; sweet fruit; nice entry; composed wine with real depth; lots of oak and tannin here too but will come together as it’s well handled. Chewy finish but lots and lots of material. Bit at end. Tannin firm and trace of alcohol but overall very impressive indeed. 60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Franc. Tasted at Groupement de Premiers Grands Crus Classes de Saint-Emilion at Chateau Canon 6/4/12. 94-96

Chateau Balestard La Tonnelle

Thick and dark looking in the glass, lacks vibrancy; liquorice and tar notes, very black fruits, toffee and Pontefract cakes; jammy note on entry; tobacco; quite thick and evolved; sweet palate, oak and alcohol but tannin soft. No dryness. Thick and sweet style. No bad, just not me. 86-87/100

Chateau Barde-Haut

Deep and saturated; perfumed St Emilion; plums, fresh and serious; depth; real violet perfume lift here; minerality; nice palate; lots of fruit and attractive qualities. Nice tannin. Round and full. Well done. Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite. 88-90+

Chateau Beauséjour [Héritiers Duffau-Lagrrosse]

Black and saturated; tight to the edge; arterial; lots of inky fruit; slight streak of green but lots of black cherry; later opened up to reveal more black cherry fruit and dark chocolate notes, plus some redcurrants; extracted and chewy palate but all adds up. 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc. 60% new oak. Tasted blind at Groupement de Premiers Grands Crus Classes de Saint-Emilion at Chateau Canon 6/4/12. 90-92

Chateau Beau-Séjour Bécot

Dark, saturated and thick looking; tight to the rim; layers of sweet, ripe fruits; red fruit especially; supple and layered; strawberry tones too; palate has intensity and grip, some wet rock; tannin here but lots of fruit to go with it. Big. Dry finish but good length. 70% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc & 6% Cabernet Sauvignon. 70% new oak. Tasted UGC 4/4/12. 90-92+ [Second note] Deep and saturated; arterial; legs; more cake, spice and mincemeat notes; attractive; very nice fruit and polish; oak present but focused and precise; lots of fruit and nicely composed; tannin and bite too; lots of density. Chewy wine but with focus and density. Tasted blind at Groupement de Premiers Grands Crus Classes de Saint-Emilion at Chateau Canon 6/4/12. 91-93+

Chateau Belair-Monange

Mid depth; deep core, purple at edge; purity, some spice, wet rock, blackcurrants and spicy briary tones; violets here too – not dissimilar to the Magdelaine – summer fruits again. Sweet entry, bright fruit, soft and harmonious; elegant and pure; confidence here to let the vintage express itself. Chew and bite on the finish. Plenty of grip and structure here. Tasted at JP Moueix 4/4/12. 90-92 [Second note]. Deepish, earthy red at edge; not completely tight; some earth, blackcurrants, quite full; less wet rock more meat and cassis; sweet attack; more chew and desity; not a bad effort. Fruit here – black cherry, plum and spice. Grippy finish but good bite and chew. Length. 90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 40% new oak. Tasted blind at Groupement de Premiers Grands Crus Classes de Saint-Emilion at Chateau Canon 6/4/12. 90-92+

Chateau Bellefont Belcier

Thick in the glass; dense looking; legs; rich, dense flavours; very saturated and sublimated; ripe on the nose; ripe entry; sweet, thick; chewy and tannic [but not overly so]. This works in its dense saturated way. Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite. 87-88+

Chateau Berliquet

Deep and intense looking; lots of jammy, strawberry fruit on the nose; lifted red fruits; sweet, ripe wine, late picked style but with fruit; maybe a little too jammy. Rather dry palate and finish. Tasted UGC 4/4/12. 84-86

Chateau Boutisse

Deep; red at edge; some pepper and capsicum notes, blackcurrants and some gum; nice oak accent and adds to the fruit; overall feels ripe and voluptuous; nice balance on the palate; violet fruit not overwhelmed by sweet oak. Ripe and tasty and very attractive St Emilion. Great stuff. Cercle Rive Droite 1/4/12. 88-90+

Chateau Canon

Deep but a little less concentrated than some [not a bad thing]; healthy looking; nice black cherry notes, more vibrant fruit than either Pavie or Troplong Mondot; fresher; leaner nose but seemingly more fine; nice layers on the palate; fine and elegant; very nicely judged. This still works really well in this vintage. Focused and precise. Tannin at the end but very good. 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc. Tasted blind at Groupement de Premiers Grands Crus Classes de Saint-Emilion at Chateau Canon 6/4/12. 92-93+

Chateau Canon La Gaffelière

Deepish colour; lifted red fruits and oak; coffee and mocha notes too; lots of sublimated fruit tones; open and full palate; not over extracted in actual fact and tannins held in check. Almost subdued for this estate but better for it. Nice grip on the finish. Almost elegant. Tasted UGC 4/4/12. 90-92

Chateau Cap de Mourlin

Deep, tight to rim; legs; purple; some satin and marzipan notes and orange ripeness; lots of ripe Merlot notes; some mineral and chalky tones; good sweet entry, purity and some dry wood tannin but plenty of flesh. Goodish effort if a little chunky, but lots of fruit. Tasted UGC 4/4/12. 87-89

Chateau Carteau Côtes Daugay

Deep but fresh looking; fresh and sappy, violet perfume; attractive; full palate, nice fruit with acid and grip but this style also works. More fruit driven and structured but plenty of fruit. Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite.86-87+

Chateau Cheval Blanc

Deep colour; tight to edge; substantial seam of fruit; layered and composed; pretty cool; spicy and blackcurrant tones; feels fresh here which is nice; lots of density on the palate; compact and layered; lots of chew on the finish but tannins very nicely done. This is very good indeed. 52% Cabernet Franc, 48% Merlot. Tasted 4/1/12 at Cheval Blanc. 94-96+

