Earlier this month, we got the chance to taste at least 150 wines of the 2011 vintage from the barrel on our pilgrimage to the major châteaux in Bordeaux. As I wrote last year, wine tasting is not about numbers/ scores/ stars or grades. It is important to widen your palate and experience different flavours, says Meenu Kohli of Maison Winetage reporting from Bordeaux for Sommelier India. The 2011 Bordeaux vintage is not in the same league as 2009 or even 2010 but it reminded us of the role Mother Nature plays to make wine and what made the 1982 and 2009 vintages so special.Left: Jean Michel Cazes of Lynch Bages with Meenu Kohli
The sharp rise in temperatures in spring of 2011 led to an early budding, flowering and fruit setting while the drought in May and June caused the scalding of the berries and limited the vegetative expression of the vines. The cool months of July and rainy August resulted in a slow, gradual ripening. Due to less ripening, the concentration and structure has been affected which might be the reason for muted aroma and shorter length of finish across the vintage. Hence the winemakers played a very important role in this vintage.
DAY 1 started with an afternoon rendezvous with Lilian Barton of Château Leoville Barton, a great encouraging hand guiding our wine passion. A simple business meeting transformed into a lovely ‘cheese & wine’ lunch at her home along with the delicious 1999 Leoville Barton and closing with a delightful Climens 2009, a great Sauternes. This was followed by an intense two-hour session at Château Lagrange where the UGC (Union de Grand Cru) had organized the tastings for Pauillac, Saint Estephe and Saint Julien communes. Most of the wines even from the likes of Brainaire Ducru, Gruaud Larose, Lagrange had a muted nose, low alcohol and were low on fruit. Langoa Barton had a medium floral nose, deep purple violet colour and medium length.
Leoville Barton had a decent fruity nose with a reasonable amount of black fruit packed with tannins. Its balance promises good ageing potential and it is definitely a good wine for the vintage. Grand Puy Lacoste one of our 2010 favourites offered mid tannic and mid bodied wine with a medium finish. Lynch Bages had a more floral nose, a fruit-filled tannic structure and medium length.
DAY 2 started at Château Margaux, a mecca of elegance. The 2011 Margaux is as elegant as ever, the fruity nose was followed with a red fruit attack on the palate. Smooth, rounded tannins with good fruit but well integrated leading to an elegant finish though not as long as usually expected. 86% Cabernet Sauvignon,10% Merlot with a 2% dash each of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The surprise of the day was Pavillion Blanc, what a blockbuster!! A phenomenal example of great balance – of acidity, fruit & alcohol. Fresh and fruity nose with a fruity attack, balanced with minerality and well-rounded 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Each of the 1000 cases are to die for. With an average of 30-year-old vines, Ch. Beycheville, with 133 parcels sourced from 77 hectares of Saint Julien making 22,000 cases, represent good value for money if priced sensibly. A decent floral nose with low/medium fruit and medium length.
We commenced with Pauillac at my favourite vineyard, Château Latour, which displayed a fresh fruity nose followed by a nice palate and good balance. Pauillac is not sold en-primeur; we might be getting some allocation of the 2006 for personal consumption, which will be released later this year Les Forts was softer than usual, floral nose followed by good fruit in a medium body. Latour, the Grand Vin, a wine with a style that is strong, a powerful great nose, fruits hiding behind excellent rounded, integrated tannins… and guess what, I didn’t spit it out!
At Château Ducru Beaucaillou, we were welcomed by none other than Monsieur Bruno Borie himself. A well respected marketing guru in the wine world. This year it was all about carving out the world for Croix de Beaucaillou, which has a new label for its 2009 vintage wine, designed by the daughter of Rolling Stone’s Mick Jagger. And of course “Beau Caillou” in French means “beautiful stones”. We started with Croix de Beaucaillou with 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 7% Petit verdot – Good nose, elegant balance, medium tannic body. Good value for money. “A Buy”. Ducru, has deep colour, an elegant floral nose, good body and concentration.
This was followed by a visit to our close friends at Ch.Cos d’estournel. Pagode de Cos has an elegant nose in the deep violet wine and medium body with a reasonable finish. Cos as usual is nicely done, surprisingly nice nose in a mid to full body with good integrated tannins backed by solid fruit. This year due to smaller berries, the alcohol concentration was just right for me.
