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Bordeaux 2011 In Bottle: Pessac-Léognan and Graves

Written by JW. Posted in Bordeaux

040 - CopyPessac-Léognan’s reds better than expected

While this vintage here can’t compare to the wonders produced in 2009 and 2010, the reds are better than expected given the tricky vintage. The wines displayed plenty of sap and bite at last week’s UGCB tastings but the fruit is there. There hadn’t been much doubt about the quality of the whites though from the very start. During the primeurs tastings Pessac-Léognan’s white wines showed plenty of fruit and style and none of these characters have been lost now that they are in bottle. Some are already delicious if you like wines with zest and life but many will benefit from a few years in bottle to broaden further.

Château Olivier’s white is full and spicy with lots of life. It can be enjoyed already but will improve further. Château Latour-Martillac is not dissimilar, aromatic and full of flavour with a touch of wax. Château Carbonnieux relies on finesse and elegance and has produced something classical, intense and bone dry. Domaine de Chevalier is clean and pure with very good length but needs time. Both Château Malartic-Lagravière and Château Smith Haut Lafitte have made weighty, impressive whites with lots of flavour. Both of these could do with some bottle age to show their best.


Château Pape Clément, which normally steals the show with exotic, forward flavours, was subdued on the day.  Château de Fieuzal had plenty of weight but needs a bit of time to settle – full on the palate but rather dominated by oak at present. My pick for value overall would have to be Château Bouscaut. I’m a huge fan of this white wine. There’s plenty of complexity here but it’s also wonderfully taut and refreshing.

The real surprise were the reds. These were all over the shop during the primeurs tastings in April 2012. Many were disjointed but they seem to have settled pretty well during elévage. It emphasizes just how good Pessac-Léognan is at pulling a rabbit out of a hat. This is as much the result of diligence in the vineyard and the winery as the region’s admittedly benign terroir. OK some are a little compact and angular and there is plenty of fresh acid and grip on display but there is generally more enjoyment to be had with these wines than with some of their counterparts in the Médoc at this stage. More on them later.

Domaine de Chevalier’s red looked attractive. It is very polished and caressing. Château de Fieuzal has maybe less polish but more obvious bite and extract. Château Haut-Bailly was very correct with lots of blackcurrant fruit and has come together well. The tannins, though considerable, seem rounded and ripe, though there’s a fair bit of freshness here [acid] in the wine. Château Malartic-Lagravière was very full and rolls nicely around the palate. Again there’s a fair degree of extract here and the tannins are nicely handled.

Smith Haut LaffiteThe gnarled vineyards at Smith Haut Lafitte

Château Smith Haut Lafitte is very pure and glossy but there is plenty of grip on the palate which reflects the vintage. Château Pape-Clément’s red has a lot of blackcurrant fruit but it is fairly backward example for this property, which is usually more flash and flamboyant. There’s plenty of extract, material, acid and tannin here but it needs a few years to hang together.

Enjoyable reds have been made at Château Bouscaut and Château Carbonnieux. There’s chew and bite to the wines, so plenty of vigour, but also good flesh. Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion was more boney and grippy but should settle. Château Latour-Martillac was fresh, with plenty of grip again, and Château de France and Château Pique Caillou were vigorous too. Château La Louvière was rather mean on the palate and Château Olivier felt a bit pinched. There was something a tad feral about Château Larrivet Haut-Brion’s sample, though they had produced an enjoyable, forward white.

Three wines from Graves are also members of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux. Château Rahoul does make fabulous whites and its 2011 is top notch. It will take some age, filling out with waxy tones. The red is rather angular though. Château de Chantegrive is a reliable producer that produces full reds and crisp whites. It’s made a decent fist of both in 2011. Château Ferrande makes straightforward whites and earthy reds.

Below are the full notes and numbers on the wines tasted at the UGCB event at Covent Garden on Wednesday 23rd October.