Le Petit Cheval

Mid depth; perfumed and pretty; red fruits but not jammy; some black cherry, spice; quite pretty; nice density on the palate; minerality and focus; precision; some spicy characters. Chew and density on the finish. Good effort. 75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc. Tasted 4/4/12 at Cheval Blanc. 90-91+

Chateau Cheval Noir, Cuvee le Fer

Deep and arterial; saturated nose; lots of depth, rich and unctuous but purity here and life; sweet entry, lots of flavour and fruit; deep and very nice wine. Thick and rich St Emilion but with enough life to make it positive on the palate. Well done. Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite. 87-89+

Chateau Croix de Labrie

Deep and saturated; some spice and interest; satiny quality to the nose; perfume, whiff of Turkish delight; almost pretty Malbec notes; fruit spicy red on the palate; some chew and density. Maybe atypically perfumed but very enjoyable. Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite. 87-88+

Chateau Dassault

Thick and black looking in glass; very figgy note, tar and liquorice; feels like it will tire; sweet palate, ripe and thick with more figgy notes. Lots of fruit and sweet oak and pretty extracted. Bit OTT for me. Tasted at UGC 4/4/12. 86-87

Chateau Destieux

Saturated colour; earthy red at edge; oak, fruit saturation, intensity; jam and lift, with oak resin; strawberry and red fruit notes; quite supple on the palate but noticeable oak tannin. Feels warm. Not that bad in a Franc-Mayne kinda way. Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite. 86-88+

Chateau du Parc

Deep; nose saturated in fruit with nice oak lift; spicy plummy fruit here with violets too; very good; seductive; palate good; nice fruit with saturation but also life and freshness; not OTT but balanced. Dry tannin at the end though but lots of fruit here. Benefit of the doubt? Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite.  86-87

Chateau Figeac

Pretty saturated looking; fresh purple at edge; nice freshness to the nose; polish and refinement; red fruits but nice layers – more red fruits than usual at this stage; feels ripe and appealing; nice blackcurrant note on the palate with grip and chew. This will settle. Fine. 33% Cabernet Sauvignon 33% Cabernet Franc and 33% Merlot. Tasted UGC 4/5/12 90-92 [Second] Saturated; some graphite, blackcurrant, cassis and cooler tones, Cabernet Franc? Measured palate but powerful; minerals; some perfume – feels very fine; nice entry, depth, reasonable harmony; some cherry and dark chocolate notes; some chew at the back. Spicy. Lacks a little focus at the back. Tasted blind at Groupement de Premiers Grands Crus Classes de Saint-Emilion at Chateau Canon 6/4/12. 90-92

Chateau Fonroque

Deep in colour; iodine minerality; whiff of dust; some fruit; austere and a little dry on the palate. Not the best. Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite 1/4/12. 84-86

Chateau Franc Mayne

Thick and dark looking in the glass; ripe and satiny nose, lots of red fruits; touch of Ribena; pretty super ripe; some marzipan fatness; quite spicy palate, herbs; some wet rocks; dry finish. Little jammy for me and some dryness but overall it works. Tasted UGC 4//4/12 87-89/100

Chateau Franc Grâce Dieu

Deep and dark; thick, spicy attractive fruit. Lively. Feels fresh. Bright violet notes on the palate with spicy, briary tones; goodish. Soft and easy St Emilion. Not trying to be a blockbuster. Better for it. Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite 1/4/12. 86-87+ 

Chateau Fombrauge

Deep and dark; some cream, purity and concentration; unctuous red fruits; thick and dense on the palate; re fruits, jam and liquorice; round honey notes too; chewy and thick style overall. Pretty good. Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite 1/4/12. 87-89+

Chateau Fonplégade

Saturated look; oak saturation and intensity; quite similar to Destieux but less fruit so oak feels more pronounced; palate has a sublimated feel, ultra low cropped feel. Tannic towards the end. Very tannic indeed. Some will love this – too extreme for me. May settle, needs time. Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite 1/4/12. 86-88

Chateau Ferrand Lartigue

Deep, fresh looking; violets, plums feels deep; blackcurrant notes; some summer fruit pudding; some grip. This works. Nice fruit driven style with vibrancy and bounce. Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite 1/4/12. 87-88+

Chateau Grand Corbin Manuel

Deep and saturated; more red fruit; saturated; very good potentially; lots of ripe plum; ripe full palate; lots of structure and grip; quite like this; some elements need to settle but muscular and promising. Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite 1/4/12. 89-91+

Chateau Grand Mayne

Thick and black looking in glass; legs; saturated to the rim; lifted red fruits and oak too; lots of jam; not unattractive; lots of ripeness; sweet and sexy full palate. Lots of fruit and jam but good effort and this really works for me. Tasted UGC 4/4/12. 89-91+

Chateau Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac

Black at centre, tight to edge; little more honey and feral tone; almost developed; later blew off to reveal nice violet fruit; plums and seemingly clean; good palate; full some spice and lots of acid. Goodish effort as long as the feral notes don’t creep back…. Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite 1/4/12. 86-87+

Chateau Grand Corbin Despagne

Deep looking, but not completely saturated in colour; sexy quality to the nose; spicy, briary tones too; fruit here and some lift; like this nose. Hoorah! Palate not overdone though tannic on the finish. Should come good. Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite 1/4/12. 87-88+

Chateau Faugères

Deep and dense; ripe and sweet; full and saturated; layers but on the jammy side; fruit, layers and cake’ very big sweet and ripe style; easy; some liquorice and black cherry notes. Good stuff if chewy on the finish. Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite 1/4/12. 87-89+

Chateau Jean Faure

Deep and saturated; some density; some fig and almond; fruit and sour cherry; nice entry on the palate; pleasant and nicely handled; sweet and ripe enjoyable fruit driven style. Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite 1/4/12.87-88+

