Bordeaux 2011: Est-ce difficile?

April 8, Sunday. Back from Bordeaux and will create a new webpage with all the tasting notes this long weekend. The dry whites were often terrific, including Pavilion Blanc de Margaux and especially the whites of Haut Brion and La Mission Haut Brion, more successful to me at least than the red counterparts in 2011. One of the best reds tasted over the week has to be Vieux Château Certan, candidate for red of the vintage, and you will see my tasting notes. Among the Pauillacs, I was very impressed with Château Pontet Canet. Stay tuned! The notes are coming, with more videos, and plenty of pictures, too.


April 3, third day of en primeur Bordeaux 2011. Have had no time to post notes, and for the next two days little internet access, but will try to get most all notes online at by this Saturday. There have been some surprises on the left bank so far. Merlots were troubled from some dilution, exacerbated by the rains in September. But those same rains actually helped the Cabernets, which were affected by dry weather conditions, so much so that the grapes were very compact with little juice. There had been some blocking of maturity, too, so it was important – as ever – not to extract too much in macerations and pumping overs. The better wines are quite charming and forward such as Duhart Milon or Capbern Gasqueton, or fit for a more classical existence, with a certin tannic austerity that does not however overshadow fruit presence and maturity, such as Montrose and even Lafite Rothschild. Certain wines, such as Calon Segur, seem just marvelous. This is really a simplification but will get more detailed later.

Video with Canadian wine expert Jessica Harnois at Chateau Labegorce

April 2, second day of en primeur 2011 Bordeaux: 20 vintage vertical of Domaine de Chevalier and Sauternes/Barsac tasted blind

Greetings readers! I am about to go to the press dinner at Chateau du Tertre in Arsac, which is part of the Margaux appellation… it is officially day 2 of my tastings in Bordeaux – 2 April. This page will be changing a lot, so keep visiting.

Yesterday, 1 April, I had started with a slew of Right Bank wines, with the title “It’s difficult”. Now, I have inverted the order, with a question mark. Is it difficult? Certainly, 2011 is no 2010 or 2009 (or 2005 or 2000 for that matter). For once, we do not have yet another vintage of the century. A vintner’s vintage. I can say with confidence that Domaine de Chevalier white 2011 is very promising, with a fine line of acidity. So is the red wine. I was tasting a series of Domaine de Chevaliers – 20 vintages in all, blind – and both Stephen  Brook and myself thought that the 2011 was the 2010, and vice versa. It kind of reminded me of the experience I had yesterday comparing the Clos l’Eglise 2011 with the 2010: the 2010 was a bit harder on the finish. And so it was with the 2010 Domaine de Chevalier. Among the wines we tasted blind was a superlative 1984. Somehow the microclimate there did wonders for the wine. It was not among the very top, of course, but it was better than one would imagine. Like 1984, 2011 was a challenging harvest… so let’s see if there are any other surprises.

I just tasted a series of Sauternes and Barsac blind, too, and was fairly impressed. NOTES HERE.

April 1: first day of en primeur 2011

As Mick and Keith wrote in the late 1960s – at the height of the golden age of rock and popular music – you can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you get what you need. I had to try hard to get what I needed from Bordeaux in this first day of tasting the 2011 vintage. Not surprising, given the difficulties of the harvest as you can see HERE and read HERE.

But thanks to yet another superbly organized tasting by the Cercle de Rive Droite, which gathers some 140 estates from the Right Bank, mainly Merlot driven blends, I had a chance to taste a broad sample set of Right Bank wines. This is always my inaugural tasting of the intense week of en primeur barrel tastings, that lately has always coincided with Easter week. Palm Sunday for journalists and wine hacks like yours truly was nicely imbibed in red wine. This year, tasting the 2011 vintage after some 6 months in barrel, what I most needed through the 100 or so wines I tried blind was water. The most common adjectives in my notes throughout the Right Bank appellations – from Canon Fronsac and Lalande de Pomerol to Pomerol and Saint Emilion? “Dry” and “astringent” and “oaky”.

