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The 2011 Bottom Line Report: First Tastes

My trip to Bordeaux began in quite a leisurely fashion, with a midday departure from Edinburgh, flying direct to Bordeaux; a much more convenient way to travel than the Edinburgh-Gatwick-Bordeaux route (often with a night in a hotel in Gatwick) that I have followed in previous years. And the absence of a 4am bugle call was also a benefit!

Saturday started with an informal dinner with friends which was low-key and involved some older wines, from 2008, 2006 and 2003. I did get to taste a single barrel sample of 2011 though, a white Pessac-Léognan, and I was taken aback by its freshness but also the depth to the fruit, with lovely vibrant acidity. I had heard that the whites (dry and sweet) might be good but this was better than expected. But one wine does not make a vintage of course. I needed (and still do) to taste more widely, and to reflect.

Sunday saw me point my hire car in the direction of the Vintex Vignobles Gregoire tasting, at a strange venue – a campsite outside Bordeaux. The tasting room within the restaurant looked out over a pond, from which there emanated a cacophony of mating calls from what must have been a large population of frogs. I’m glad my kids weren’t there – we would have had to have a hunt for frog spawn.

The main attraction here being a very good range of Sauternes (as shown above!), as well as a mix of lesser wines and grands crus. The range of Sauternes up for tasting was probably more complete than I have ever experienced, and the advantage of being here a day earlier than usual means I have the time to work through them at a more leisurely pace, giving the wines the time and respect they deserve. I spent all morning with the 33 wines, tasting and retasting as necessary. The vintage is remarkable, combining the depth and texture of a prodigious vintage with the acidity of a cooler, leaner one, giving the wines exquisite vigour despite their rich characters. They are remarkable, and wipe the floor with any other primeur samples of Sauternes I have tasted. For me, this means anything from 2005 to 2010. Are they as good as the 2001s? That’s difficult to say, as I never tasted the 2001s at this stage……but I have my thoughts, which I will write up in detail when back in Scotland.

Thereafter I tasted a few more wines with the Vintex team, before hot-footing it over to the Ulysses Cazabonne tasting at Rauzan-Ségla. This was a really good tasting, with lots of wines to pour, including some really good right bankers. The wines were only from one estate, but were rich, clean, not over-worked, fresh and yet concentrated. If the rest of the right bank is like this, we could have something really good on our hands. Too early to tell yet though….

As for the left bank, I tasted at all levels, from second growth cru classé estates to minor cru bourgeois. Another advantage of coming a day earlier is that I can get to look at these latter wines in more detail. The first growths don’t need the notes or the publicity in all honesty, and so if you are interested in how the likes of Rollan de By, Coufran, La Tour de By, Camensac and Cantemerle have done instead of Latour and Ducru-Beaucaillou (neither of which I will be visiting this year), then my reports should hopefully serve you well. Looking at the wines overall rather than any one in particular for the moment the quality was variable, and with no obvious hierarchy to it; even among these lesser wines, some shone, whereas others were competent. Few are truly to be avoided though.

And so, with a nod to Robert Parker, the Bottom Line for the primeurs so far is superb Sauternes.

4 Responses to “The 2011 Bottom Line Report: First Tastes”

  1. I have tasted many of the top right bank wines today and they are not a patch on the 2011 Sauternes and Barsac. Hopefully the prices will be reasonable too.

  2. Steve, you’re beginning to sound like you have some Sauternes to sell….. :-)

  3. I’m a passionate Sauternes supporter as you know and, in the good English tradition, like to see fairness prevail. I genuinely think 2011 is at best a mediocre vintage for red wines saved to a degree by some good wine-making. The best wines are bright and fresh, like the whites in some ways, but in no way do they merit 95 point scores as some are already getting. The Sauternes, however, range from the brilliant through the excellent to the very good with only a few smaller properties failing to impress.
    Nothing would give me more pleasure to see these fantastic wines bought and enjoyed as widely as possible. They deserve to be and customers will get a wonderful drinking experience at a fraction of the price of a glass of fairly average red!

  4. Steve, agree with the assessment of Sauternes. I think I’ve already made it clear that this is a stunning vintage for these wines. But the reds are more nuanced than you suggest, there are higher ‘highs’ and lower ‘lows’. Those that really understood the difficulties of the vintage acted appropriately in the cellars and made good wines as a result. Nothing mediocre about some of the wines I tasted.