Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Southwold 2015 tasting (Bordeaux 2011)

Posted by Justerini & Brooks
Following the spectacular duo of 2009 and 2010, some questioned the pulling power of the 2011s. Whether it was the charm of this somewhat derided vintage or the lure of cooked breakfasts and sea air, the Southwold regulars nearly all made the trip to Suffolk.

The vintage got off to the very best of starts. While we were tasting the embryonic 2010s from barrel, we basked in warm sunshine and admired the precocious vines. This was one of the earliest flowerings in recent times. Summer had arrived early - but it didn't last. Seasons were getting muddled. July and August were decidedly spring-like and didn't help grape maturity. Thankfully a fine September (except for the hail in St Estephe) came to the rescue and provided relief for some very worried vignerons. 

My general perception of the vintage is quite positive. The wines have a soft ripe core that to my mind is reminiscent of the 2001s. They are charming and not at all aggressive or astringent. They don’t have the concentration or complexity of 2009 and 2010, but that is an unfair comparison. Having tasted two of the all-time great vintages, this was definitely a bump back down to earth. 

Wines that stood out included: Pichon Baron and Grand Puy Lacoste. Both displayed the hallmarks of elegant Pauillac and possess ample density. From St Julien, Leoville Poyferre was glossy and impressive, while Montrose and Cos d’Estournel stood out as the class acts of St Estephe. Chateau Palmer and Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge were both head and shoulders above their peers in their respective communes. On the right bank, star performers included Angelus, Tertre Roteboeuf, L’Eglise Clinet and Vieux Chateau Certan. 

As one would expect, the First Growths and top estates from the Right Bank are generally a notch up on the super seconds. However, Pichon Baron, Eglise Clinet and Chateau Palmer could more than hold their own, even in this company. 

Sauternes and Barsac are traditionally a bit of an afterthought in these reports. High costs of production and waning demand makes one wonder why anyone struggles to produce these wines. But struggle on they do and thank goodness they did in 2011. The wines are wonderfully sweet and beautifully balanced. They will be a joy to drink young and they should age gracefully for decades. Our old friend Doisy Vedrines was the pick of the bunch, as it was for our Buying Director when we tasted en primeur - good spot Giles! 

Commercially the 2011s are not that interesting at the moment. This is often a problem with vintages preceded by a great crop (or two in this case). Prices don’t fall fast enough. Bordeaux was certainly guilty of over-inflating prices on release. Subsequently, market conditions deteriorated making prices look even less attractive today. I felt that a general despondency about pricing probably unfairly influenced peoples’ impression of the wines. I believe that this is a superior vintage to 2007 at this stage. Bordeaux’s euphemistic phrase, ‘classical’, springs to mind when tasting the 2011s. Because of the lack of heat in August, these are not fruit bombs. Californian Cabernet they are not; this is an orthodox Bordeaux vintage, which, given a few more years in bottle, should blossom into something quite interesting.

Tom Jenkins, Bordeaux Buyer