Raphiel Reybier, has been pioneering excellent winemaking at Hetzolo, the Hungarian Tokaj wines from the Royal vineyards acquired by Cos. I must say, they are a steal at current price levels. Due to paucity of time, we had to skip Montrose and rush to Ch. Leoville Poyferre, which is producing abetter quality year on year. We tasted Le Crock – a brilliant value for money wine. Medium fruit and low tannins allow early access to a nice medium fruit wine. Deep dark wine, beautiful nose, soft well integrated tannins, good fruit in a great balance. We tasted a bunch of Margaux at Malescot St. Exupery’s UGC tasting. Labegorce, Angludet, Giscours, Terte, but what stuck out was Rauzan Segla – fresh, fruity elegant.
DAY 3 began with the tasting at Haut Brion and meeting Mr. Delmas. Starting with the newly acquired Saint Emilion property, Quintos and its second wine the dragon, the Quintos was not really an impressive start. Then we moved to the serious stuff! Chapelle Mission Haut Brion; Mission Haut Brion, Clarence de Haut Brion and THE Haut Brion itself. Haut Brion, with crimson red colour had an elegant floral nose followed by an earthy attack on the palate, pencil lead shavings, graphite, you could get it all and a nice fruity long finish. Quelle balance. The violet Mission Haut Brion is not as powerful, though equally elegant. With 7,600 cases, this is going to be a sought after wine even in this vintage. After that we moved to the Whites, Mission Haut Brion Blanc is a wine to watch. Fresh, dry, fruity, balanced with a terrific spicy after taste. We couldn’t help compare the Pavillon Blanc from Margaux. Both are elegant and fantastic wines with their own styles.
Next came an excursion through the beautiful Smith Haut Lafitte where we were educated on the art of winemaking by Fabien Teitgen, the winemaker; then Florence Cathiard the owner joined us for the tastings. Smith Haut Lafitte Red was beautiful, with a terrific nose of earth, graphite and lead. Spicy attack on the palate, great fruit covered with smooth rounded and integrated tannins. Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc had good fruit melon & peach on the nose and nice smooth balanced taste in a medium body.
We were late for the tasting at L’evangile, but were ushered in by the Oenologist and Director of Lafite Rothschild. Good floral nose, rounded tannins, fresh and delicate wine with great balance. This was followed by tastings of UGC at Saint Emilion and Pomerol where we had the opportunity to taste some nice wines – Clinet, Conseillante, Croix de Gay, la Dominique. Had very interesting parallel tasting of Larcis Ducasse & Pavie McQuin and Troplong Mondotte and Trotteville. All excellent wines with different styles to get hands on.
And then we were almost at the end of our trip with Cheval Blanc, starting with Quinault l’Enclos and Tour de Pin. We were given an excellent educational tour by Pierre-Olivier, the winemaker for Cheval Blanc. Petit Cheval was very nice with good after taste and nice fruits. Cheval Blanc, had concentrated black fruits, earthy rounded tannins, another one that I just couldn’t spit, but gulped down!! Decent finish and length considering the vintage. We got to close the tastings with nothing less than D’Yquem, delicious nose of peach, melon and ananas, a viscous and dense chewy wine. Excellent balance, though I would have liked a little more acidity, and learnt that keeping it longer in barrel will bring that about, so will be nice to taste out of bottle!
To close the evening before rushing back to Paris, we had the pleasure of seeing Alain Vauthier and tasting with him with a beautiful evening view from Ausone. Minerality reflected on the nose, well integrated fruit and tannins, good balance. Very nice finish.
Finally, panic to get to the train station on time… Phew, deep sigh as I reflected on the passing Bordeaux vineyards. Every time I visit for en primeur tastings it is an immense learning experience.
A personal note for Sommelier India readers, go out and taste as many wines as you can, it will make drinking every sip even more enjoyable with time.
For more information, contact Meenu Kohli, DIRECTOR, Maison Winetage, 69 Avenue Bosquet; 75007,Paris, France,+33 677893952, email@example.com, maisonwinetage.com