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Bordeaux 2011 Primeurs: Margaux

Written by JW. Posted in Bordeaux

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 seems partly 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. If it doesn’t come down by half at least, don’t even consider it. 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. Not a great or even very good Angludet in my book. It can be amazing value, but this sample is relatively disappointing. Ben Sichel’s a great winemaker so I’d trust it to come round but it’s not doing it for me at the moment. 86-87

Chateau Brane-Cantenac

Deep, earthy purple at edge; sappy, earthy note, almost a hint of green; but 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. Acid pucker here too. 85-87?

Chateau Desmirail

Deep and saturated colour; lift and honey – are we in Cotes du Rhone? 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. Ripe, easy 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 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 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 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 chunkyness 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 ell 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

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