En Primeur 2011 Summary

Having arrived back from Bordeaux and taken stock of all my tasting experiences I am sure there are many Bordeaux chateaux owners who are very disappointed with their wines this year.

This is a year that has been extremely difficult for them where statistics have proved that the growing season was very taxing with problems during flowering and intense heat on the grapes when they were not yet fully ripe. Many of the producers have had to discard a lot of unripe/green grapes and coupled with some chateaux experiencing hail during flowering this has reduced the yield.

During the growing season it is imperative to prune foliage away from the grapes to give maximum exposure to the sun so that they can ripen. Many chateaux however went through this pruning process early only to find that the grapes became exposed to intense heat which resulted in the grapes being scorched.

A lot of chateaux are down on yield for the above reasons – in some cases up to 50% down, with some chateaux admitting to me that they were unsure whether they were going to get a crop or not. In some cases it may have been more prudent for some chateaux to do as they do in Sauternes – which is that if they are not happy with the conditions then they do not produce any wine.

There have been reports claiming record attendance at the tastings this year but in my experience I thought the numbers were down. It was easier to get appointments with the chateaux this year and the Asian influence just did not seem to be there.

I have heard the 2011 vintage being described using a variety of adjectives such as ‘unique’, ‘classic’, ‘peculiar’, ‘different’ and a ‘drinking’ vintage.

This tells me that even the Bordelaise are totally confused by what has happened this year and as a consequence they are confused by the wine that they have produced. When making wine the chateaux look for a good balance between alcohol and acidity – the 2010 vintage was a classic example where both the alcohol and acidity were at reasonably high levels and therefore the wine had good balance.

This year however the alcohol is down – on average wines are 13 – 13.5% – but the acidity has remained high and this therefore gives the wine an imbalance. The reality of the vintage to me is that I don’t feel it’s ‘classic’, I don’t feel it’s ‘unique’, I feel it is ‘unusual’.

Having read some of the reports on my return from Bordeaux I think many people are confused at what to write and how describe it. Is it a ‘drinking’ vintage? Time will tell. You will have to wait a long time to be able to drink it as many wines need the tannins to disappear and in some cases I think this will be hard to achieve.

There have been the exceptions where chateaux – through their dexterity and knowledge – have been able to produce a reasonable effort but in all honesty I think they would admit that at best their efforts have only produced mediocrity.

Mother Nature has been unkind to the chateaux this year – where She saved them in 2008 and blessed them in 2009 and 2010, She has turned her back on them in 2011. Those chateaux that have done reasonably well have to be congratulated on their efforts.

Where Mother Nature was kind was to the dry whites and the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac. As with the 2007 vintage these wines are excellent. The sweet wines were opulent, fresh, clean and full of fruit and I believe 2011 will be a vintage that is ranked amongst the best. The dry whites proved to be a success with many chateaux making good quality whites within their stables.

So, what does the Bordeaux enthusiast do? Do they buy? Or not? Erring on the side of caution I can’t really say that this is a vintage to buy at En Primeur for either investment or drinking.

Should you want to buy I believe you would be better advised to look at back vintages such as 2008, 2009 and 2010. I have read that 2011 is supposed to be a better vintage than 2008 but my experiences of tasting over the last week tell me that I cannot agree with this statement.

2008 offered far more fruit and better balance. I have written about the exceptions to the norm in 2011 but you must bear in mind that you are comparing wines from a mediocre vintage and therefore some will taste better than others – but to say that they are better than other vintages is an overstatement.

For those of you who wish to buy the 2011 at ‘En Primeur’ the saying Caveat Emptor comes to mind – ‘Buyer Beware’.

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