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.
Posts Tagged ‘2011’
Chateau Léoville-Las-Cases is fantastically good in 2011
St Julien is one of Bordeaux’s most homogenous red wine appellations and the quality level is uniformly high. Once again in 2011 this commune didn’t reach the giddy heights of 2009 or 2010 but if priced correctly this could be a good vintage for consumption. That said at the top end Chateau Léoville-Las-Cases fantastically good, a wine made from extremely low yields and what was an extremely 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.
There’s no doubt that 2011 is an inconsistent vintage in Bordeaux. The same problems that affected the region generally also had a big impact in Pauillac. Here, as elsewhere, a combination of drought, a warm, dry spring, followed by a cool autumnal summer, with occasional severe heat spikes, knocked the growth cycle out kilter. Pauillac has some of the greatest terroir on earth of course. It makes it naturally well insured against the most meagre and challenging of years. Given too the extraordinary level of investment in the vineyards and the cellars over the past decade, plus obsessive attention to detail and daily micromanagement at the finest properties, it’s hardly surprising, then, that the best estates here deliver an extremely decent glass of 2011. So much so in fact you almost forget what a tricky harvest this was to grow and vinify. Almost….
Twenty-minutes isn’t a long time, 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 1st 2011 was a dramatic as they come. Not every producer was mind you. It was highly localised, passing some vineyards, clipping others but decimating quite a few. Basil Tesseron, owner of Chateau Lafon-Rochet, who made good wine in the end, described it as the viticultural equivalent of falling off the Empire State Building – a microscopically short event ending in oblivion. 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 seen conditions see-saw and which overall was pitifully dry. Pouring over meteorological charts at that few days of harvest was probably all you could do – that and having a stiff gin and tonic and go with your instinct. Close your eyes and feel the force Luke.