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Posted Tuesday, 29 May 2012 / Written by Samantha Sheldrick / Leave a comment
En Primeur for any wine merchant is an extremely important time of the year. It is the time when the new vintage from Bordeaux is released onto the market, and merchants such as Farr Vintners set about selling to fine wine lovers such as your good selves!
Only a few years ago all the wines of Bordeaux, even the top five wines (the First Growths), were released at attractive prices that allowed us mere mortals to be able to drink them. As time has passed, the market has changed almost beyond recognition and new buying powerhouses have arrived in force. The end result has been that, generally speaking, wine has become more expensive and (sadly) harder to afford for drinking! With 2011, that might be about to change. The 2009 and 2010 vintages are two of the greatest vintages in recent memory (and not coincidentally, two of the most expensive!). 2011 is not as good a vintage as either of those, but at the time of writing it also looks like it will be nowhere near as expensive.
The 2011 vintage was much maligned before most people had even tasted it. This turned out to be quite unfair (on the most part) but was an understandable reaction given the weather during the growing season. The problems came because the weather was ‘upside down’ (to quote several winemakers), in that there was extreme heat early in the season which led to a drought that lasted until June. This drought then turned to storms and hail (especially in the mid to northern Medoc) and then a long period of wet weather, which saw the risk of rot rise considerably.
The results of this weather translated into the wines as follows – higher than usual tannins, higher than usual acidity, lower than usual alcohol levels, less fruit intensity. Not exactly a recipe for success, but as in all ‘difficult’ vintages, there are exceptions. Those chateaux that managed to avoid rot/hail damage and could wait and pick later managed to get concentrated fruit in their wines and fruit that can carry the tannin and acidity without a problem. Those that didn’t manage this, or that picked too early, ended up with wines that had an initial burst of fruit that was then ‘pinched’ short by the tannins and acidity.
So in summary, a very mixed bag – caveat emptor certainly applies in this vintage. There is not the homogony of quality that there was in 2009 and 2010. If I had to compare it to other vintages, I would say that it is a cross between 2008 and 2001 (for fruit and structure). Some remind me of 2007 for their ‘lightness’ in body and ‘aggressiveness’ in tannin and acidity. If I had to narrow it down to one vintage, I’d say 2008. This is certainly not 2009 nor 2010, and that is good news, as we did not need another vintage of a lifetime. However, we mustn’t forget that there were some exceptional wines in 2008, and 2011 is no different. If everything falls into place (especially sensible pricing) there should be some excellent wines that are affordable.
Pricing is absolutely key to the success of this vintage. Every year we cry for Bordeaux to lower prices and most years this cry falls on deaf ears. However, early signs are that this time they may well listen. The question then becomes by how much the prices are reduced – there is very little incentive to buy an en primeur vintage that is more expensive than many other physically available vintages. Let’s hope that common sense wins out.
As mentioned earlier, whilst this is not a legendary vintage, there are still some extremely good wines that we should all be able to afford. For our team of 14 strong tasters (including Derek Smedley MW who was tasting his 50th consecutive en primeur vintage), these were our picks of the vintage:
Top 10 Wines of the Vintage
• L’Eglise Clinet (Pomerol)
• Yquem (Sauternes)
• Latour (Pauillac)
• Haut Brion Blanc (Graves)
• La Mission Haut Brion Blanc (Graves)
• Le Pin (Pomerol)
• Haut Brion (Graves)
• Mouton Rothschild (Pauillac)
• Pétrus (Pomerol)
• Cheval Blanc (St Emilion)
Top 10 “Best Value” Wines of the Vintage
(These should all be under £500 per case)
• Grand Puy Lacoste (Pauillac)
• La Petite Eglise (2nd wine of L’Eglise Clinet) (Pomerol)
• Branaire Ducru (St Julien)
• Domaine de Chevalier Rouge (Graves)
• Brane Cantenac (Margaux)
• La Croix Saint Georges (Pomerol)
• Les Cruzelles (Lalande de Pomerol)
• Guiraud (Sauternes)
• Roc de Cambes (Cotes de Bourg)
• Batailley (Pauillac)
For me personally, I cannot recommend highly enough the wines from the mercurial Denis Durantou (of L’Eglise Clinet). There are two brilliant things about Denis; the first is that he makes great wine (from top to bottom of the range) and the second is that he is a really, really nice bloke! The prices of his wines will range from (approximately) £120 per case (La Chenade) through to £2000 per case (for my wine of the vintage, L’Eglise Clinet).
So, whilst 2011 is not a vintage to re-mortgage the house for, there will certainly be some excellent wines at very decent prices for the shrewd purchaser. For more information, give us a call or drop us an email, and please do read more about the vintage on our blogs at www.farrvintners.com/blog.php
Farr Vintners Ltd
020 7821 2000