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Bordeaux 2011 Primeurs: Pessac-Léognan

Written by JW. Posted in Bordeaux


In 2011 Pessac-Léognan is a game of two halves. The whites are very attractive, the reds completely irregular. In tricky wet vintages, Pessac-Léognan, with generally well drained gravelly soils, succeeds. Look at 2007 when the region produced some good wines compared with other districts. Drought vintages seem to be more hazardous here and 2011 is in reality a vintage of considerable drought and with other fluctuation for good measure too.

The region had pretty much the driest spring since 1949. The vicious heat spike at the end of June in Bordeaux was pretty traumatic in its effects here, dehydrating the 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 was affected more than the Sauvignon Blanc.

At Chateau Haut-Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion reported 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 tannin and material.

There are some excellent reds of course. At the top estates, Chateau Haut-Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion have made excellent red wines, as have Domaine de Chevalier, Chateau Pape Clément and Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte. 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, de Fieuzal, de France, Haut-Bergey, Larrivet Haut-Brion, Latour-Martillac, Pique Caillou and Olivier, were to a greater or lesser extent disjointed, over extracted, very tannic and/or puckering or otherwise underwhelming in some way.

The opposite is true for the whites. Many were pure joy, packed with spicy, citrus flavours with great race and zip. Chateau Haut-Brion Blanc and Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc are knock-out. Fantastic 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

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

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 and mineral grey; elegant; some grass and meadow hints; palate typically neutral at this stage; breadth here though but currently very 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? 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 influence palate though there is plenty of fruit here; quite grippy and chewy on the finish. Feels very puckering. Haut-Bailly always tannic en primeur so this may settle but doesn’t have the shout out loud qualities of 2009 or 2010. 89-91

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. Goodish. [100% barrique ferment, 50% new oak, 80% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Sémillon] 87-89

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. 84-87?

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. 90-92+

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] 88-90

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 lotf os 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

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