Château Bouscaut

White: Very pale straw; fine and taut; wonderfully composed nose; citrus notes, limes and oak but nicely restrained and interwoven; attractive weight on the palate, though it remains quite taut. Obvious depth and potential. Real length too. Bouscaut’s whites is one of Pessac-Leognan’s best value, serious whites. Drink now – 2021 91+

Red: Deep and saturated look; lifted, creamy blackcurrant nose with some oak resin and mocha tones; creamy blackcurrants and plum tones on the palate; grip and chew at the end. Works well for the vintage. Good effort. Drink 2015-2021. 88+

Château Carbonnieux

White: Palest straw, washed almost; wax and wet wool nose; taut and tight on the palate with weight and lees notes; apples and wet wool again. Classic Carbonnieux that cries out for a plate of rock oysters. Bone dry. Nice length too. Drink now – 2021. 90

Red: Mid depth; healthy colour; ripe blackcurrant tones; good purity; clean and pure on the palate with nice elegance; not at all forced; elegant finish. Some acid and sap at the end. Drink 2015-2021. 87

Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion

Deep and saturated looking; some violet tones and strawberry/red fruit lift; palate quite high toned and a little boney but there is fruit; should fill out; grippy and chewy on the finish. Acid, in this case, refreshing rather than puckering. 2016-2021. 86+

Domaine de Chevalier

White: Very pale grey/almost washed; fine nose; polished; some cream and citrus; flint on the palate with race and elegance. Good length. Pure. Feels long term with the usual restraint of youth here. Not flashy. 2016-2025 91+

Red: Saturated looking; healthy; deep plummy nose; ripe and clean; blackcurrants too, alongside cassis; aromatic and deep; soft palate – caressing; mid weight and extremely well handled for the vintage here. Very polished but not at all pushed. Real success here [reminds me a bit of 2008 though softer at the same stage]. 2015-2025. 90+

Château de Fieuzal

White: Pale straw [more colour than Domaine de Chevalier tasted beside]; oak more dominant at this stage; citrus tones and wax; oak too on the palate but there is fruit here; nice creamy mouthfeel; round; needs to settle. Drink 2015-2025. 91+

Red: Deep and saturated looking: ripe aromas; some wet rock and black fruits; lift; ripe entry with nice blackcurrant flavours; density here; good extract yet not extracted; polished and complete. Good length. Very good effort. Drink 2015-2025. 90+

Château de France

White: Pale straw; very washed; attractive citrus and oyster shell nose; zesty grapefruit too; palate open and round; spicy ginger tones with attractive fruit tones. Attractive, fruit driven effort. Drink now-2018. 88

Red: Mid depth; some tar and blackcurrant tones; similar flavours to the aromas – blackcurrants. Chew and grip here but not overdone. Mid-weight and reasonably positive. 86

Château Haut-Bailly

Deep looking; clean, correct blackcurrant aromas; attractive and ripe; some earthy notes; feels polished; ripe blackcurrant tones on the palate; acid here beneath the flesh which gives some chew [along with the tannin] but overall very clean and correct. Mid-weight and reflects the vintage nicely. Needs a bit of time [as usual here] to blossom. The ferocious tannins noted during primeurs have softened in elevage. 2016-2026. 91+

Château Larrivet Haut-Brion

White: Pale straw; more colour than some; full nose with waxy notes and citrus tones; pretty big on the palate; quite open if a little lose on the finish and lacks some of the zap of the others. Early maturing I’d expect. Not as refreshing as the primeur samples eighteen months back but full of flavour nevertheless. Drink now-2019. 89

Red: Mid depth; glossy; earthy blackcurrant tones that verge towards the faintly bretty – though this might be the vintage/terroir; soft-ish palate with that feral blackcurrant note again [tasted twice]. Like to see this down the track. Drink 2015-2022. 86?

Château Latour-Martillac

White: Pale straw; full nose; grapefruit, wax and spicy tones; upfront; zappy and zesty palate with nice fruit and real zip. Very attractive – full flavoured but with razzle-dazzle zip. Drink now – 2021. 90+

Red: Quite dense colour for the vintage; blackcurrant aromas; earthy tones but pure; stalky blackcurrant flavours on the palate; some chew and acid which makes the finish a bit puckering. Will come good but probably always a bit angular. Drink 2016-2025. 87

Château La Louvière

White: Palest straw; spicy aromatics with citrus tones and oyster shell hints; palate shows lots of citrusy, grassy fruit with oak; needs to meld a bit but lots of life and refreshment on offer here. Drink 2014-2021. 88+