Tremendous lineup, appellations by the numbers...

Well, many Cercle de Rive Droite estates like new oak. But in a vintage like 2011, where it was not so easy to get ripeness, the last thing one wanted were too many oak-dominating tannins that obliterated whatever fruit one may have encountered. Some examples of this – alas – were encountered. Several times over, I made mental – and computer-written – notes to drink water.

The lovely thing about taking the time to taste, aside from the pleasure of being in Bordeaux, is that you will find a few treasures lurking among the murkier stuff… and there were some successful wines. So much so that several tasters agreed that a wine like Clos l’Eglise in 2011 – quite an expensive Pomerol – seemed to outperform its 2010 incarnation. Someone called such talk blasphemy, but call me blasphemous. The 2011 had more sap and juiciness, while the 2010 dried out a bit on the finish. Do you want to chalk that up to youthful austerity? You could. On the other hand, Merlot has been over-ripe in the last few years, reaching levels of 15 and 15.5% alcohol that turn me off profusely. So in 2011, levels were noticeably lower. And when a high-end estate like Clos l’Eglise takes the time to select very carefully, as it no doubt did in 2011, you get a fine wine with more civilized alcohol levels.

Ripe and delicious St Emilion at 13% ... those were the days.

Writing this text late on Sunday evening, 1 April, I have just finished having dinner at a friend’s house in Blanquefort, just south of the Medoc, and we enjoyed omelet with porcino mushrooms or ceps. The wine was a Chateau Larmande Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé 1998, which was a fantastic year for the region. It was but 13% alcohol. A civilized ripeness with a touch of truffle that matched the food very well.

At Chateau Barde Haut

But for every happy discovery like the aforementioned Pomerol, you had at least 10 that were… not so good. So the question is: do you want a high alcohol, (over) ripe wine or a relatively low alcohol under-ripe wine? Not a great choice, is it? I am not saying that all Right Bankers in 2010 (and 2009) are over-ripe and high in alcohol, but they were all challenged by the phenomenon of high alcohol Merlot. So, on one level, you may think that 2011 would be more interesting for Merlot. Think again. Many of these wines were hard, tannic, dry and, well, not so appealing. That is the bottom line. But, read on. There are some nice wines, which I hope will be somewhat inexpensive and interesting. Prices really should come down in any case.

Fellow tasters at work

All wines tasted blind, according to category, based on labeled numbers over the masked bottles. I reveal the wine at the end of the tasting note. As per usual on this website: bold means I liked the wine. Red and bold, even more. And when underlined, I really loved it. 

Quick links to tasting notes:

Fronsac and Canon Fronsac / Lalande de Pomerol / Pomerol / Saint Emilion Grand Cru / Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé 

Fronsac and Canon Fronsac: Now these appellations are known for colder soils, and they did well in vintages like 2009 and 2010, allowing for a slower ripening of Merlot…. But they were particularly challenged in 2011.

37. Structure on the palate. Not as warm as 2010 or 2009, but there is a freshness on the nose that is appealing. Finesse on the mid palate. Slightly dry tannins on the finish, not really, this is just a touch coarse, but not bad. Chateau Villars 87-89

38. Warmer even a bit of canned fruit cocktail nose. Palate is a bit more made up… somewhat thick. Not unappealing.  Choppy tannins. A bit rustic. Chateau de la Dauphine 86-88

39. Dark cherry yet also some vegetal aromas. Attack is a touch hard. Mid palate is a bit thin. Somewhat metallic. Chateau Cassagne Haut Canon

40 Vanillin from the oak on the nose. Modern style. Not bad in that sense. Ripe. Somewhat monolithic. But I could see why this might please some palates. Chateau de Carlmagnus

41. Freshness and ripe black fruit. Nice nose. Palate is smooth, too. Tonicity on the finish. Lovely. Haut Carles. This is the one that Jurgen shared with me!  Haut Carles 88-91