Chateau La Commanderie

Deep, saturated look; nicer more obvious lifted violet fruit nose; feels plummier and fresher; quite deep and layered too; accent of oak; lot fof fruit here; sappy but not disjointed. Some dryness to the tannins but not bad. Fresh, sappy St Emilion. Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite 1/4/12. 87-88+

Chateau La Couspaude

Deep and saturated in glass; some lift and leaf, little jam, faintest vegetal whiff; lifted red fruits; red fruit on palate ripe and lots of flavour; new oak influence but not dry – has all the elements. Toasty, oak finish but lots of fruit here. Like Couspaude. Tasted UGC 4/4/12. 89-91

Chateau La Dominique

Deep and dark again; lots of ripe red strawberry fruits; quite hedonistic to use a Parkerism; some toasty oak too; layers and jam packed [literally]. Sweet, ripe fruit on the palate; attractive but structure beneath; fruit, oak and tannin but nicely done. Chewy, dense finish. 85% Merlot , 15% Cabernet Franc. Tasted UGC 4/4/12. 90-92+

Chateau La Fleur Cardinale

Deep and dark, very big and open; almost opulent; lots  of jam here; thick and rich; sweet ripe palate; lots of fruit; ripe and sweet; almost junior Troplong style here. Chewy on the finish with lots of extract and tannin. Very promising in its own style. Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite. 88-90

Chateau La Gaffelière

Deep and saturated; lots of primary fruit; ripe and warm notes; some mealy hints; feels relatively simple; palate more gentle, fruit driven and nicely balanced; some spices and red fruits but overall straightforward. Good grip at the end. Good effort. 90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 50% new oak. 89-91+ [Second] Deep and saturated colour; little redder than purple at rim; more olives and slightly heavier nose; thicker, more chocolate and mocha notes; more earth; palate quite chunky, monolithic; some wet rock and a little dryness; not that bad but not the best. Chew and bite and a dry finish. Tasted blind at Groupement de Premiers Grands Crus Classes de Saint-Emilion at Chateau Canon 6/4/12. 87-89+

Chateau La Grangère

Deep and saturated look; fruity cherry nose; quite pronounced; wine gums, very vibrant; ripe, nice palate with briary and blackcurrant notes; nicely fruit driven and clean. Lacks complexity but nicely judged and very drinkable. Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite. 87-88+

Chateau La Serre

Deep looking; fresh; sour cherry notes; some wet rocks; nice sweet attack, good fruit; balance here between zip and acid and fruit; purity – a relief from the overworked St Emilion styles; plumy tones on the palate; ripeness and vibrant; acid and freshness. Tasted JP Moueix 4/4/12. 87-88+

Chateau La Tour du Pin

Deep and dark; purple at edge; briary spicy nose; some perfume; some minerality; summer compote notes too; sweet/sour fruit on the palate – sour cherry – quite elegant; not overly extracted. Nicely done. 75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc Tasted 4/4/12 at Cheval Blanc. 90-92+

Chateau La Tour Figeac

Deep and saturated colour; lots of red fruits; some cream; summer fruit compote; nice pure red fruits on the palate; depth. Little dryness at the back but should come good. Tasted UGC. 87-88+

Chateau Larcis Ducasse

Deep and saturated; red fruits, some new car interior notes and eau de vie; lots of strawberry fruit, nice; little dryness on the palate; oak tannin too. Palate feels unsettled and puckering. Needs to settle. Tasted UGC. 84-87?

Chateau Larmande

Mid depth; looser at the rim than some; fresher style, some stalky blackcurrant and plum tones; spices too;  briary, spicy palate and plummy some grip; leafy note too; chew and quite attractive. Tasted UGC. 87-89

Chateau Le Prieuré

Deep and dark; earthy tones at edge; more fruit; blueberry; summer pudding; nice and pure; some perfume too; concentrated palate, tannin but really so much fruit here. This should be good. Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite. 87-89+

Chateau Magdelaine

Deep, fresh looking at the edge; legs; pure, some spice, plums, minerality some violent perfume; fresh fruit palate; summer compote – concentrated but not sublimated or overdone; freshness here; good acidity; appetizing and zesty; nicely balanced. Has vigour but also composure. Goodish length but overall vibrant and zesty. 90-92 [Second blind at Premiers] Deepish; some fatness, Merlot, density; stones and minerals; some eau de vie; feels firm; earthy notes; sweet buy quite extracted on the palate; feels a little stretched but grippy and probably enough fruit there. Spices. Grippy finish. Tasted blind at Groupement de Premiers Grands Crus Classes de Saint-Emilion at Chateau Canon 6/4/12. 89-91

Chateau Magrez-Fombrauge

Deep and dense; purity but witha  seam of oak; saturated nose; jam again, ripe and thick; layers of fruit; red fruits; similar tones on the palate; chewy finish. Pretty dense. Lots of fruit in a modern, uplifted red fruit style. Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite. 88-90+

Chateau Pavie

Deep, saturated colour; ripe marzipan notes; thick and big Merlot; quite unctuous; lots of extract and tannin on the palate – wow! Lots of fruit admittedly but very chewy tannic finish. Must be Pavie? Amazing fruit but extreme tannin too. How will this settle? 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc & 10% Cabernet Sauvignon 70% new oak. Tasted blind at Groupement de Premiers Grands Crus Classes de Saint-Emilion at Chateau Canon 6/4/12. 89-91?

