Bordeaux En Primeur 2011 Part II: And now for the tasting!

Friday, 13. April 2012 | 07:19 Uhr | JM.QUARIN | JM QUARIN - BORDEAUX WINE CRITIC

FRANCE (Bordeaux) - Absence of greenness - no doubt wine connoisseurs will be delighted to hear - is the 2011s’ forte. On the nose, the wines often show notes of ripe fruits, sometimes even black fruits, which may come as a surprise. On the palate, they appear soft and supple with no harsh backbone - a perception further enhanced by gentle extraction. Winemakers obviously went a step at a time - an exercise they are particularly at ease with in Bordeaux, to the point of sometimes under-extracting the best years. These wines, skilfully elaborated and boasting ripe savours, will be delicious when young.

The red 2011s’ Achilles heel is the occasional marked acidity in the middle-range crus, particularly in the Medoc, and an overall lack of power on the mid-palate and on finish.

This deficit points to the lack of heat in August and the climatic inconsistency that ruled in September. Generally speaking, alcohol degrees are within average, except for the estates that picked later in the season. Chaptalization is back in the chais. Many 2011s show more linear than broad characters - a perception helped by alcohol content around 13° and further enhanced by the higher percentage of cabernet franc in the blends which gives the right bank labels their unique and distinct personality. And we all know that the cabernet franc reveals its true potential with age, as opposed to merlot, always immediately far more gratifying.

In the Medoc and Graves areas, 2011 is a successful year for the cabernets sauvignons more so than for the merlots. Like the cabernets francs, cabernets sauvignons induce a linear character on the palate.

3 types of wines

1.) NO GREENESS: Many wines are pleasant and with no hint of greenness, but lack scope and real personality - my tasting notes are extremely similar from one cru to the next. It will be best to enjoy them before the decade is over.

2) 15,5 SCORE PLUS: The next category up consists in labels graded around 15.5. They are well-built wines with delicious entry, mid-palate and finish. Most come from the right bank where, thanks to the clayey-limestone soil, the vines did not suffer from the lack of water as much as in the Medoc and Graves. The best picks of the year will be among them.

Some are close to the 2010s in style, without the savour. They show a beautiful concentration of tannins, often superior to that of the 2009s (thanks to the water stress) but the taste is not as deep as in the 2010s even if the bodies bear similarities. We now have to see how the wines will be nurtured and cared for during the maturing process. I personally believe that winemakers in Bordeaux are always at their best when faced with climatic challenges. It is part of their culture. However, they tend to loosen their grip when dealing with vintages such as 2009 and 2010 when everything seems easy as pie. Haven’t they coined the expression “millésime ou terroir chaise longue”, which, roughly translated would be “comfy chair vintage or terroir”.

3.) TOP CRUS: 2011 is also a year showcasing top quality wines. They are racy and linear but start with delicate flesh and remain dense on the mid-palate. Even if not particularly broad, they boast taste, fine-grained tannins and a good length. There is no systematic rule for their success but it is often a deft mix of the following elements::

  • small yields (30hl/ha at château Margaux and at Pichon Baron)
  • a higher than usual percentage of cabernet franc or cabernet sauvignon in the blend (Clos Manou, Pichon Comtesse, Kirwan, Grand Corbin d’Espagne)
  • old vines
  • a superb terroir that can make up for excess water or drought alike
  • the use of new technology to serve the winemaker, as in Lagrange or Cheval Blanc
  • rigorous sorting as in La Réserve de la Comtesse, producing its best second vin ever in a “difficult” year
  • or simply the result of the constant drive for quality some estates have been striving for for the last few years (Seguin, Montlandry, Angludet, Chauvin)

I am always so incredibly impressed by the wonderful progress made thanks to the input of man. And finally, as no doubt you will notice when reading my tasting notes, the outsiders I put in pride of place in my book come out of this challenging vintage with flying colours, Clos Manou well in the lead!

Label from Clos Manou 2009 (Photo: Clos Manou)
Tip from Jean-Marc Quarin (Photo: Clos Manou)

I am always so incredibly impressed by the wonderful progress made thanks to the input of man. And finally, as no doubt you will notice when reading my tasting notes, the outsiders I put in pride of place in my book come out of this challenging vintage with flying colours, Clos Manou well in the lead!

En primeur, the association of low alcohol content, high total polyphenol index and good acidity may give an austere character to the wine. The cold weather in January and February slowed down the evolution of the wine in the barrels. In the last couple of weeks they have performed better and have shown more mid-palate than at the beginning of the elevage. So far, the 2011s do not show the sweetness that the 2009s and 2010s had charmed me with.

It should be revealed by the maturing process. Some remind me of the 1986s, others, a little stiffer, have similar tannins to the 1994s or show the linear and soft character of the 1971s. When asked what the elevage will bring to the 2011s, winemakers remain extremely cautious as it is hard to say whether the tannins will melt, as they did for the 1986s, which were particularly marked en primeur, or if, like the 1975s, they will dry out.

And so, bearing that in mind, I gave my best scores to the crus already showing softness - not to be mistaken for weakness - and at the same time structure and good persistence on the palate. They are set to become truly enticing wines. Moreover, they are also very likely to gain in expression during the elevage without running the risk of turning harsh. This will be the last opportunity for them to gain in volume. (jm.quarin)

The scores from Jean-Marc Quarin are available. Don’t miss out on his extensive and comprehensive coverage of the Bordeaux 2011 campaign - an en Primeur special offer is now available for you:

Stockist of well scored Clos Manou in Germany is the wine trader "K&U Weinhalle" (Martin Kössler):

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