42. Rich and thick on the nose and palate. One gets a sense of oak derivation. Not sure if the fruit is matching it. Touch dry. Aria du Chateau de la Riviere

43. Nose is not that expressive. Drier on the palate. Somewhat lacking in richness? Chateau Chadenne

44. Here we have more sap. Somewhat vegetal? A bit drying on the finish. Chateau Dalem.

45. Richer nose. Ripeness is there. Decent structure. Alcohol, too. Somewhat heavy. But this would please punch seeking palates.   Chateau Moulin Pey-Labrie

46. Bitter aspect on the nose. Over extracted aspect. Not to my liking. Chateau Gaby

47. Dark fruit nose. Fine palate. This has fruit and tonicity. Structure not overly present. Neither is the alcohol. Fine job. Chateau La Vieille Cure 88-90+

48. Dark fruit. Oak tannin, too. Touch austere, as if the fruit is masked by extracted tannin, including oak tannin. But not bitter. Substance on the mid palate. Chateau la Riviere  86-88

49. Touch vegetal. Bit more sap on the palate than the above but rather cut from the same cloth. Somewhat tight rather than dry on the finish. Chateau Les Trois Croix

50.  Again a bit of vegetal here. Drying. Structure there, but less fruit. Drying palate…  Chateau Barrabaque

51. Chocolate aspects. More sap than either 49 or 50, but dries out again. Best since 47. There is a more welcoming aspect albeit still somewhat drying.  Chateau Moulin Haut Laroque

52. Is there just a bit of superficiality here, like many others, of oak-derived sweetness, making up for vegetal aspects? Here however, the palate is better, contains a pleasing juiciness, although dries somewhat on the finish. But hardly the worst of the lot. Perhaps it will develop nicely in bottle. Chateau Fontentil.

Lalande de Pomerol. Overall, I got a more positive impression from the Lalande de Pomerols than I did with the Fronsacs, although they seemed a touch alcoholic on a general level

74. This is quite nice since tasting the colder soil Fronsacs. Has substance on the mid palate, richness, and ripeness, although structure is showing quite evidently but that is not a bad sign. Has a welcoming Merlot aspect to it, it could use perhaps a bit less new oak… Chateau Grand Ormeau 87-89

75. More sap on the mid palate, more extraction but the tannins are not coarse or hard. There is a slight drying on the finish but enough sap to make this promising. Nice job. Chateau Jean de Gué 87-88

76. Cooler blueberry fruit. More finesse and fruit forward although tannins a touch rough edged. La Fleur de Bouard. 87-89+

77. Here we have a more welcoming aspect. There is also tonicity. Successful. Chateau de Viaud.88-90

78. Coarse. Rather heavy handed. Although warmer than the Fronsacs, here we have somewhat alcoholic aspect. Still, at least we are dealing with ripe fruit… and for certain palates, who like low end New World wines, they can find pleasure here. Ambroisie du Chateau La Croix des Moines.

79. This has more sap. The best so far of the Lalandes? Not as heavy handed, warmer and fun. Lacks a bit of freshness, but I could drink this with a steak. Chateau de Chambrun 89-91

80. Nose is a bit rustic. There is sap on the mid palate however. But it lacks finesse. Chateau Perron La Fleur

81. Oak derived notes. But, again, I rather like the sappy freshness here on the mid palate. Just a bit powerful. Rhone like aspect. Chateau La Sergue

82. A broad shouldered wine just as much as the preceding entry, but nose is cleaner. More fruit driven. Fine job. Chateau Tournefeuille. 88-90+

83. This is a bit more austere than the above. Tannins are a touch tough… Just slightly astringent on the finish, but there is fruit on the mid palate, and I think this may turn out to be quite nice. Chateau Siaurac. 87-88

84. More made up here. The nose is not as pure as the preceding wines. Palate is tight, there is some drying tannin, but also sap. Not bad. Chateau La Graviere

Pomerol. This was perhaps overall the best performing appellation… but there were still a lot of difficulties here. 