Chateau Pavie Macquin

Deep and saturated; strawberry red fruits; ripe, jam; lifted; sweet fruit on the palate, some red notes; liquorice – then come the tannins. Very dry and over-extracted on the palate. Spicy, herbal notes from the oak. This feels overdone to me. Fruit may soak up the wood? 80% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. 80% new oak. 86-88?[Second] Deep and saturated; sour cherry notes; some minerality; iodone; quite broad and deep but quite brooding; oak and sour cherry; later opened out a bit to reveal some riper notes; sweet entry, ripe palate – redcurrants – tannin and oak but not accented. Should develop well. Feels a Merlot dominant blend. Nice bite and depth. Tannins a little furry. Tasted blind at Groupement de Premiers Grands Crus Classes de Saint-Emilion at Chateau Canon 6/4/12. 90-91

Chateau Péby Faugères

Deep and thick colour; lots of nice fruit, lively – maybe a little jammy but ripe; some liquorice but also that intense resinous note you get with late picked, low yield wine; palate jammy and superripe in feel; dense; dips a bit. Chewy but reasonable tannins. Style rather than terroir driven but works surprisingly well. Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite. 88-90+

Chateau Puy-Blanquet

Depth, good colour; legs; pure fruit, some cherry; freshness, blackcurrant; black cherry; summer fruit notes; precise; soft entry; good solid fruit; some cream, spice and plum; nice wine; elegant finish. Nice zip and acid. Appetizing, fresh. Tasted at JP Moueix 87-88

Chateau Quinault l’Enclos

Vibrant purple at edge; deep core; nice fruit, perfumed nose, briary and black fruit notes; some plum and spice; lots of flesh on the palate and chew, pretty dense but remains mid-weight and not overdone. Tannins very nicely handled. 90-92+

Chateau Quintus [formerly Tertre-Daugay]

Deep, saturated look but vibrant; legs; minerality, plum, some spice very composed; depth and actually pretty big ripeness; cool palate, lovely Cabernet Franc freshness; good density, concentration here; quite fine and sappy fruit; oak on the finish. Good length. Quite fine. Newly acquired by Domaines Clarence Dillon. 91-93+

Chateau Ripeau

Deep but looser at the edge than some; nice nose; depth; mineral qualities; tight; nice palate; some depth and earth with a hint of leaf. Tannin nicely judged. Nice mid weight wine. Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite. 86-87+

Chateau Rol Valentin

Arterial looking; big legs; ripe, thick and dense but not unattractive; sweetness here; some perfume; palate dense rich and supple but with concentration and tannin on the end. Good. Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite. 87-89+

Chateau Soutard

Mid depth; some plums, spices and cooler, fresher and better for it; plummy palate, attractive and some spice; not at all overdone. Others here could learn from this freshness and purity [Soutard St Emilion’s new recruit to the UGC]. This could be good value. Nice purity and not overdone. 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc. Tasted at UGC. 90-91

Chateau Trianon

Deep and dark, fruity seductive aromas; fresh and deep in feel; slight streak of green at the back; some depth. Full-ish. Some undergrowth notes but nice spicy, plummy tones . Pretty good overall. Grippy and vibrant finish. Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite. 86-87+

Chateau Troplong Mondot

Deep and dark; red fruits, some rocks and spices; some lift; oak too along with marzipan notes; thick palate, chewy and dense. Lots of tannin on the finish. Like this estate, on the extremely rich side of things, but just how will this 2011 settle? 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc. Tasted UGC. 88-90 [Second] Deep and saturated; arterial; more oak influenced than some here; thicker, initially feels a little plodding; less vibrant than some; later more jam and summer compote notes; palate actually pretty good; blackcurrants, some spice – quite chewy – but lots of fruit here. Overall good effort. Tasted blind at Groupement de Premiers Grands Crus Classes de Saint-Emilion at Chateau Canon 6/4/12. 90-92

Chateau Trottevielle

Deep, purple at the edge; fine elegance, freshness from the Cabernet Franc, attractive and cooler. Floral tones. Compact palate, more left bank feel; acid and life. Medium bodied. Should be good but less knockout than 2009/2010 here and the palate needs to settle. 50% Merlot, 48% Cabernet Franc 2% Cabernet Sauvignon.100% new oak. 88-90 [Second] Little wet rock; minerals; some sawn wood; little less impressive than first; stalky blackcurrant note; blackcurrants again on the palate, spices, quite tannic profile; a little dry; needs to come together. Reasonably dry finish. Coffee and mocha tones. New oak on the end. Tasted blind at Groupement de Premiers Grands Crus Classes de Saint-Emilion at Chateau Canon 6/4/12. 88-90

Chateau Villemaure

Dense and deep; nice red fruits; some marzipan notes; modern styled with lots of ripe strawberry and redcurrant notes; easy full palate. Fruit driven. Good.Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite.  87-88+

Clos Debreuil

Deep and saturated colour; oh nice! Sweet, unctuous but tempered; blackcurrants, plums plus oak; nice combination; ripe thick palate; very dense and unctuous lots of flavour and tannin at the end. Good wine. Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite. 87-89+

Clos des Jacobins

Deep and arterial; flashy and deep nose; very attractive and appealing; sweet entry; lots of fruit but also structure and tannin beneath; nicely done and not overdone. Tannic at the end but this feels a positive and nicely judged wine that will be immediately appealing. Very good effort. Tasted blind at Cercle Rive Droite. 89-91+

Clos Fourtet

Deep and saturated colour; very attractive pure red fruits, strawberry; quite lush; feels deep; lovely seam of red fruit; minerals; palate quite restrained, some dryness and fades away a tad. UGC 4/4/12 89-91+. [Second] Deep and dense; cassis, plums, black cherry notes and bitter black chocolate; later lots of black cherry; spicy, black cheery and plum; again lots of plum and black cherry fruit on the palate; freshness here; oak and oak tannin but not out of balance. This is very good. Tannic finish. Tasted blind at Groupement de Premiers Grands Crus Classes de Saint-Emilion at Chateau Canon 6/4/12. 91-93

POMEROL

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Overall Pomerol has produced some very vibrant wines in 2011 despite a tricky growing season. Maybe the clay soils that the region is famous for helped guard against the early drought and heat spikes. September rain too undoubtedly affected some and rot would have been a concern. There is variability here, however, particularly among the less well known estates. Some display under ripe characters, others have over extracted, some, it seems, have done both in combination. It’s the usual 2011 story then, here as elsewhere. Making the best wines needed laborious work in the vineyard, the grapes required strict selection at harvest and the resultant wines suited a gentle hand in the cellar.

