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2011 is a tricky vintage for Bordeaux. That having been said it is important not to completely write the year off without first considering that there are some really good reds to report on as well as some of the finest whites and Sauternes in many years.
There is variability throughout both left and right banks. In a vintage where the mantra should have been “less is more” it is interesting that some people got it absolutely right by letting nature do its thing and not interfering. Equally it is extraordinary how some of the Châteaux thought they would try and do some tweaks, resulting in many oak extracted monsters.
The vintage was always going to fall in the shadow of the two great years that preceded it; the weather conditions were far from ideal and the general market is challenging. However the best wines at every level are definitely worthy of consideration.
The growing season was erratic to say the least. With an exceptionally early start to the season, flowering was as much as three weeks early in some places. A hot spring followed bringing budburst in late March and offering good weather conditions for flowering, however this sunshine continued to the point of that there were warnings of drought and weeks passed without so much as a drizzle of rain. From March - June there was as little as 89mm of rain reported, compared to a 30 year average of 290mm, this saw some younger vines struggling with the lack of water causing their development to grind to a halt.
The hot spring was followed by a dismal summer characterised by overcast days, strong winds and frequent patches of rain. June was cold throughout until a brief heat wave hit at the end of the month leading to reports of grapes betting sunburnt in some places. August however saw the worst conditions for the growers, with constant changes from warm to cold and frequent bouts of heavy rain, some vines were starting to develop new leaves instead of focussing on ripening their fruit.
Throughout August and into early September the weather was somewhat of a write-off and a near disaster in St. Estèphe where hail threatened the entire crop of some sites. Some growers were therefore forced to harvest a little earlier than planned to prevent further damage.
September 9th bought the late sunshine everyone was hoping for, allowing most Châteaux to harvest at a more leisurely pace, letting the vines soak up the last of the sunshine without threat of further damage.
As we mentioned before, this is truly a year of “less is more” with some Châteaux allowing nature to take its course producing excellent red wines full of power, precision and finesse. Whilst some have produced overly tannic, forced and in some cases, not terribly pleasant wines that will most likely tarnish the reputation of the vintage and overshadow the fine work produced by some of their contemporaries. One of the big stories of 2011 is the amount of Cabernet Franc used in some of the wines, the grape ripened superbly this year, giving a delicate perfume and great finesse, especially to those with the best right bank plots. Overall the story is one where no particular Appellation stands out above another, it is quite simply a question of getting wine from the Chateaux that have excelled. We believe that the red wines listed are representative.
The whites on the other hand have been given a vintage in the spotlight. The dry whites are crisp, fresh and show all the hallmarks of a great year, but it is in Sauternes where the real magic has been created. Amongst the 2011s are some of the finest examples of sweet Bordeaux we have ever had the fortune to taste, the wines are deep and complex, with bright acidity, superb definition of fruit and the perfect balance between clarity and power.
Prices will simply have to come down in 2011 and the general feeling is that they will, the big question however is by how much? We have heard tales of top Châteaux saying they will release as much as 30% lower than 2010, however we would hope that this is the minimum level of reduction we will see, but in reality it is unlikely that the really big names will drop as far as we think they should.
There is no doubt that there should be some absolute bargains to be picked up in 2011, the question is simply whether the Bordelaise are prepared to come down to the prices the market is prepared to pay?
We are told that this year’s campaign could happen very quickly, which after the drawn out affairs of the last two years would be a blessed relief. If the Chateaux reduce prices to reflect not only the views of the marketplace, but also the fact that this is not another vintage of the century, then 2011 will offer some very good wines at sensible prices. Less is more also means getting the selection of your wines right. You will notice in the pages that follow there are some pretty significant names which are noticeable by their absence…..