53. Good sap on the nose. Freshness on the nose, Rather floral. Best wine so far. What I like about this wine is that it does not dry out. It retains a juiciness. Chateau Bellegrave 88-90

54. A bit more rustic, touch of vegetal. Palate is oak derived but not over the top in that sense, with some fruit in the mid palate and a decent finish.  Chateau Feytit Clinet. 87-89

55. Nose is interesting. There is sap that comes through but cloaked in oak…. With a rather astringent finish to boot. Not sure about this one…  Chateau Lécuyer.

56. Toasty aromas with dark spicy fruit. Palate is juicier than the above although not showing potential for too much complexity. Rather one note, but quite a fine note. Chateau Bourgneuf 87-90

57. Here we have perception of alcohol and some drying aspects on the finish, although – again – there is a sweet juiciness here. I worry about the finish, however.  Chateau Bonalgue. When tasted earlier non blind, did not impress me much, either. Modestly disappointing, as this is often my go to Pomerol in terms of price quality ratios. Far better in 2010. 86-88

58. Nose is fruit driven and yet there is something a bit made up about it…  The palate displays concentration. Not drying out so much, and quite intense. But it seems to lack in finesse… and I can see how this may please some palates. Chateau Fayat

59. Lovely nose. Palate is chipper here. Freshness. Very nice wine. Often when you cannot criticize a wine, it is quite good… Chateau Mazeyres 88-91

60. Bit more made up nose. Yet there is smoothness to the delivery, both aromatically and in a tactile sense. The extraction is however felt. Touch of white caramel-like oak derivation. Heavier than the above, although not bad – and will certainly please some palates. Chateau Rouget

61. Good. Not great. Reminds me of the above but a bit drying… Cross your fingers. Clos du Clocher

62. Somewhat gum staining but not harsh. Still, there is an extracted feel to this. Not bitter mind you, but not smooth. Could do with more finesse. A touch hot on the finish. Chateau La Clémence

64. Here more civilized. More juice. A return to the 59 style. Fine. Chateau Beau Soleil 87-89

65. Drying, not aggressive. But oak derivation here, too. Not sure… Chateau Taillefer

66. Lovely. Cohesive and fine. Chateau Vray Croix de Gay 89-92 A big winner when tasted non blind earlier.

67. Chipper and fruit filled nose. Just medium enough body, seashell freshness. Just after lunch … so be careful. But this seems to have sap and freshness, with structure at this stage upstaging fruit. Finish is juicy however. Domaine de l’Eglise 88-91+

68. An oakier aspect on the nose. Palate has more sap than nose would suggest. Just a touch extraction felt, however. But not bad. Chateau Le Moulin 87-88

69. Over oaked nose. Some rustic tannins hidden by the oak? There is smoothness to the mid palate however. Not as interesting as the above. Chateau Vieux Maillet

70. Oak derivation but also dark (black) fruit and that is felt more on the palate, a bit more juiciness than the above, improvement. Somewhat heady on the mid palate, Alcohol is felt. Touch austere on the finish, but not bad… Chateau Le Bon Pasteur. Did not really like this when tasted non blind earlier. 85-88?

71. Ripe plum and some oak derivation. Here we have a brisk aspect to the palate, pleasingly so, if with just chewy tannins, to be sure. A pleasing thickness? Actually, I preferred this when tried non blind earlier! Interesting… Clos l’Eglise 89-93

73. No 72. Some bacon fat on the nose, with even a hint of Syrah pepper. There is a larger scale to this wine which will win Rhone friends and influence people, but not my style of Bordeaux. Interestingly, when tasted non blind earlier, fellow taster Kevin Shin used the words dried raisin… I expected more from this estate, which has been on a bit of positive roll in recent years. Chateau Montviel 85-88?

Saint Emilion Grand Cru. Ouch. I seemed to have had quite a hard time with this series of wines. 