At their very best 2011 Pomerols have wonderful perfume and summer fruit aromas, lovely blue fruit tones, and have real bounce and race on the palate. This style for me is epitomised best by the wines from the JP Moueix stable. They felt a breath of fresh air in 2011. Without too much cellar chicanery or the use of heavy make-up they have made a very harmonious set of Pomerols. These are lively, life-affirming wines. Chateau Bourgneuf looks very good here while at the other end of the spectrum Chateau Hosanna, Chateau La Fleur-Pétrus and Chateau Trotanoy are wonderfully vivid.

At the UGC event held at Chateau Beauregard I was very impressed by Chateau La Pointe. It made a fantastic wine in 2009 and has made a cracker in 2011. Chateau La Conseillante, Chateau Clinet and Chateau Petit Village are all layered, satiny and complete as you’d expect. La Conseillante described 2011 as a ‘technical’ vintage where they aimed to go for fruit, not extraction in the cellar. Their wine looks all the better for it.

Chateau Beauregard itself, has made a wine much lighter in body than its peers. Still it does manage balance and harmony. Beauregard described the vintage as tricky for them. Rain caused problems for the Merlots, with much sorting needed. As in St Emilion, the Indian Summer favoured the Cabernet Franc.  The wine may fill out further but it feels right that they’ve gone for balance and not tried to force the wine out of shape.

Chateau La Cabanne didn’t do it for me though. It felt rather stretched and Chateau La Croix de Gay was really oaky and disjointed. Chateau Gazin was pretty dense and tannic but clearly had enough fruit and felt a good effort with plenty of structure. Chateau Nenin, tasted separately as part of the Delon group, looked pretty dense but maybe lacked the grace of the best.

Further down the chain in Pomerol it’s not all plain sailing by any means. The Pomerols tasted blind at the Cercle Rive Droite felt a mixed bag. Chateau Taillifer, Clos l’Eglise and Chateau Bourgneuf [once again] looked pretty promising, but there were at least half a dozen that felt overly structured and grippy or had gone the opposite way entirely and felt way too extracted. Michel Rolland’s Chateau Le Bon Pasteur seemed to have lost the plot in this regard, along with Chateau Feytit-Clinet and Chateau Rouget which all felt overdone or disappointing one way or another.

So to prices. I’d be amazed if there’s anything much of a cut in Pomerol. Chateau Gazin released around ten percent down but these are tiny estates where production is very small and the wines tend to sell out quickly. If you’re a fan of Pomerol there is much to commend the best here, though if prices are not far off 2009 and 2010 you’d be better considering these first.

Chateau Beauregard

Mid colour, lightish; attractive fruit, some plums and spice, quite attractive; soft palate, some spice and perfume, plummy palate, elegant and not over extracted. Fresh, lightish and easy. Overall cooler and fresher, less saturated in colour and flavour than some but balanced and harmonious. [30% Cabernet Franc, 70% Merlot] 86-88+

Chateau Bellegrave

Deep looking; stalky, spicy, briary fruit, not unattractive; little reductive note; nice balance to the palate; fruit here and nice and vibrant; not trying to be over saturated; spicy, no heavyweight but appetizing. 86-87

Chateau Bonalgue

Mid depth; little tired looking? Similar to Bourgneuf but with a little make-up reducing the fleetness of foot here; some spices, honey and marzipan notes; feels a bit hollow on the palate and tannic at the edge. Not impressive showing. Tasted blind at the Cercle Rive Droite 1/4/12. 82-84 [Second] Deep red; earthy meaty nose; satisfying; meat and chew, not unattractive [a much better showing]; some perfume too; palate nicely done; lots of fruit; this sample not overdone; little dry on the finish. Not bad. Re-tasted Cercle Rive Droite 4/4/12. 86-87+

Chateau Bourgneuf

Mid depth; nice wine; polished nose; fruit driven, some seductive qualities; plums and perfume – violet notes too; very attractive and pure nose; elegant palate; attractive; some nice tension on the palate; acidity is vibrant. Lively and appetizing Pomerol. Not forced. Tasted blind at the Cercle Rive Droite 1/4/12. 87-89+ [Second] Deep and dense; legs; vibrant; perfumed; blue fruits; cherries; nice layers to the nose; freshness here; nice palate – balanced; lots of fruit and freshness; very Bordeaux; some chew and acid fresh. Lots of zip. The opposite of the leaden-footed brigade here. Tasted at JP Moueix 4/4/12. 90-91+

Chateau Certan

Deep and dense; intense, inky nose; plums and spice and redcurrant notes; also some new oak lift; some violet perfume too; very polished wine; again violets, black cherry and plum notes on the palate; plus real zip. Good bite on the finish. Tasted at JP Moueix 4/4/12. 91-93+

Chateau Clinet

Deep and dense; strawberry red fruits, more layered, bit flashy and worked but very plummy aromas with spices; satiny palate as usually, layers and nice fruit; classy and good effort [as usual] in the typically seductive and modern Clinet style. Tasted UGC 4/4/12. 91-93+

