En Primeur 2011 – First Impressions – Lafite, Latour, Mouton, Margaux, Pichon Baron, Montrose and Pontet Canet

I am finally ensconced in my hotel room writing this up after my first long day of tastings which started at 9 this morning in the Left Bank. My initial impression of the vintage so far is that it is not a ‘great one’ but one that some folks will refer to as a ‘classical drinking vintage’. Talking to the chateaux owners, wine makers and managers today it is apparent that 2011 was a difficult year due to the weather Mother Nature threw at them, especially around the flowering season. Yields are definitely a lot less than last year – and in previous years – some as much as 50%. Having to cope with hail, lack of rain and scorching hot summer days has meant that the wine makers have had to really think about their blends. The result is that the wines lack the opulence and density of the previous two vintages, 2009 and 2010. This does not seem to be the case with the white wines and I think this could be a very good year indeed for Sauternes and the Bordeaux whites.

Having said that I was pleasantly surprised to discover that many wines were good, particularly as I not been expecting this given the challenging conditions the vintners faced. However, whatever the weather these wines should be good – these are the crème de la crème and given the amount of money and wine making expertise at the chateaux’s disposal we should not expect any less, especially considering the prices they are sold at.

Even though this is not a vintage that I find exciting (I am still looking for that WOW factor and am wondering if I will experience it this year) there are some wines out there that will be very enjoyable drinking. In no particular order here are the wines that stood out for me earlier today:

Chateau Pontet Canet (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot). The chateau achieved, on average, 32 litres per hectares which is 25% down on last year. They also used 10% less new oak this year compared to other years and as the wine maker said “we had to take what Nature gave us”. I believe their efforts have been rewarded by producing a very nice wine!

Moving on to the First Growths that I have tasted so far – they have all made a particular effort with their second wines.

I thought the Mouton Rothschild stable did well – Le Petit Mouton (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot) was reasonably dense and full bodied in the mouth with some good silky tannins. D’Armagnac (57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot) had a good long finish with a creamy suppleness.

Clerc Milon (54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot, 1% Carmenere) was aromatic with spice and tobacco on the nose and in the mouth and had good integrated tannins. Interestingly Carmenere is tentatively making a come back in Bordeaux with Brane Cantenac introducing it to their Grand Vin as a result of climate change (to learn more read my blog covering this here). There are small patches of Carmenere still surviving in Bordeaux – Haut Bailly actually has all 6 permitted grape varieties growing in its vineyards and uses all of them in their blend.

Chateau Mouton Rothschild (90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc) showed very well with smooth tannins and floral and vanilla notes in the bouquet and in the mouth.

I particularly liked Latour’s second wine, Les Forts de Latour (61.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 0.5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot) which was fleshy, rounded and soft in the mouth with subtle tannins and good length. I always expect great things of the Grand Vin, Latour (84.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 0.5% Petit Verdot) and considering the tricky conditions the season had presented them I thought the chateau rose to the occasion.

Margaux’s second wine, Pavillon Rouge (65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc) came over full of fruit with a good length and the Grand Vin, Margaux (86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc) was very concentrated with velvet tannins. Pavillon Blanc (100% Sauvignon Blanc) showed rather well – clean and fresh, good on the nose with a long finish.

The wine that shone for me from the Lafite Rothschild stable was their second wine Carruades de Lafite (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Merlot, 3.5% Cabernet Franc, 2.5% Petit Verdot). That isn’t to say that the Grand Vin wasn’t good but Carruades did it for me this year!

Montrose once again has produced some very nice offerings in both their first and second wines – La Dame de Montrose (28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 72% Merlot) was quite a fleshy wine which I thought had good balance and structure. Montrose (63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot) was a good dark crimson, rounded and full in the mouth, smooth tannins – a little opulence there! I also tasted the wines from the other estate Tronquoy Lalande and the second wine Tronquoy de Sainte Anne which did very well. I thought Nicholas Glumineau, the Technical Director there, has done a great job!

Pichon Baron did impress me – this is the first time I have tasted at the chateau itself and it was a very pleasant experience. The tasting room was specially built and I found it was a charming environment to taste in. Pichon Baron (92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot) was very dark in colour, lovely and soft in the mouth, well balanced tannins and I really liked the offering. Yields were down here from 40 to 30 litres per hectare. The second wine Les Tourelles de Longueville, situated in the south west of Pauillac, showed nicely and is one to look out for – this is a good wine (60% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot). Also owned by AXA Millesimes Pibran has the same wine makers and lies next to Pontet Canet and Mouton Rothschild. I thought Pibran produced a nicely harmonious wine this year with good colour, bouquet and fruit – well made and well balanced!

Here I also got the chance to taste the Sauternes Suduiraut (93% Semillon, 7% Sauvignon Blanc) – this was delightful, full of honey and lemon with good power in the mouth – it is too early to say given the fact that this is the only Sauternes I have tasted so far but 2011 could be a great year for Sauternes. Their dry white S de Suduiraut (52% Sauvignon Blanc, 28% Semillon – this is the first time I have tasted their dry white) was full of freshness, well rounded with a good powerful bouquet.

The yield at Palmer was down substantially – they thought at one stage in July that they might not have a crop to pick. This year I thought it lacked it’s characteristic opulence and perhaps the difficulty of the vintage took its toll however it was a pleasant offering, just not the Palmer I expected.

Meeting Xavier Borie at Grand Puy Lacoste is always a pleasure and the wine presented very well.

The other chateaux I tasted did present some very nice wines but having tasted the previous 2 vintages I found that so far I haven’t found a shining star yet.

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