85. Pleasing classic Bordeaux nose here, albeit a touch under-ripe. Conjures images of red meat for dinner, whose fat will offset the classicism in the wine. Has an earthiness to it. Palates shows more structure than fruit, but there is character here, location. Not a crowd pleaser, to be sure.  Chateau Laplagnotte Bellevue 86-88+

86. Noticeably darker color. Dark fruit but also an undeniable oak aspect that detracts also on the palate. Thicker than the above, with drying extraction. Pass the water, please.  Clos la Madeleine

87. Off putting oak driven nose promises little. Palate is actually better than one would think, but also dries out. Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac.

88. Warmer and yet cleaner, fruit driven nose. Palate is finer and smoother than all of the above Saint Emilion Grands Crus so far. A relative success.  Chateau Rochebelle 87-89

89. Vegetal aspects here and sadly drying palate. Tried again non blind and was underwhelmed. Chateau Trianon

90. Black fruit and oak. More sap, and yet not really juicy, either. An improvement on the above, but that does not mean I will seek it out, either. Hmmm. Chateau Trimoulet

91. Chipper and chocolate like. There is choppiness to the palate, leading to a somewhat abrupt finish, but the mid palate is flavorful. Will not last too long, but will make for nice luncheon claret. Chateau La Fleur 86-88

92. A curious mix of vegetal and floral on the nose. Attack is pleasant. Mid palate is medium minus. Finish is somewhat drying, with the oak tannins perceivable.  Chateau La Commanderie

93. Drying again, with more oak derivation perceptible. Not sure about this one.  Chateau Cote de Baleau

94. More polish on the nose, with red fruit. Here is a slightly better expression of fruit, with most sap since 91. Chateau Pindefleurs

95. Heavier nose. Modern. Yet I like the chutzpah here. There is a pureness to the dark fruit that is endearing, although it ends with noticeable oak derived tannins….  Chateau Lynsolence 86-88

96. Tropicana like fruit juice nose. Palate is fresh if simple in expression. Takes no risks. A touch boring? But does not dry out. Chateau La Grangere

97. Rather fruit filled nose. Fine freshness, touch of earthy tobacco here. Shows brisk attack and somewhat fleeting mid palate and finish however. Chateau Peby Faugeres 86-88

98. Vegetal . Grasshopper. Drying. Chateau Carteau Cotes Daugay

99. Darker toned fruit. Shows more sap than the above to be sure. Palate has juice and medium body, there is some sap. Somewhat drying on the finish. Chateau Ferrand Lartigue 86-88

100. Curious mix of nougat and vegetal. Chateau Jean Faure

101. Oak derivation? There is sap. Not bad. A touch drying on the finish. Reach for the water. Chateau Faugeres

102. Somewhat faulty bottle and did not try another one, so no comment. Chateau Sansonnet

103. Interesting graphite nose. Hint of rubber. A certain drying aspect to the wine, however. Chateau Boutisse.

104. Touch of vegetal here. And oak derivation, but there is also a freshness, rather incongruous to some extent – a tonicity. But it does not save the day. Dries out. Chateau de Pressac

105. Darker fruit. Substantial nose. The palate is broad, and yet there is discipline and structure that keeps it from being a jam fest. Not bad. Chateau La Fleur d’Arthus 86-88

106. Pencil shaved nose here, interesting. The palate is more austere than the interesting nose would suggest. Structure over fruit. Too much structure? Chateau Franc Grace Dieu

107. Decent fruit definition, some graphite, too. It is a bit drying overall.  Chateau Fombrauge

108. Rubber and oak derivation, although the palate is fruity, and there is a certain civility about its expression. Touch short. Chateau Pas de l’Ane

109. Decent sap and freshness, fruit is there, too. Tannins are present. Young Bordeaux, and rather successful here! Chateau du Parc… Dr Alain Reynaud… Chateau du Parc 87-89

110. Darker fruit profile, plus oak derivation. There is a sap on the palate, which conveys moderate richness, although it is too bad that the palate dries out a bit on the finish. Over extraction?  Clos les Grandes Versannes