Chateau du Domaine de L’Eglise

Deep and saturated colour; nice plum, spice and perfume; attractive and vibrant; some oak; palate has fruit – lots of plum and spice but also grip and chew. Dips a fraction at the end but potentially very good. Tasted Cercle Rive Droite 4/4/12. 87-89+

Chateau Fayat

Deep saturated colour; nice fruit, some plums and sour cherry on the nose; some depth; little attenuated; grippy. Fresh, and should fill out. Tasted blind at the Cercle Rive Droite 1/4/12. 85-87 [Second] Deep and saturated; earthy fruit quality; spoices; higher tone notes, good; palate sweet and ripe; some jam; better than first sample. Goodish. Re-tasted at Cercle Rive Droite 4/4/12. 86-87+

Chateau Feytit-Clinet

Saturated; creamy nose with plums and some spices; feels fat if a little monolithic; palate big and broad; extracted too – dense and lacks enjoyment. Grip and dusty tannins. Not me. Tasted blind at the Cercle Rive Droite 1/4/12. 85-86 [Second] Thick, deep and saturated looking; very ripe sublimated style but with a vegetal streak; some bite and chew but green streak again. Extracted. Re-tasted at Cercle Rive Rroite 4/4/12. 84-86?

Chateau Gazin

Deep saturated, colour; plums, spices and pure fruit flavours, less worked nose; feels good and deep; sappier than the Clinet though – bluer fruits, less red fruit tones; nice palate, ripe and full, spicy, briary notes; chewy finish but should settle. Plummy and spicy, chewy and dense with grip. 89-91/100

Chateau Hosanna

Deep; violet scented nose; blue fruits and plum along with black cherry; layered; not overly made up – lovely purity amongst the Moueix wines; nice balance on the palate; vibrant with real acid; some chew here but lots of spicy, plummy fruit; really fleet-of-foot. Tasted at JP Moueix 4/4/12. 92-93+

Chateau La Cabanne

Earthy at edge, vibrant look; fresh and pretty perfume, violets and plums plus oak; faintest vegetal whiff; inky and intense palate with a hint of green. Chewy dry finish. Not the best by any measure. [92% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc] 84-86?

Chateau La Clémence

Deep; lots of jam and liquorice; almost honeyed and fortified notes; pondering, jammy palate; some chocolate and mocha notes; low acid and tannin from fruit and wood. Lots of tannin on the finish. Bit of a mess. 83-85? [Second] Deep and saturated; jammy, late picked feel; oaky too; very melded but lacks purity; jam and oak and lots of wood tannin on the finish. 82-84

Chateau La Conseillante

Deep looking, mid depth at edge; vibrant looking; bright violet fruit, some plum and sour cherry and black cherry notes; quite deep and feels fresh; layered palate beneath with depth and some oak influence but plenty of black cherry fruit. Chew on the finish but attractive wine overall. 82% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc 13.4 alc 91-93+

Chateau La Croix de Gay

Purple edge; sturdy, some spice, little hardness and wet stone notes; little shiny nail varnish too – where’s the fruit exactly? Quite oak dominated palate, wood tannin dominates, fruit submerged. Lacks generosity and felt hard. 83-86?

Chateau Lafleur-Gazin

Deep, dark centre; purple edge; legs; fresh, sour cherry, plum, some spice; blue fruits; nice and appetizing; perfumed; good depth and attractive fruit on the palate; nice balance; real race and vibrancy here; nice acid. Chewy and sappy. Vibrant wine. Tasted at JP Moueix 4/4/12. 89-91+

Chateau La Fleur-Pétrus

Deep and concentrated; fresh and wonderfully vibrant nose; blackcurrant, cherry, some earth; violets; purity and honesty here; pure fruit and violets; zip and zest; plums and harmony; nice balance; acid helps; excellent length. Tasted at JP Moueix 4/4/12. 92-94+

Chateau La Grave

Deep-ish; red at edge; ripe plums, spices, red fruits and black cherries; creamy and polished; harmonious; extract and freshness, fruit and vibrancy; very appetizing. Grippy and zippy. Tasted at JP Moueix 4/4/12. 87-89+

Chateau La Pointe

Deep and attractive saturation without looking inky; plums and spice; feels good on the nose; attractive fruit and lots of it [cf La Croix de Gay] layers here, spices and depth and lots of plummy fruit; attractive qualities. Not overdone on the finish – really good effort. Good fruit and flavour and feels harmonious. 90-92+/100

Chateau Latour-à-Pomerol

Deep; legs; vibrant cherry aromas, spice, blackcurrant notes too; some violet perfume too; attractive; blue fruits – cherry and blueberry tones – on the palate; some spice; structure beneath and acid; grip and freshness key words here. Purity too. Tasted at JP Moueix 4/4/12. 90-91+

Chateau Le Bon Pasteur

Deepish; more bubble gum but also creamy notes; minerality; quite extracted palate; needs to settle; dense, tannic and grippy. Lots of depth but furry tannins on the finish. 85-87? [Second] Deep and saturated; red fruits, some jam, stone and wet earth; very opulent and jammy style; lots of extract and tannin on the palate; wood tannin too; feels very pushed and oaky. Very puckering finish. Way needs to settle. 85-87?

Chateau Le Moulin

Deep and dark; oak resin, stalky blackcurrants; jam too; could be from anywhere in the world; some depth to the palate; tough tannin. Will it meld? Tasted bling at Cercle Rive Droite 1/4/12. 84-86.

