2011 – An abundance of wine!


The high-tech Joanne warehouse

It was dark and gloomy as we awoke for day two of our tasting trip and it began with a fabulous opportunity to try many wines all alongside one another at a négociant (Joanne) on the outskirts of Bordeaux. This is a very big operation and the beauty of tasting in such an environment is the instant comparison our team can make between wines from different properties.

Joanne is an incredibly atmospheric location to taste wine, their cellars which are decorated with wonderful art and lighting make it really something to behold. We made our selections from the extensive ‘menu-like’ list, donned our bibs and began tasting the Haut-Médocs. There were some lean wines on show that are just a bit short of fruit (probably a result of the cold summer) and displaying a little too much oak. Where wines have been successful, fruit comes to the fore, they show some weight on the palate alongside a little sweetness and there is great complexity and concentration on the finish.

We were also able to taste many wines from Sauternes and Barsac at Joanne and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The wines show outstanding purity and are extremely delicious (perhaps lacking a little acidity). 2011 is definitely a successful vintage for the sweet wines. Our conclusions from tasting over 60 wines is that the wines from 2011 are not consistent, but when the best wines come along they are definitely worth the wait – balance, pure fruit and refreshing finishes being the hallmark of these examples.

After leaving Joanne, we set off straight to Margaux for another afternoon of Château-hopping. We began at Ch. Angludet, which is situated at the 3-way intersection of the Cantenac, Arsac and Labarde communes. The wine is light in style with pretty, crunchy fruit. Very elegant indeed, with no heavy tannins, and very little if no extraction.

Ch. D’Issan was our second stop and seeing the Château’s famous moat instantly gets the pulse racing. We tasted both Blason D’Issan (lovely crunchy red fruit, well balanced and silky smooth) and the Grand Vin, Ch. D’Issan (warm, ripe and sweet red fruits – concentration, balance and grip all supported by finely woven tannins). A very good start to the Ch. D'Issanafternoon.

The wines at 2ème Cru Classé Ch. Brane-Cantenac continue to improve each recent year, with more weight and concentration being found, although they still possess that haunting bouquet and quintessential elegance that characterises the wine of Margaux. Hail damaged part of the crop this year, so the volume of wine is reduced. They use a new Air Tech Wine System after hand-selection which measures the grapes and helps to ensure that those which are selected meet the winemaker’s exact criteria.  The wine is fantastic,  absolutely delicious with a lot more weight of fleshy fruit, and a richness that many other wines in the Margaux commune lack.

We moved on to Ch. Rauzan-Ségla, a property that along with Ch. Mouton Rothschild was considered to be among the leading 2emé Cru Classé properties in the 19th Century. The 2011 wine shows no over-oak, fine tannins and great weight, with a lovely mid palate of red fruit. Hail damaged the crop here too, with 25% less cases produced this year. John Kolasa would like First Growths to come out soon, and recognises that prices need to come down – he didn’t commit to any percentage figures for the reduction though.

We arrived at the famous, grand property of Ch. Margaux in the middle of the afternoon and it was great to see Alexandra (Corinne Mentzelopoulos’ daughter) who spent some time in our UK Marketing deparment last summer during a break from her studies. She talked to us about the vintage and the style of Margaux wines along with Paul Pontallier. Paul suggested that the drought was very severe at Ch. Margaux between March and June which reduced the crop to its lowest level in 20 years. Margaux picked the grapes in early September, the earliest for many years, and employed even more rigorous selection than ever.

Paul thinks the quality and styles of the 2011 wines vary enormously and you have to investigate thoroughly to find the best examples. He describes Pavillon Rouge as not the best ever, but of good quality and reflective of its usual style. The wines have the richest level of tannin ever, so they didn’t over extract, which has helped to preserve the quality of the fruit. Ch. Margaux shows very elegant, tight and fine tannins – it is a wine of great finesse – hallmarks of a great Margaux. Paul thinks 2011 has helped to produce one of the greatest Pavillon Blancs ever. It is a wine of great freshness, with glorious acidity. We think it is fantastic too.

Our last stop of the day was Ch. Palmer, officially classified as a 3ème Cru Classé, but established as a ‘Super Second’ long before the likes of Ch. Léoville Las Cases, Ch. Ducru-Beaucaillou and Ch. Pichon-Lalande. Hail, sunburn and drought contributed to a challenging year in the vineyard, and the production is 10% down compared to last year. Whilst tasting the Grand Vin there were numerous nods (and noises) of approval from our team and it was considered to be impressively precise, with fine grained tannins and an impressive balance before a tremendous finish. Alter Ego is displaying a delicious perfume, it is well focussed and has lovely minerality, crunchy red fruit and firm tannins which are nicely integrated.

We have tasted something in the region of 80 different wines today and a recurring theme seemed to be that there is just not enough flesh to the fruit and balance of oak and tannins on the palate. That said, wines that impressed us have indeed shown all of these qualities and the pleasing thing is that there are a number of triumphant 2011s that we have tasted. The Right Bank, along with St Julien and Sauternes have captured our attention so far and appear to be leading the way. As we mentioned in yesterday’s blog, making focussed selections and ‘cherry-picking’ a list of wines is going to be a very important part of the Wine Merchants’ role in this year’s campaign and that is exactly what we intend to do. We still have many wines to taste during the remainder of the week and we are very much looking forward to doing so.

Keep looking out for our daily blogs and for up-to-the-minute tasting snippets and thoughts from the team, follow Simon Staples, our Fine Wine Director, on Twitter @BigSiTheWineGuy.