111. Imposing and yet also a certain freshness, not bad. Dries out like 110 and the finish is a bit abrupt!  Chateau Magrez Fombrauge

112. Slight vegetal notes. Mid palate is present. Some juice. Not the driest of the bunch, but nothing too exciting either. Sanctus du Chateau La Bienfaisance

113. Oak extraction on the nose, but the palate is fruitier. Interesting opposition. Tannins are a touch astringent. Oak extraction?  Chateau Cheval Noir Cuvée le Fer

114. A clean nose. A touch of graphite? More freshness. There is austerity on the palate, however. Drying. Wow, this is not an easy vintage! Chateau Croix de Labrie

115. Some red fruit on the nose. Attack is decent, with a moderate intensity of flavor that is short on the finish, but not too drying. I needed no water after trying this one, at least. OK. Chateau Rol Valentin 87-90

116. Somewhat floral. But also oak derived. The palate is light intensity of flavor then dries out. Chateau Patris

117. Some wintergreen, but then oak derived. And then outspoken dryness on the palate. Water please! Clos Dubreuil

118. Sweet mint aspect but oaky, too, although not as obvious as the above. Still, not the very fine wine that this estate had produced last year.  Chateau Barde Haut

120. Cohesive, fruit driven nose with light toast. Palate displays some pleasing ripe enough plum. Decent attack. Mid palate is medium bodied, although it dries out a bit on the finish, with a touch of oak derived drying, but better than 117 and 118. Chateau Grand Corbin Manuel

121.  Espresso notes. Drying on the palate. Lacks juice and succulence… need to add water. Chateau Lassegue

122. Rather pleasingly floral aspect to this nose. The palate is, as the French say, digest. There is a human dimension to this wine, little extraction is felt, and yet it is not light, either. An almost coffee like finish, but not overtly oak derived. Perhaps the very best of the grand crus today? Chateau Croix Cardinale. 89-91

Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé. 

123.Decent nose, there is fruit. There is an attack, with palate presence. Fruit. Something disjointed. Short, somewhat drying finish. Chateau Destieux

124. Modern oak derivation. Echoed on the palate, which is not hard but a touch astringent on the finish, and a bit hollow on the mid palate. Chateau Fonplegade

125. Pleasing. Fruit cocktail aromas. Palate is not nuanced but still pleasurable. Does not dry out, has some fruit-derived juice. Best of this flight so far.   Chateau Grand Corbin d’Espagne 87-89

126. Oak and perhaps vegetal.  A touch drying, although there is a light mid palate presence. Still, the finish is hot. Chateau Fonroque

127. Even oakier. And vegetal. Chateau Ripeau

128. More pure here, in a fruit sense. Also reflected in the palate, which seems juicier. Although it lacks the verve of a great wine, it does have more life to it.  Nice. Chateau Le Prieuré 87-89

129. Decent fruit filled nose.  Fruit cocktail. The attack is tannic, with a certain discipline and medium body on the mid palate, and the finish is medium. Not bad. Chateau La Fleur Cardinale 88-90

130. Somewhat made up here. But the palate has sap. And there is corpulence and a build up to the finish. Chateau Bellefont Belcier 87-89

131. Oak staves. Somewhat drying on the mid palate and the finish is abrupt and slightly hard.  Clos des Jacobins

132. Wintergreen freshness? Not really. The palate is a bit drying, here, as well. Abrupt finish. Chateau La Marzelle.

133. Warm nose of stewed fruit and light toast. Weak attack, but builds up to medium bodied corpulence, somewhat coarse tannins and a short finish. Chateau Saint Georges Cote Pavie

2 Responses to “Bordeaux 2011: Est-ce difficile?” (Leave a Comment)

  1. Bail Bonds says:

    Great Insight…

    Tweeted your blog!…

  2. pkakaviatos says:

    Many thanks for this. I need to resign onto twitter…

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