Chateau Lécuyer

Saturated; cream but more harmony and added freshness; real plums and spices; softer by degrees than some but feels a bit tannic. The freshness of the fruit should allow it meld better if disjointed now. Tasted blind at the Cercle Rive Droite 1/4/12. 84-86

Chateau Mazeyres

Mid depth; some stalky, blackcurrant notes; high toned; some blackcurrant yoghurt; grip, some spice and fruit; lively; lacks density but has zest; elegant style but moreish. Not a bad effort. Tasted blind at the Cercle Rive Droite 1/4/12. 86-87+ Deep and saturated; spices and lift; some layers, sour cherry; plums and spice on the palate. Reasonable depth. Re-tasted Cercle Rive Droite. 86-87

Chateau Montviel

Deep and saturated; close to rim; thick and quite rich; some whiff of coconut; some undergrowth notes; feels concentrated; thick and rich palate; definitely concentrated. Not that bad effort, Could be 86-88+

Chateau Petit-Village

Mid depth, purple at edge; nice satiny fruit, not pushed; plums and spice here but real seduction; floral notes along with a little sappy note; nice entry on the palate, elegance not pushed; fruit, sappy with nice acid. Grippy end. 72% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Tasted UGC 4/4/12. 91-93+

Chateau Plince

Deep, saturated colour; ripeness and layers here; seam/core of blackcurrant fruit; bite and chew; nice and attractive; good depth, chew and density. Appealing style here; nicely done; good grip, nicely handled wine. Tasted at JP Moueix 4/4/12. 89-91+

Chateau Providence

Deep and saturated in colour; inky, plummy; some red fruits too; not oaky; concentrated, vibrant, perfumed; lots of spicy, plummy fruit; again wonderfully fresh fruit on the palate; very attractive; bite and acid here too but feels harmonious overall. Elegant, vibrant and harmonious. Very nice wine. Tasted at JP Moueix 4/4/12. 91-92+

Chateau Nenin

Deep, purple at edge; layers, ripeness and cassis, wet stones; little dusty note to nose; bitter cherry notes on palate’ bite and chew; plus some oak and wood tannin. Chewy finish. Dense and not the most graceful Pomerol in 2011. 87-89+

Fugue de Nenin

Deep and dense; spicy briary tones, some marzipan notes; fresh; some summer fruits; palate has bite and sap; sour cherry notes; grip and bite on the finish. Chewy and grippy. 86-87

Chateau Rouget

Deep looking; saturated, jammy nose; quite thick; some toffee; rather worked and ripe, later picked style; jam and oak on the palate with lots of tannin – fruit and oak; feels overdone. Oak very dominant and tannin very dry. Tasted blind at the Cercle Rive Droite 1/4/12. 83-85?

Chateau Taillefer

Mid depth; some purple; again quite fresh, some spices and undergrowth notes; plum and cherry too; vibrant and high toned; not unattractive; some oak here but nicely in check; mocha tones too; integrated feel, not disjointed as the last few; palate good; fresh blackcurrant notes, plums and nicely polished. Highish acid but fresh Bordeaux. Tasted blind at the Cercle Rive Droite 1/4/12. 87-88+

Chateau Trotanoy

Deepish but not overdone; lovely fresh summer fruits; black cherry, blueberry; most appetizing; palate vibrant and elegant; harmonious; plums and violets; spicy; nice balance and chew; real harmony. Good length and zip. Very vibrant. Excellent. Tasted at JP Moueix 4/4/12. 93-95+

Chateau Vieux Maillet

Deep and saturated looking; up to edge; some jam and cream; some purity but very big and ripe; little monolithic; big and chewy palate; sweet entry; dense and masculine. Not that bad. Lacks a bit of freshness but had length. One of the worked styles here that actually delivers. Tasted blind at the Cercle Rive Droite 1/4/12. 86-87+

Chateau Vray Croix de Gay

Deep, dark and arterial; thick and deep; feels a little contrived; rich and deep palate; lots of oak; very sublimated [terroir sublimated too]. Tannic at end. Very extracted overall. Pomerol or Chile? Tasted blind at the Cercle Rive Droite 1/4/12. 82-84?

Clos du Clocher

Deep and saturated; some violet fruit, spices, undergrowth; cherry and plum notes; opens up a bit; some elegance and bite; quite aggressive on the end. 83-85. Tasted blind at the Cercle Rive Droite 1/4/12.  [Second] Deep and saturated; vibrant edge; little dumb sample; chew bite and dry on the end. Overworked. Re-tasted Cercle Rive Droite 4/4/12. 83-85.

Clos l’Eglise

Deep and dense; sweet and attractive fuit; not masked; feels vibrant and enjoyable; some spice; oak on the palate; grippy, dense; quite chewy but this works overall. Goodish effort. Tasted blind at the Cercle Rive Droite 1/4/12. 87-88

 SAUTERNES & BARSAC

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Usually get to posting notes on this region in the way you usually arrive at the wines, but I’ve shunted this region up the batting order for two reasons. Firstly, Sauternes and Barsac have made some of the most thrilling wines of the 2011 vintage, red or white. Secondly, it seems a bit unfair that they should always trail the reds, especially so in this vintage.

Sauternes and Barsac are always appealing young, particularly during a week of tasting tannic, sappy reds, but defining their exact scale and grandeur feels tricky to me. Not this year. 2011 Sauternes is clearly in the same league as 2010 and 2009. It may even be the best year the region has had since 2001.

The 2011 growing season got off to a flying start in Sauternes. Temperatures in April and May were record. This meant that vintage was likely to be at least three weeks ahead of schedule. The end of April did bring localised hail in the region but not necessarily at a critical stage. Summer here was much cooler than average, which helped preserve some of acids in the nascent white varieties in the appellation. Things picked up in August and the good weather generally lasted until October with warmer days and rainfall a third down on usual. Given all this the vintage here began very early. Some properties even began picking for their dry white blends as early as mid August.

Showers brought the first flush of botrytis at the end of August and a small amount of rain between 2 and 5 September, allied to the warm conditions, proved ideal for the further development of noble rot. Estates began picking at the beginning of September and at various stages on from this. Rain on the weekend of September 17 was followed by a period of warm, dry weather and picking continued during the last week of September and into October, some even into November, as at Chateau Rieussec.

