So, is it worth buying or not? We have heard fairly indifferent reports of the Bordeaux 2011 vintage since the harvest but seeing is believing so we tried to keep our minds open as we made our annual pilgrimage to taste the new wines.
Vintage Weather Conditions
Any assessment has to begin with the weather and what a curious year it was. The Spring was remarkably warm and dry and flowering took place early and in fine conditions. However, by late June the heat was becoming excessive and the lack of rain a real concern, with some vines actually in danger of shutting down.
July was cool and fortunately saw some rain, while August was mixed, cooler than average overall but with some heat spikes and some storms. September was warm and dry enabling the grapes to ripen fully, but the relative lack of heat in the key months of July and August meant that the wines do not have the richness and flesh which is found in the truly great warm vintages like 2009.
There was uneven ripening within the bunches of grapes and this necessitated a huge amount of work in the vineyard and the cellar, sorting out and rejecting the less than perfect fruit. To give you an idea of the labour involved a top estate such as Haut-Bailly spent 3,800 man hours over the harvest compared to 2,800 last year, an increase of over 30 per cent.
Read the white & sweet wines vintage report here
2011 Red Wines Assessment
So what of the style of the wines? There is very mixed quality, for sure. The need for considerable sorting referred to means that properties who have the means to do so, in terms of labour and money, have generally made better wine than those with fewer resources. It may not, therefore, be a vintage for the petits châteaux.
Although ripe, the grapes were more fragile than those of the past two vintages but they were concentrated and full of tannin, almost to the same level as the record 2010 crop. It was crucial, therefore, to handle the fruit gently in vinification and not to seek to extract too much. Those estates who have pursued this policy assiduously have made wines of great precision, freshness and elegance, with good ageing potential.
Nobody in Bordeaux is pretending that this vintage is on the same level as 2009 or 2010. It does seem superior to 2008, 2006, 2004 and 2002. So now all depends on price. Logically we would expect to see prices pitched between the opening offers of 2008 and 2009, perhaps nearer to the former than the latter.
Early indications from the chateaux are that they will release the wines early and at prices which reflect in part this sentiment. If this happens then we would be recommending some of this vintage strongly; if prices fail to drop sufficiently, however, then it may be wiser to sit and wait or to look at older vintages which could offer better value.
Alun Griffiths MW
Berrys' Wine Buying Director
Bordeaux 2011 - Reports & Recommendations