Red: Mid depth; lifted and reasonably attractive nose – leafy blackcurrants and earthy tones; blackcurrant tones initially and then the fruit closes down with tannin and acid leaving a [currently] mean finish. May come good but again expect the palate to always be angular and lacking generosity on the finish. Drink 2016-2021. 86

Château Malartic-Lagravière

White: Striking in the glass – lovely pale green/gold; full on the nose with obvious depth and weight yet also tight and long term; waxy palate with impressive mouthfeel; this is serious stuff and needs three years to open up but should prove long-lived. Drink 2016-2025. 93+

Red: Deep and saturated; ripe fruit rolls around the glass; black fruits, cereal tones; pretty saturated for the vintage; palate offers plenty of fresh blackcurrant flavours with a little leafy undertow; but round palate suggests nicely handled extraction. Very good effort. Chew on the finish but the fruit is there. Drink 2016-2025. 90

Château Olivier

White: Pale straw; fresh; some grass and gooseberry; feels fresh and spicy; similar tones on the palate with weight; full; lots of flavour here and nice weight. Will fill out further but excellent effort. Drink now – 2021 91+

Red: Mid depth; creamy blackcurrant aromas; some depth; stalky blackcurrant notes; chewy palate; grip and acid at the back which gives are rather mean and compact finish. Will round out but will always be angular and short I reckon. Drink 2015-2025. 86

Château Pape Clément

White: Pale straw; full and weighty if aromatically a little dumb on the day – reticent for Pape-Clement certainly; some wax and passion fruit hints; weighty palate with nice mouth feel; length very good if aromatically dumb at present. Drink 2015-2025. 91+

Red: Mid depth; deepish; ripe notes, cassis and blackcurrant with plum tones; chewy palate with lots of extract; feels pretty tannic at present – grippy and chewy. This wine should meld and the elements are there [if disjointed] but something of a disappointing showing from this estate in this vintage [usually wonderfully precocious] and its primeur performance. Drink 2016-2028 90?

Château Pique Caillou

White: Pale straw – stronger colour than some; fullish – quite simple but ripe; lacks finesse and complexity but feels weighty enough. Drink now – 2018. 86

Red: Mid depth; strawberry notes along with spice and forest floor; faintest streak of green; lively palate; grippy with firm acid but not puckering finish. Overall has zap and life if lacks body. Drink 2015-2021. 86

Château Smith Haut Lafitte

White: Attractive golden straw with silver highlights; complex nose – oyster shell, citrus notes, limes; deep and full; palate has nice mouth feel and body but also zap – grapefruit, limes and citrus freshness. Great length. This is already wonderful but needs 5 years to show its best and will last the distance. Drink now-2025+ 93+

Red: Mid depth; glossy; opulent nose – cassis, cherry, blackcurrant – very velvety; open and appealing; good blackcurrant fruit tones with an earthy note plenty of density on the palate with a grippy edge which gives bite to the finish. Pretty good effort overall with nice fruit tones and acidity that reflects the vintage. Drink 2015-2025. 91+


Château de Chantegrive

White: Pale straw; apples, grapefruit and citrus highlights; flint; nice crisp palate with some weight. Enjoyable now – 2016. 87

Red: Deepish red, earthy purple edge; wet rock; little dumb initially but on aeration some earth and blackcurrant; spicy blackcurrant palate; some cream. Nicely together. Good-ish for vintage. Drink now – 2018. 85

Château Ferrande

White: Pale straw; apples but more animally; apple tones on palate; quite simple and lacks weight and depth.  Drink now – 2016. 85

Red: Mid depth; lifted, earthy blackcurrant and leaf aromas; modest palate but round and not over-extracted or puckering. Good and easy.  Drink now – 2020 85+

Château Rahoul

White: Very pale straw, hints of grey; fine and pent up nose; taut but with real finesse and depth; limes and citrus notes; citrus tones and nicely integrated oak; waxy; will fill out. Good effort. Drink now – 2020 88+

Red: Mid depth; little dumb; some wet rock and chalky notes; boney palate with lots of grip and acid. Lacks flesh. May meld with time but will always be austere. Drink 2016-2020. 84

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