The results? A wonderful set of wines. If you buy anything in 2011, buy Sauternes and Barsac, not for investment reasons obviously, but to lay your hands on some delicious wines. Prices already released seem reasonable, though of course there’s still a lot of 2009 and 2010 on the market. My favourites? Chateau d’Yquem is obviously wonderful, as is Chateau Rieussec, Chateau de Fargues, Chateau Sigalas Rabaud, Chateau Rabaud-Promis, Chateau Doisy Daëne as ever, and there is a stunningly rich effort from Chateau Doisy-Védrines. There’s a lot to consider here. The notes and scores on the following properties from Sauternes and Barsac are listed in alphabetical order. All were tasted at the UGC event at Chateau Kirwan, the Chateau d’Yquem in Bordeaux.

Chateau Bastor Lamontagne

Pale straw; gold; hint of green; some citrus and sherbert notes; crisp; less fabulous than de Fargues [tasted alongside] but that’s very unfair. Fresh lemony palate with grass. Nice race and acid. This is a very good effort. Acid and sweetness nicely balanced. Should be good value. 90-92+

Chateau Broustet

Pale gold; hint of green; sturdy nose; lacks flamboyance; some spiky apple notes; some wax on the palate and cream; full of fruit with a little bit of wet dog. 75% Semillon, 15% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Muscadelle. 87-89+

Chateau Caillou

Pale straw; sturdy Sauvignon styled nose but also with wax and apples; quite piercing; palate pretty good; lacks the complexity of the best but has freshness. 88-90

Chateau Coutet

Brilliant pale gold; full and substantial; botrytis, cream and honey; citrus notes too; concentrated and very creamy in texture; quite fat and sweet; very rich vintage. Lovely wine. 93-95+

Chateau d’Arche

Gold with a hint of green; wax, big and full; honey and really big; lots of fruit and peaches and cream notes; very big, unctuous wines. Feels big in alcohol too. Big wine. Great effort here. 90-92+

Chateau de Fargues

Bright gold; lovely nose; honey, lift, cream; gloss but quite piercing; real precision; creamy unctuous palate; absolutely sumptuous; real richness but acid too; simply wonderful. 94-96+

Chateau de Malle

Pale gold; some grass, apples; feels fresh; botrytis here but not over-the-top; palate full yet elegant; some spiky acidity; apples and grass almost floral notes; this is elegant and refined. 64% Semillon, 36% Sauvignon Blanc. 90-92+

Chateau de Myrat

Green gold; some honey; cream; little reductive note; some grass and fruit along with the sweetness; crisp; feels a bit second draw compared to the very best but potentially very good nevertheless. 88-90

Chateau de Rayne Vigneau

Pale straw; more citrus and honeycomb notes; marmalade and lots of cream, but freshness too; lots of body and feels quite fat, big wine but manages balance; some citrus notes and orange peel. Excellent. 92-94+

Chateau d’Yquem

Deep gold; mealy, creamy botrytis; big and thick; crème brulee; brioche, butterscotch; weighty; lovely mouthfeel; round; terrific; layers and great length; overall wonderful balance and length. Terrific. 96-98+

Chateau Doisy-Daëne

Pale straw; fresh; some grass; clean and lean; very attractive and precise; some cream but also restraint; surprisingly weighty palate; bolder and fuller than the nose suggests; honey; balanced and sweet. Looking exceptionally good. 93-95+

Chateau Doisy-Védrines

Pale straw; full; almost thick; strong and unctuous; layers of ripe flavours; rich style; big; maybe lacks a little bit of zip but a dazzling effort. 92-94+

Chateau Filhot

Deep and golden; high toned and quite floral and fruity; some grass too; bite here on the palate, apples; sweetness too. Pretty good effort 89-91.

Chateau Guiraud

Brilliant pale gold; lots of honey and orange; pretty unctuous; thick; full and thick on the palate; this is the best Guiraud I’ve had in a while; big and thick; lots of creamy mouthfeel. Very powerful and very sweet. 93-95+

Chateau Lamothe

Brilliant gold; little reductive; Semillon on the nose; wax and soap; less finesse than de Malle; little cloying maybe but not that bad. 87-88+

Chateau Lamothe Guignard

Bright gold; money honey, depth and sweetness to the nose; lacks a bit of clarity on the palate. 86-88

Chateau Nairac

Pale gold; green hints; creamy, buttery nose; lots of botrytis here alongside citrus notes; very attractive nose; crisp palate, some apple and lots of flavour and race; this is exceptional Nairac. Wow. 92-94+

Chateau Rabaud-Promis

Pale gold; thick and creamy botrytis on the nose; some honey and citrus notes; fresh and appetizing, not at all cloying; some Sauvignon notes; open palate with life; honey, cream, hints of brioche; very unctuous. Lovely stuff. 93-95

Chateau Rieussec

Golden straw; honey and cream; lots of botrytis; thick and rich; quite a lot of race on the palate with nice acid; terrific zip here. Really nice acid balance. 94-96+

Chateau Sigalas Rabaud

Pale gold; honey; little dumb; some cream, whiff of toffee; crisp palate; fresh; seemingly less sweet but woth balancing acid. Nice pretty finsh. This is deceptively elegant, the acid cutting through the sweetness. Like it a lot. 92-94+

Chateau Suduiraut

Pale golden straw; quite brilliant in the glass; nice botrytis; cream and fine; full bodied, nice crisp quality; good acid; this is very good. Lovely length. 92-94+

Clos Haut-Peyraguey

Pale straw; piercing nose; very fine and clear; some honey and citrus; clean and creamy; lots of botrytis and layers of sugar; lots of residual sugar but balanced by nice acid. 90-92+

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