It’s the final day in Bordeaux and the overall consensus is one of real optimism in a year that is totally different to 2009 & 2010. For the greater part 2011 is evidently an impressive and cellarable drinker’s vintage and further to this the feedback from the growers is that prices are destined to drop, it’s just purely a question of by how much. Ultimately, this will make or break 2011.
What was particularly telling was that the level of far eastern presence in the tasting rooms was significantly down on the previous year and this should give an additional nudge to the growers that pricing 2011 anywhere near 2010 will be totally catastrophic for them. Bordeaux needs more accessible vintages such as 2011 to charm and reengage the traditional Bordeaux buyer after the heady prices of the previous two vintages.
Today was particularly exciting as we headed to Graves on the left bank for the first appointment of the day at 1st growth Ch. Haut Brion to taste their range alongside Ch. La Mission Haut Brion. From a visual perspective Pessac is very different to the more northerly appellations with more of an industrial, suburban feel as opposed to the picturesque countryside of Pomerol and St Emilion. However arriving at Haut Brion for my first ever visit was a great moment. (tasting notes follow below)
The final UGC tasting hosted by Ch. De Fieuzal involved most of the key Graves players. Historically these wines are not the easiest to taste, often slightly tinged with green flavours and aggressive tannins. Overall we were impressed with the levels of balance and finesse that many of these wines had particularly Ch. Haut Bailly, Ch. Smith Haut Lafite, Ch. Pape Clement and Domaine de Chevalier who all showed very well. Additionally some of the whites were delightful; very mineral driven and quite accessible even at this early stage.
Suitably enthused the team then headed to an exquisite tasting and lunch at Ch. Ferran with Thibault Lacoste and family. Prior to this I had never tried Ferran’s wines before and was seduced by the forward, lush, soft core fruit of the 2011, a wine that will provide loads of early drinking appeal. Over roast partridge we drank the 2007 (currently in stock at Goedhuis and drinking superbly I might add) alongside 2005 and 2001. With palates on the verge of waning we could have struggled with our final two appointments had it not been that they were visits to the mighty Ch. Climens in Barsac and arguably the greatest of them all, Ch. D’Yquem.
Climens, possibly the most challenging Chateaux in the world to get to, was a fascinating visit. The 2011, which was yet to be assembled, meant tasting seven different barrels each from different tries (passings through the vineyards) between the dates of 8th -28th September which would ultimately be blended to form the Grand Vin. There followed a unique opportunity to taste a vertical of the 2009, 2008, 2007 (amazing), 2006 & 2005 from bottle each at very different stages in their evolution but each equally compelling. Finally to Yquem, and a second taste of what will surely be a classic release. I preferred this sample to the previous one tasted at Cheval Blanc as it showed a precision and dimension that had lacked only two days earlier.
After a brief visit to the magnificent cellars and with exhausted palates and aching teeth, it’s time for home! Next stop Bordeaux airport..
Day 4’s highlights:
2011 Ch. Carbonnieux Blanc
Fresh ripe citrus, hint of blackcurrant leaf. Quite classy and stylish. Crisp mineral finish. Should drink early.
2011 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc
Delicious ripe lime and lemon zest flavours on the palate. Ripe white fruit beautiful elegant finish.
2011 Ch. Pique Caillou Blanc
This is really impressive for one of the smaller lesser known chateaux. Citrus, grapefruit and lychee-ish. Delicious.
2011 Ch. Smith Haut Lafite Blanc
The Smith Haut Lafite is the classiest and most together of the Graves whites I reckon. Incredibly refined and together displaying minerality and real finesse.
2011 Domaine de Chevalier
Silky and quite elegant, a beautiful medium bodied style of Domaine de Chevalier. This is seriously impressive. Lots of concentrated black fruit flavours particularly blackcurrant and dark cherry and tannins are incredibly refined.
2011 Ch. Haut Bailly
Rich crunchy red fruit core. Lots of freshness. Medium weight with wonderful silkiness, concentration and purity on the palate. Haut Bailly is on fire at the moment.
2011 Ch. Malartic Lagraviere
Dark cherry flavours. Showing plenty of richness, structure and concentration. Tannins are ripe and not too overpowering. This should develop well over the next 5-10 years.
2011 Ch. Pape Clement
Plum, cherry and tobacco on the palate. Quite dense, tannic and big at this stage but very refined. Needs time but will surely develop into a beauty.
2011 Ch. Smith Haut Lafite
Enticing dark fruit nose of blackberry, cassis and liquorice. Pure, intense, concentrated and quite delicious. I think this is my favourite of the Graves reds.
2011 Ch. La Mission Haut Brion
(34% Merlot, 11% Cab Franc, 55% Cab Sauv)
Quite tight on the nose and revealing little at this stage. The palate is immensely structured and tight knit but the balance is there. Damson, raspberry & mocha flavours coming through and a dense finish. Not a classic in the mould of 2009 but long, classy and distinguished.
2011 Ch. Haut Brion
(35% Merlot, 19% Cab Franc, 46% Cab Sauv)
Immediately far more open and elegant than La Mission. Palate silky and more textured. Dark chocolate, coffee, truffle, dark cherry and more open knit. Quite delicious. An elegant Haut Brion that is full of finesse and perhaps a reincarnation of the 2008. Will develop before 2009 & 2010 and drink well from 2025.
Sauternes & Barsac
2011 Ch. Climens
Tasted from seven barrels from grapes harvested between 8th & 28th September. As the final wine hasn’t been blended difficult to assess however the components parts show plenty of sweet botrytis with ripe stone fruit, orange zest, white flower, honey & lime being the dominant flavours. Plenty of acidity and richness. Will surely be exceptional.
2011 Ch. D’Yquem
A second taste of this magnificent wine in as many days! This may not reach the levels of 2001 (100pts Parker) in terms of ultimate perfection but it is still a hugely impressive wine by any standards. The palate is broad, exceptionally concentrated with almost honey-like silkiness and the fine acidity gives it precise balance. Orange blossom, honeysuckle, white flowers, clementine and honey on the palate and a finish that lasted all the way back to the airport!